London Coffee Festival 2019: Preview

The 2017 London Coffee Festival LogoIt’s that’s time of the year again! Yes, that’s right, in just two weeks’ time, London Coffee Festival will be in full swing, returning to the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. It’s a little earlier in the year than usual, running from Thursday, 28th March to Sunday, 31st March. If it’s your first London Coffee Festival, take a look at my round up of last year’s festival. Alternatively, if you’ve been before, there’s much that will be familiar, with a few new things to keep you interested, all of which I’ll cover in this preview.

The festival kicks off with industry days on Thursday/Friday, followed by an extended consumer session on Friday evening and three three-hour consumer sessions on Saturday/Sunday (Brunch, Lunch and Teatime). If you’re thinking of coming, my usual advice applies: get your ticket now. For starters, you get a significant discount on the on-the-door price (at least £6.50, with the discounts adding up for the more expensive tickets). What’s more, if you leave it to the day of the festival, your slot could easily be sold out. You can buy tickets for individual sessions/industry days, or there are VIP tickets covering the whole day on Saturday/Sunday.

With that out of the way, let’s get on with the preview of London Coffee Festival 2019, which you’ll find after the gallery, a collection of photos from last year’s festival.

  • For many years, this was the main entrance of the London Coffee Festival...
  • ... while, if you have a VIP pass, you got to sneak in around the back.
  • However, in 2018, all that changed, as the main entrance moved to the back as well...
  • ... vastly improving access. The new entrance leads you into the...
  • ... Upper Ground Level. But wait! What's that? There's a Level 2? Indeed there is!
  • In 2018, London Coffee Festival added a new floor, home to the new innovation zone...
  • ... as well as half of the Roasters Village, with the likes of Neighbourhood Coffee.
  • Perhaps best of all, Level 2 has lots of windows/light, including this awesome skylight.
  • Finally, it's also home to an expanded VIP suite...
  • ... which might not be of interest to everyone, but which is vital if you're there all day.
  • If you're thinking about splashing out on a VIP ticket, you get your own seating areas...
  • ... which are vital for when you need to put your feet up for a bit.
  • Last year there was also a dedicated area called the Factory, with its own cuppings...
  • ... and roasting demonstrations.
  • Finally, not new in 2018, but maybe new for this year: there's more space upstairs!
  • Back to the Upper Ground Level, home to the likes of the Latte Art Live stand. The only chance to get anywhere near it, by the way, is when everyone's gone home!
  • The Lower Ground Floor is home to some coffee-related stands, such as Bulldog Edition...
  • ... and old friends of the Coffee Spot, Coffee Omega (both from 2018).
  • The Upper Ground Floor gives access to the Ground Floor proper, home to some of the...
  • ... big names in London coffee, including roasters such as Caravan...
  • ... and Square Mile, seen here celebrating its 10th Birthday back in 2018.
  • There's step-free access to the Ground Floor on the other side of the Coffee Masters stage.
  • This is worth exploring: you'll find the likes of Conti down here...
  • ... as well as some smaller roasters, such as Girls Who Grind.
  • Coffee kit suppliers are also out in force.
  • You will get very familiar with this central staircase which connects all the various levels...
  • ... with its handy sign showing you what's where.
  • Level 1 is home to the Hyde Park Zone, which contains the main stage...
  • ... and lots of other stands I never have time to explore properly.
  • Going the other way is a familiar sight: the Kokoa Collection hot chocolate stand.
  • This is by the Soho Zone, home, amongst other things...
  • ... to the La Marzocco True Artisan Cafe, last year showcasing the Leva espresso machine.
  • Equipment manufacturers/suppliers, such as Mulmar, line the area...
  • ... along with more of the big name roasters, such as Union Hand Roasted.
  • Next is the Shoreditch zone, home to Cakesmiths, perennial feeders of the Coffee Spot.
  • For a second year running, Level 1 housed the other half of the Roasters Village.
  • At the far end of Level 1 is one of my favourite parts, the White Label Kitchen...
  • ... complete with its own seating area.
  • In 2018, the festival renewed its efforts to recycle the mountains of disposable cups...
  • ... with recycling bins next to general waste bins, and in greater numbers than last year.
  • However, having recycling bins is one thing. Making people use them is another! This year the festival is promising to go one better: check out the rest of the preview for details!
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I always being by saying this: the London Coffee Festival website is the best source of information, particularly the very handy schedule, which shows all the events/workshops in each session. What’s more, you can filter by type, which is really helpful when there are multiple events per timeslot. In terms of planning my visit, I think this is the most useful tool. This is also the place where you can book slots for the Home Barista Workshops and the Mindful Coffee Tasting Experience (new this year), although these are starting to sell out, so be quick (look for “Book” on the right-hand side; if it just says “Info” then it’s sold out). That said, I do miss the handy floorplan that was available in previous years, with all the various Festival Zones marked on it (you still get a paper copy on the day). The full range of what’s on can be found here.

If you enjoy competitions, then, once again, the London Coffee Festival hosts the Coffee Masters, a series of head-to-head barista challenges where top baristas compete directly against each other to progress to the next round, with old friends, The Roasting Party, providing the coffee. Alternatively, all the old favourites are there, including several floors of stalls with everything coffee-related you can think of. Highlights include the True Artisan Café, a pop-up coffee shop, which, each session, features three of the country’s top cafés, each serving their own signature drink and the Roasters Village, providing a showcase for small roasters from around the UK (and, occasionally, overseas). Finally, there’s the White Label Kitchen, featuring four of London’s leading street food vendors, complete with its own seating area. You can find a full list of exhibitors on the festival website.

In closing, here’s some positive news. In previous years, I’ve criticised London Coffee Festival for its lack of sustainability when it comes to disposable coffee cups. Other festivals have taken the lead here and I’m pleased to say that London Coffee Festival is now catching up, although it’s yet to go disposable-free. However, this year, all London Coffee Festival cups will be full compostable, with partners, Decent Packaging, committing to turn all discarded cups and lids into organic compost within twelve weeks. Of course, this depends on the people putting their cups (and only their cups) into the special compostable bins, which has been a weak point in previous years, the bins being too few and emptied too infrequently. Hopefully, the festival has learnt from previous years and this won’t be repeated!

Of course, the best course of action is to avoid the waste in the first place and bring your own cup, which I’ll be doing, and there’s more good news on that front. London Coffee Festival has partnered with SoL Cup and is offering  a 20% discount on all merchandise at the onsite shop if you show your reusable cup.

After all that, perhaps the most important question is, when to attend? Thursday and Friday, the industry days, are probably best avoided, unless you’re in the trade, although you do get a full day for not much more than the price of one three-hour session. There’s also a significant discount if you want to attend both days.

The first consumer-session is Friday evening (four o’clock until eight o’clock). On Saturday and Sunday, the days are split into three 3-hour sessions: Brunch, Lunch and Teatime. Since your ticket covers you for just one session, you need to choose carefully. On Sunday, the festival’s changed things up a bit this year, overlapping the sessions, with the Lunch and Teatime sessions starting an hour before the end of the previous session. This has the advantage of bringing forward the close time to five o’clock, addressing criticism of past festivals, when the Sunday Teatime session was marred by vendors packing up in readiness to go home. It’s also worth noting that those coffee fans 12 and under go free, while 13-17 year olds get in for under £5!

Alternatively, there’s always a VIP ticket. These give you access to the whole day (or both Industry Days) as well as letting you jump the queues (which can be quite long), gain access to the VIP Suite and Secret Garden, plus there’s a free cocktail, tote bag and a copy of the 2019 London Coffee Guide.

My final two tips. First, take plenty of water along! It’s very easy to get dehydrated and it can be very hot and humid in the Old Truman Brewery and, while coffee is easy to come by, water is a bit scarcer! Second, be aware that there’s no cloakroom, so unless you want to be lugging your backpack around all day (or unless you know a friendly stall-holder to leave it with), don’t bring it with you!

Thursday 10:00 – 17:00 (Industry only)
Friday 10:00 – 17:00 (Industry only)
16:00 – 20:00 (Evening Session)
Saturday 10:00 – 13:00 (Brunch Session)
13:00 – 16:00 (Lunch Session)
16:00 – 19:00 (Teatime Session)
Sunday 10:00 – 13:00 (Brunch Session)
12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch Session)
14:00 – 17:00 (Teatime Session)

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