Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019: Part III

The Birmingham Coffee Festival logoWelcome to the third of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival. As usual, I got things underway with my traditional festival round-up, before moving onto the detailed write-ups, with each one focusing on a different subject. The first was the Meet the Roasters feature, where I caught up with all the roasters. This was followed by one on all the excellent food I found at the festival, and was entitled Food, Glorious Food. Today’s feature is an eclectic mix of subjects, so after wracking my brains for hours, I’ve come up with the snappy title of Part III.

Today’s post looks at sustainability, where the Birmingham Coffee Festival is making great strides. Speciality, I’ll talk about First Mile and Mawley Milk, two very different companies, but both doing their bit for sustainability. Following that, the focus shifts to coffee equipment and an interesting new grinder that you won’t be finding in my kitchen any time soon, but you may start it seeing it in some UK coffee shops. I also cast my eye over some lovely pottery from Speckled Grey. And finally, I’ll end on a very un-Coffee-Spot-like note with a look at some tea!

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Crush the Rush

The trophy for the first ever UK Crush the Rush competition, held at Out of the Box in Tonbridge, 2019.Regular readers may well be aware of my dislike of barista competitions. Now, I will say at the outset that this dislike only really extends to my watching them: events such as the Barista Championships and Brewers Cup are vital, helping both the careers of those who have competed and the wider industry in terms of spreading knowledge and innovation. I value them immensely and have, in the past, supported initiatives such as the Beyond the Bean Barista Bursary. I just don’t enjoy watching them.

Until last weekend, there was one exception to this: the Cup Tasters Competition. Then I went to La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event at Tonbridge, which not only redefined my conception of what a coffee event could be, it introduced me to Crush the Rush, a new barista competition from La Marzocco. This first saw the light of day in the USA last year, but as far as I know, this was the first time it’s been seen on this side of the Atlantic. It’s a pretty simple concept: two teams race each other to produce eight different espresso-based drinks, testing their barista skills on a busy bar. But is it interesting to watch?

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Out of the Box, Tonbridge

A flat white, made with the The Roasting Party's Elixir 22 blend and served in my Huskee Cup at Out of the Box in Tonbridge.This time last week I headed off to Tonbridge, to attend La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event. I’ve been to a few of these before, but I’ve very much seen them as industry events, a party thrown by coffee people (at La Marzocco) for coffee people, the attendees being baristas, roasters, the odd coffee blogger and occasional coffee enthusiasts not in the industry. As such, it never occurred to me to write about them. Last Saturday, all that changed.

Out of the Box was held in Tonbridge Castle, a move which had plenty of us scratching our heads ahead of time (previous ones have always been indoors) and not knowing what to expect (although if I’d read the description, I might have known better!). What’s more, although not widely advertised beyond the industry, it was open to the public, so drew a very different crowd.

The result was a surprising and wonderful mini-coffee festival, including a new barista competition, Crush the Rush. Indeed, if you’ve never been to a coffee festival and were wondering what one was like, you could do worse than go to the next Out of the Box; it’s free and will give you a good feel for one. But what was it like?

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019: Food Glorious Food

Part of the menu from Dim Sum Su from Manchester, one of six street food vendors at the 2019 Birmingham Coffee Festival. Shown on the menu are Salt 'n' Pepper Fries, Chicken Popcorn, Crispy Broccoli Bites and Crispy Beef Bao.Welcome to the second of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival. I can’t believe a whole month has gone by since I was in Birmingham, exploring all things coffee. I got things underway with my write-ups by starting with traditional festival round-up, before moving on to talk all about the wonderful roasters I met in the Meet the Roasters feature. Today it’s the turn of all the lovely food-related stuff I found at Birmingham Coffee Festival, while the final post in the series is a general round-up of everything else.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: Birmingham is one of the better catered coffee festivals, which is important to people like me who are going to be there all day. Yes, with the wristband system, you can pop out and get something to eat at one of several excellent cafés in the Custard Factory (the festival’s venue) but ideal I want something I can quickly grab, eat and get back to the action, which is where the excellent street food village came in.

However, it wasn’t just the street food. This year, we also had plenty of cake stands, led by old friends, Cakesmiths, while there were also chocolate companies and a specialised Turkish catering company.

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019: Meet the Roasters

The Ngopi logo, taken from the stand at the 2019 Birmingham Coffee Festival.Welcome to the first of my detailed write ups of the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, where I had a fabulous time, exploring all things coffee. I can’t believe where the time has gone though: was it only two weeks ago that I was in Birmingham? Apparently so! Last week I got things underway with my traditional festival round-up, while this week the spotlight turns on the roasters, who came from far and wide, although with a definitely focus on local roasters from the city and the wider West Midlands are. There are two more posts, one on food, and a general round-up of everything else.

I’ve split this into three, starting with familiar faces, before moving to some (old) new friends that I made at last year’s event (where, sadly, I didn’t have time to do a detailed write up on all the wonderful roasters I met) before finishing with my (new) new friends that I met this year. Although Birmingham Coffee Festival has always had a focus on local roasters, this year’s event clashed with World of Coffee in Berlin, where quick a few of the higher profile UK roasters were in attendance, so I want to say a special vote of thanks to those who made the effort to attend both Berlin and Birmingham.

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019 Round Up

The Birmingham Coffee Festival logoThis time last week I was at the third annual Birmingham Coffee Festival, taking place at the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham. I went for the first time last year, enjoying it so much that I decided to return to Birmingham this year, even though it meant missing the World of Coffee in Berlin. In all I spent two days there, Friday and Saturday, skipping the final day (Sunday). Of the two, Friday was much quieter, as you would expect.

If you’ve attended any of the UK’s smaller coffee festivals (Manchester or Glasgow for example), then you’ll know roughly what to expect: coffee, coffee equipment and handful of related stands. Alternatively, if you’ve been to London Coffee Festival, then the Birmingham festival is much smaller and far more relaxed, featuring mostly local roasters and coffee shops, with a handful of national names.

As I usually do for coffee festivals, I’m going to write up my visit over a series of posts, starting today with a general round-up of the festival and the space. Subsequent posts will deal with the various roasters I visited, all things food-related, plus there’ll be a general round post covering everything else (including tea of all things!).

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Birmingham Coffee Festival 2019 Preview

The Birmingham Coffee Festival logoThis time last year, I was preparing to head for the Birmingham Coffee Festival, at that point an unknown quantity to me. It had had its first outing in 2017, joining the likes of the London Coffee Festival (still by far the biggest), Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and The Coffee House Project (in Bristol).  I missed the Birmingham Coffee Festival’s inaugural year, but alerted by my friends at Cakesmiths, I was on the lookout in the 2018.

Since I was actually in the country for the event (the usual reason I miss coffee festivals is because I’m abroad: it’s why, for example, I’ve never been to the Edinburgh or Bristol festivals and why I missed Glasgow this year), I decided to attend. Not sure what to expect, I initially only booked for the one day, but I really enjoyed myself, finding more than enough to keep me occupied, so returned the following day.

Next weekend, the festival is back for its third year in the Custard Factory in Digbeth, running from Friday to Sunday. Once again, I’m in the country, so I’ll be heading up to Birmingham on Friday for the festival (although I won’t be there on Sunday).

So, what can you expect?

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London Coffee Festival 2019: Coffee Experiences

Three different types of cup: open (front), tulip (back left) and split (back right) at the La Cimbali Sensory Session at the 2019 London Coffee Festival. What impact do they have on your perception of taste?Welcome to the third of my detailed write-ups of the 2019 London Coffee Festival, which took place last month at the Old Truman Brewery. Along with my overall Festival Round-up, so far I’ve written about the coffee and the coffee kit. Today’s the turn of one of my festival highlights, my coffee experiences.

But what do I mean by “coffee experiences”? These are the events that go around the coffee itself, such as coffee cuppings, roasting demos and coffee/food pairings. They’ve been very popular over recent years, with the festival running practical, skills-based events such as Latte Art Live and Home Barista Workshops. There have also been experiences such as The Tasting Room (with subjects ranging from tea to Vermouth) and The Flavour Discovery, a multi-sensory journey from Union Hand-roasted!

As in previous years, most of these events were pre-ticketed, with limited numbers at each event. As a result, I only attended one, the annual La Cimbali Sensory Series, which I only managed to attend thanks to a kind invitation from La Cimbali! Hosted by the fabulous Rob Ward, he manages, year after year, to invent with some new way to challenge the senses and educate at the same time.

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London Coffee Festival 2019: The Kit

An upgraded aergrind (left) and the new Feld47 handgrinders, both from Knock, at the 2019 London Coffee Festival.Welcome to the second of my detailed write-ups of the 2019 London Coffee Festival, which took place three weeks ago at the Old Truman Brewery. Last week I wrote about the coffee, while this week my focus turns to the kit, those various bits and pieces of coffee-related equipment which you always find at the London Coffee Festival. You can find details about the festival itself in my Festival Round-up, published two weeks ago, while future write-ups include coffee experiences and reusable cups.

The London Coffee Festival has always seen more than its fair share of coffee-related equipment, with many manufacturers choosing to launch their latest products at the festival. This includes a lot of professional equipment, including the latest espresso machines, which, although interesting, are, sadly out of my price range. I’d also need a bigger kitchen!

Since I had limited time this year, only attending for two days, I focused on the home user, further narrowing my focus to some familiar names who were launching new versions of their products, along with some interesting new products from a company I’d not heard of before. This covered a wide range, from the simplicity of a manual grinder all the way up to an (almost fully) automated espresso machine.

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London Coffee Festival 2019: Coffee

Detail from the stand of Qima Coffee, including a wooden relief map of Yemen, taken from the stand at the 2019 London Coffee Festival.Welcome to the first of my detailed write-ups of the 2019 London Coffee Festival, which took place two weeks ago at the Old Truman Brewery. The focus of today’s write-up is the coffee itself, which I normally leave until last. However, since I’m travelling at the moment, I’m writing this one first, leaving the more detailed write-ups until later. These will include topics such as equipment, coffee experiences and reusable cups. For details about the festival itself, try my Festival Round-up, which I published last week.

This was my seventh London Coffee Festival and while I was more focused on the coffee in previous years, recently my interest has moved to other areas. This is partly because there’s only so much coffee I can drink in a few days and partly because my coffee knowledge has expanded over the years. Whereas I would, in years past, want to try as much coffee as possible, these days I’m more interested in chatting with the roasters!

That said, there was some interesting coffee to be had this year, from roasters both old and new. There were also two standouts, one featuring coffee from Yemen, where it all began, and the other an amazing Geisha.

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