A week last Wednesday (13th May) I was at London’s Olympia, attending the Caffè Culture show and, in the evening, the Coffee Stops Awards, where I was in the running for the Best Media for Coffee Award. If you’re interested, you can find out how I did and who won the other nine Awards.
However, back to Caffè Culture. This is the third year running that I’ve been to Caffè Culture, but this time was a bit different since I’d been asked to judge the Caffè Culture Exhibitor Best Drink Award. Prior to the show, this involved me whittling a list of 25 entries down to a shortlist of five. Then, on the Wednesday of Show I was to visit the stands of all five shortlisted exhibitors to try each of the drinks before selecting the winner.
I had a fantastic time at Caffè Culture and you’ll be able to find out what I made of it in a future Saturday Supplement. However, for now, let’s concentrate on the Best Drink Award. I really enjoyed meeting all the exhibitors, discovering the stories behind their products, trying the drinks themselves and then deciding on the eventual winner.
You can find out who won, and why, after the gallery.
I started, about a month ago, with 25 entries, which I whittled down to a shortlist of five, picking one drink from each of the following categories:
- fruit juice/water
Then, on the day, all I had to do was pick a winner. So, let’s see how they fared…
New Vithanakande Tea (NVT) – Coffitea
I admit that I cheated slightly with the tea category, since the shortlisted entry is actually a combination of tea and coffee. On the other hand, it’s genuinely innovative and, if I’m honest, sounds absolutely horrible! I went on the basis that although sounding horrible, no-one would actually produce something that actually tasted horrible. As it happened, I never did find out…
The team at NVT had just flown in from Los Angeles, where they’d been attending the World Tea Expo. Unfortunately, the samples of Coffitea hadn’t actually made it, having been held up in transit. I did discover that Coffitea was inspired by the need to provide something for tea drinkers with an extra punch first thing in the morning and is best drunk with milk and sugar. The coffee itself only makes up 2% of the product, NVT using a single-estate coffee, roasted and ground before being added to the tea in a pyramid tea bag.
In the absence of any Coffitea, Geesa (Gee to his friends) from NVT sat me down and attempted to convert me to the joys of drinking tea. I fear it was doomed from the start, but it was an interesting experience, especially watching Gee go about his work, the rituals and elaborate preparation/serving mirroring the obsessive lengths that speciality coffee people go to with their drinks. I tried three teas in all, one black, one green and something in between, all of which were pleasant enough, but not something I’d necessarily be drinking out of choice!
Caffiniti – Andaqui
Andaqui, from Caffiniti, isn’t an original idea, but it’s one close to my heart, that of championing local producers from a particular area, in this case, Colombia. The Andaqui are an indigenous people who farm, process and, in a new twist, roast the coffee in Colombia, before it’s flown over to the UK to ensure its freshness. The coffee we had at the show was just a few days old.
I tried it three ways, through a V60, Aeropress and Chemex, each tasting significantly different and highlighting a lesson that I learnt at my first Caffé Culture two years ago: the preparation method has a huge impact on the way coffee tastes. For the record, I liked the Andaqui: it was quite delicate and fruity, which did best as a V60/Aeropress, the Chemex taking too much body out of it and leaving it a little flat.
Rocks Drinks – Rocks Organic Ginger and Wasabi
This was the hardest category to shortlist, with three or four entries presenting a strong case. Rocks, from Devon, are an interesting company, having a natural spring in the factory outside Exeter which supplies all the water for the drinks. There was both squash and ready-to-drink products on the stand, the squash being true to its name and actually made from squashed fruit rather than concentrate.
However, I was there to judge the ready-to-drink range and, specifically, the sparkling ginger and wasabi. This is an interesting twist on an old classic, ginger beer, and I really liked it. It was refreshing without being overly sweet and, as with all Rocks products, made from organic ingredients.
The Tea Room – Organic Drinking Chocolate Fusion Line
Along with NVT, the Tea Room would be in the running for the prize for having travelled furthest to attend the show, in this case, from Oakland, California. In another similarity with NVT, it’s also a fusion product, this time, tea with hot chocolate. However, unlike NVT, the samples had turned up in time. Unfortunately, as Heinz from the Tea Room explained to me, the equipment he uses to make the hot chocolate had been delayed instead…
Faced with the prospect of not being able to try a second of the shortlisted products, I took matters into my own hands. Hot chocolate being a staple of many a coffee shop and this being the Caffè Culture Show, I figured it couldn’t be too hard to find someone who could make the hot chocolate for us and fortunately, I knew just the man.
Two minutes later, Heinz, myself and a tub of Earl Grey tea-infused hot chocolate turned up at the La Cimbali stand, where the lovely Matt (readers with long memories will recall Matt from Poppy Mae) turned his hand to hot chocolate making. It was interesting to watch as Matt and Heinz discussed the finer points heating milk and chocolate, Matt preferring to heat/texture milk and hot chocolate together, rather than heating the milk before adding the hot chocolate.
The result was a very rich and creamy drink which, fortunately for me, didn’t taste too strongly of tea! The subtly of the tea was definitely there though, blending well with the chocolate, something which I’d happily drink all day long (to the obvious detriment of my waistline).
Lashbrook Lassis – Lashbrook Lassis
I saved the best until last. Lashbrook Lassis was set up by Mat and Jo, a couple with pleasingly short names, after a cycle journey across Indian. Returning to the UK, they decided to bring the taste of Indian lassis back with them.
They had three flavours on offer at the show, but my favourite was easily coffee, pistachio & cardamom. This is a very smooth drink made with fair-trade coffee and, like all Lashbrook Lassis, entirely natural ingredients. I also tried the pear, spinach and ginger, which Jo described as a breakfast drink. It certainly had a kick to it, with the ginger coming in a few seconds after everything else. While I liked it, I don’t think I’d want to drink two in a row!
You’ve probably guessed by now (or looked at the gallery) that I gave the Award to Lashbrook Lassis. In all fairness, any of the five finalists could have won, but to quote myself from the Awards press release:
“What made Lashbrook Lassis stand out for me was the enthusiasm of the founders, Mat and Jo. The story of how and why they came up with the product is wonderful and their passion is infectious. They thoroughly deserve the Award and I wish them every success in the future.”
There were three other Awards on offer: Best Food Product (judged by Maria Bracken, Editor of Lunch Business Magazine), Best Innovative Product (judged by Helen Marriott, Editor of Caffè Culture Connect) and the Visitors’ Choice Award. This last one was voted for by visitors to the show, and was open to any of the 15 shortlisted products across all three Awards.
I was delighted to learn that the Visitors’ Choice Award also went to Lashbrook Lassis, which meant that Mat and Jo joined Four Corners in the Coffee Stops Awards in winning two awards in one evening.
The winner of the Best Food Product Award was Merangz Pistachio Bites, while the Best Innovative Product Award went to Tea Fusion from Unilever. You can find details of all the winners on the Caffè Culture website.
Thanks to all the exhibitors who submitted nominations for the awards and thanks to Caffè Culture for inviting me to be a judge. You can also find out what happened when I got to judge the 2016 Caffè Culture Exhibitor Best Drink Award.
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