Last week was the UK Coffee Week, and whilst I didn’t really honour it by increasing my already at risk levels of coffee consumption that week, I did pay their flagship event, The London Coffee Festival, a visit on Sunday afternoon.
Running in its third year, the festival was held on the entire first floor of The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, celebrating the art of coffee making and showcasing the bustling and rapidly growing independent coffee shop (and some not so independent – these were largely shun, with good reason) industry in London.
Hosted in ticketed 3-hour sessions over three days – Friday to Sunday -, the event attracted a large crowd of coffee lovers, amateur and connoisseur, artisan foodies, baristas, and lots and lots of companies.
The festival area was split into four different sections: Hyde Park featured a picnic area where people could chill in front of a stage to live music playing throughout the festival, a large exhibition area for L’Accademia Di Cimbali, several different stalls for coffee shops, as well as stalls for tea and chocolate companies; Soho featured even more coffee shop stalls (fine, these were everywhere – I didn’t even know there were so many coffee companies in little London), an artisan café, more fancy tea and a large stall and exhibition area for Union Hand-Roasted Coffee; Shoreditch had a street food market (largely carbs, the shame) (even the octopus was coated in flour), and an artisan market; and finally, the Showroom featured lots of coffee making gadgets.
Apart from all the free coffee tasting and food, there were also various events held throughout the festival days, such as fudge making, a digital brewing presentation, the UK Barista Championships, and a Twin Peaks themed art exhibition featuring art influenced by the surreal Lynchian landscape. One of my favourite parts of Twin Peaks is its quirky focus on coffee – although, heck, it’s by far one of my top 3 favourite things to have ever seen on TV -, so where better to exhibit this art than the London Coffee Festival?
As much as I enjoyed walking around tasting beans, buying beans, ogling fancy coffee presses and outrageously sexy machines, I was left slightly disappointed at how it was organised. Having paid for a ticket, I would have wished there was more to it than mostly walking around from stall to stall at a massive trade show.
It felt more like an industry event for different coffee companies, rather than a community celebration for everyone who has any interest in coffee, and it could have been far more interactive. Sure, there were events scheduled, but these weren’t properly hyped up and not particularly engaging (not the ones I stumbled across, anyway).
Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity to see people who really know their shit do what they do best, namely the intricacies of coffee making, and to ask these industry experts any questions you may have on anything from what filters are the best to use to what the right bar pressure is for what types of beans. I’m talking about people who thoroughly know the complex art and science of proper coffee making – not people who know how to press a few buttons on a coffee machine and somehow find the nerve in them to call themselves baristas.
Moreover, we did bag some beans from fantastic brands, such as Ozone and Union, which we’re massively excited about trying out. Included in my ticket was also the latest edition of the London Coffee Guide: we’ve been through quite a huge chunk of the many excellent coffee shops in town already (this is basically where our money goes), but it’s great to have a proper bible to refer to, to expand our caffeinated horizon.
Finally, a great thing about this festival is that 50% of all ticket sales went to Project Waterfall, which does excellent work towards ensuring safe drinking water and sanitation in African countries where coffee production is a key part of industry. They are currently collaborating with WaterAid in providing clean water in Tanzania. An important, relevant and focused initiative.
On a related note, my office recently relocated to the wonderful Leather Lane, which means I’m now dangerously close to the excellent beans of the Department of Coffee & Social Affairs and Prufrock for my much needed morning, lunch time and afternoon coffee fixes. The El Salvador filter coffee from Department in particular has been my obsession recently. If you’re ever in the area, you simply cannot leave without having tried it. It’s out of this world. Deep, bold, chocolatey beans made by gods.
Looking forward to next year’s festival and hoping they can top this year’s. And also – remember; people who are claiming they are drinking coffee when they are actually drinking milk, cream and sugar with a molecule of coffee beans are a disgrace to the notion of ‘drinking coffee’ and should probably stick to their own world of homeopathy and other diluted nonsense.
Have a lovely Bank Holiday Weekend, everyone!