Friday, 18 May 2012

London Coffee Festival Write Up - Part 1

On Friday the 27th April 2012 I attended the London Coffee Festival trade day. Arriving in Brick Lane at 10.30 on a dreary drizzling day the next 7 hours would be a jubilant journey through the world of coffee and café culture. 

I knew I had to have a plan in place as things could go quickly awry as the caffeine levels racked up. Taking my timetable I sat in the fake lawn of the Picnic area and carefully marked out what I wanted to see and do. This initial plan lasted just under an hour.

As in previous festivals the show was broken into 3 main areas; Hyde Park, Soho and Shoreditch. Hyde park contained some of the bigger stands including the lawn, the tea and chocolate sellers and the live music stage. 

Shoreditch contained the food area along with a mix of coffee, food and beverage stalls as well as the Lab area. Soho contained more stalls along with the true Artisan Café which had a rolling staff of baristas through the weekend. 

Like last year, UK Coffee Week take up an area dubbed “The Growing Community” between Hyde and Shoreditch. Here you can learn about the process of growing coffee and about the communities that do.  

This year there was a fifth area; the Showroom, which along with a few stands mainly played host to the UK Barista Championships.

After a quick look round I kicked things off with a lecture & demonstration by UNION’s Jeremy Torz. Jeremy is Director of & roast master at UNION and he gave a quite fascinating talk all about the art of roasting. 

Using a mini roaster to demonstrate, and taking beans all the way through the process he explained many of the subtleties of the art along the way. 

He showed us how smell, sight and sound are all  used to get the perfect roast. The talk finished with a short round of tasting and a discussion on how to compare the different coffees  on offer.

This talk was part of the VIP experience which punters were supposed to book out slots on. The reality was people just turned up and joined in, the whole concept of slots and special passes seemed to fall to the wayside once the day got going. 

Other “experiences” included Ethiopian coffee tasting from Grumpy Mule and their suppliers. This included the sampling of a solar kiln dried coffee which had the unbelievable taste compared to the same bean dried with another method. 

Another enjoyable session was the Brewers & Union Beer tasting; the unpasterised beers were a taste revelation and well worth a purchase.

The Make Decent Coffee team were showing people step by step how to use all the common house hold coffee tools such as the Aero-Press, V60 & the Chemex.

The most disappointing was an over subscribed “sensory experience” session with Cart Noir. They had run a number of focus tests using music, aromas, colours and materials to make the perfect drinking environment. Some of it was common sense (death metal is bad) but other aspects were quite insightful.

The use of added aromas to manipulate the customer was starting to tip over to the more sinister side of selling but the biggest issue was what they were serving.  

No matter if you have jazz tooting out of the speaker, silk pillows scattered across dark leather sofas, creamy drapes, a wood finish, and the smell of strawberries in the air. If you are serving Cart Noir rather than real fresh coffee then  your coffee is still going to taste bad. Sorry Cart Noir.

Of the many stalls there were a few products that caught my eye and some I hope to return to at a later date in separate reviews. 

These included a number of travel solutions for drinking decent coffee, the most interesting ones being the Growers Cup Coffeebrewer, an all in one travel filter bag that made a solid brew. 

Then there was the Handpresso Wild ESE Portable Espresso Machine, essentially a bike pump come coffee maker. The pump is used to make the pressure and off you go, the shot I had was smooth and sweet. 

Can the take away coffee lid be improved? Progressive Supplies seem to think so with their FoamAroma® lid, they promise less spill and a better drinking experience. I have a bunch of lids on which to test (not with scalding fluid) so I will let you know how it goes.

A little coffee plant.

I don't normally cover non coffee drinks but Orzo Coffee's substitute tickled my fancy. Roasted Barley, ground and prepared in a cafetiere is a an interesting, naturally caffeine free alternative. It is the norm in Italy and perhaps it is something that will catch on over here. 

These are just some of the items seen on my visit to the show and the dizzying array of stalls on offer. I didn't have time to check out many of the food, tea and chocolate stalls that were also exhibiting but there was only so much time.

More to follow in part 2 including the UKBC's and further exciting coffee experiences.

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