Welcome back to my write-ups of this year’s London Coffee Festival. After a couple of weeks off, while I went to the Caffè Culture Show and unexpectedly discovered some specialty coffee shops in Porto, we’re back at the London Coffee Festival with my series looking at the specific aspects of the festival. In previous weeks I’ve written about automatic filter machines, cups and various bits of kit, while there’s also my round-up, which provides an overview of the whole festival. I’ll round things off next week with a look at the coffee itself.
This week it’s the turn of what I call my “coffee experiences”, which proved to be a highlight of last year’s festival, particularly the La Cimbali Sensory Sessions. By coffee experiences, I mean the things that go around the coffee itself. For example, coffee cuppings, roasting demos, coffee/food pairings and latte art lessons, all of which I managed to miss this year!
Instead I went to a couple of fascinating events organised by Square Mile and Union Hand-roasted. Square Mile’s offering, The Canteen, was an exploration of taste through various food-stuffs made from coffee or coffee waste products, while Union offered a variation on the traditional cupping.
You can see what I got up to after the gallery.
Square Mile: The Canteen
Square Mile had a big stand in the newly-opened downstairs area of the festival. There was a lot going on, including a demonstration of the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II home espresso machine. However, what drew me downstairs and led me to venture into the large crowds was The Canteen. This was perhaps the most innovative thing I came across this year, an exploration of taste through coffee and food. However, this wasn’t the more traditional coffee-and-food pairings that we’ve come to expect. Instead, it was food made either with coffee, or with coffee waste products. Let me explain.
The Canteen consisted of five separate stations, each with a different food/drink. The first four focused on specific primary tastes: salty, sour, bitter and sweet, with the fifth, a traditional, well-balanced cup of filter coffee, bringing all the individual taste elements together in perfect harmony. Well, that was the theory.
What I actually found more interesting were the products themselves, with their innovative use of coffee and, more importantly, the by-products of the coffee industry. I was first made aware of this a few years ago by Lisa of Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee who gave me some Guatemalan jam made from the fruit of the coffee cherries. She also had sacks of chaff in the boot of her car which she was donating to local gardeners for compost.
In a similar vein (jam, not compost), Square Mile had developed some interesting food and drink products, the first of which was a coffee-infused rye bread, paired with butter churned with chaff. The bread was made using a concentrated filter coffee, produced from Square Mile’s famous Red Brick espresso blend, which was kneaded into the flour instead of water. Meanwhile, the butter was churned using the chaff, a waste product of coffee roasting that is the husk of the bean which is produced during first crack. Sadly, I am violently intolerant of rye (it does highly amusing things to my digestive system), so I had to skip this one.
I was on safer ground when it came to the second product, a cascara soda. Cascara is a by-product of coffee processing, when the beans are separated from the coffee cherries (effectively a waste-product). As well as being used to make jam, the cherries can be dried to produce a tea-like substance, cascara. This has been marketed by a few roasters in the UK as just that: tea. However, this year, the latest development seems to be making cascara soda. Square Mile’s offering was made with Buena Vista cascara from Bolivia, mixed with freshly-juiced pink grapefruits and slightly sweetened with cane sugar. The result was a slightly bitter but very refreshing soda with tea-like notes.
Sticking with cascara, the third product was a cascara chocolate, the cocoa beans in the chocolate being replaced by cascara and mixed with cocoa butter and sugar. The result looked and felt very much like a dark chocolate, but tasted, to me at least, very different. It certainly had the bitterness that I associate with (and often don’t like in) dark chocolate, but I didn’t really get any sweetness. Others, however, loved it.
This was the complete opposite of the fourth and final product, soft-serve coffee ice cream, made with real coffee (in this case, Square Mile’s (in)famous Sweetshop blend). I was going say that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Sweetshop, but in fairness, it’s been all hate. I first came across it early in my Coffee Spot days when it epitomised the bright, fruity espressos that I really disliked back then. In fact, I hated it so much, I’ve avoided it ever since. I should probably give it another go: my tastes have definitely evolved over the last three years! Anyway, all of this build up is to say that anything with Sweetshop it in immediately puts me on edge, so it was with some surprise that I discovered that I absolutely adored the Sweetshop soft-serve, which had the most amazing coffee taste.
After all that, we rounded things off with a cup of filter coffee using Belén beans from Colombia, a lovely, light, delicate filter that I could have drunk all day… while stuffing my face with Sweetshop soft-serve!
You can also read what Giulia Mule made of The Canteen in her article for Sprudge (Giulia was another one who loved the cascara chocolate).
Union Hand-roasted: Coffee Flavour Challenge
Like Square Mile, Union Hand-roasted had its traditional big stand with all sorts of things going on, including the traditional roasting demonstration and its own take on cascara: nitro-cascara. However, I was drawn by the Coffee Flavour Challenge, which was a twist on the usual cupping. Last year, Union had done a coffee-tasting competition (similar to a mini-Tasters Cup) which I took part in and did extremely badly! It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached the Union stand towards the end of the festival and allowed myself to be talked into taking the Coffee Flavour Challenge.
This year’s challenge was a little different from last year’s. For starters, we could sit down and it wasn’t against the clock! We were given four coffees, helpfully labelled A, B, C and D and for each, we were asked to assess four aspects of the coffee:
- aroma (how it smells before you drink it)
- taste (the initial taste)
- mouthfeel (how it feels in the mouth)
- aftertaste (what taste is left behind)
For each aspect, we were given four descriptors to choose from. For example, for “aroma”, we had to choose between chocolate, nutty, ripe fruit and lemon, selecting one for each coffee.
We assessed the aspects in turn for each coffee before moving onto the next aspect (as opposed to assessing all the aspects for each coffee before moving onto the next coffee). When we’d done all that, we had to put each coffee into one of four flavour categories (I think Union had a thing about fours this year): chocolates and caramel, citrus and floral, nuts and spice, or fruit.
By the time we got to this point I was more than a bit bemused and ended up saying that Coffee A was “chocolates and caramel”, classifying both B & C as “fruit”, while saying that Coffee D was “citrus and floral”. No “nuts and spice” for me.
Then came the big reveal, when Union let us know what the four coffees actually were. As it turns out, I wasn’t that far out. Coffee A, which I’d said was “chocolates and caramel” was a Bobolink from Brazil, a naturally-processed coffee in the classic nuts and chocolate school. So far, so good.
Coffee B, the first of my “fruits”, was a Yayu Wild Forest coffee from Ethiopia, a washed coffee with classic citrus and floral notes. Oops. I did better with Coffee C though, a Los Lajones natural from Panama, with tasting notes of stewed rhubarb and cranberries. Fruity!
Finally, it all came down to Coffee D, which turned out to Black Stump, from Sumatra, with tasting notes of mandarin, dark chocolate and nutmeg. And I said… “citrus and floral”. Oh well, two out of four’s not bad.
The good (and perhaps most important) news is that I liked all four coffees and would happily drink them all day long! If you’re interested, Union ran a similar flavour challenge at the festival the following year. Any guesses if I did any better or not…
That concludes my coffee experiences from this year’s London Coffee Festival. Don’t forget to check back next week for the last in the series, a look at the coffee itself.
For other perspectives on the Festival, check out the following reviews by Bean There, Bex, CoffeeGirlNeeds and Jade Derrick, while the Commodities Connoisseur has produced another of his extremely thorough festival reviews, which has, in Coffee Spot style, been split up into four parts. For a different perspective in a different medium, check out Episode 24 of The Right Roast on You Tube.
For more kit for the festival, Perfect Daily Grind has produced a list of seven products to watch, while Jess of EatingEast, also writing for Perfect Daily Grind, reported from the festival, looking at why baristas went into coffee.
Meanwhile, you can see what Square Mile made of the experience of exhibiting, while another exhibitor, Hope & Glory, also gave its take on the festival. Another perspective is provided by writer, radio producer and DJ, George Luke, courtesy of London’s Best Coffee, while there’s also this by Charli Nice in Adventures of a Nice Girl.
If you’ve written a review of the festival, drop me a line with the link and I’ll add it in.
If you liked this post, please let me know by clicking the “Like” button. If you have a WordPress account and you don’t mind everyone knowing that you liked this post, you can use the “Like this” button right at the bottom instead.
Don’t forget that you can share this post with your friends using the buttons below.