The booming births of speciality coffee shops, dedicated coffee prints such as Caffeine, surging number of barista competitions and the biggest one of them all: London Coffee Festival. Last Saturday, we stood outside The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane at 10:00AM sharp, tickets in hand. Fraught with the hipster Shoreditch crowd, the annual celebration was already in full swing when we arrived as the queue for entry snaked round the block. In its sixth year running, this year we join the buzz with the city who takes their coffee seriously.
The common man does not usually think much about his daily cuppa. But for the java savvy, it is a ritual, de rigueur. As someone who’s been on a coffee detox since the start of 2017 (for 2016’s deadline-crunch-time-#3cupsaday overdose), the festival was an enormous and fragrant celebration of reintroducing the very necessary stimulant at this point of the year for the very same reason.
A convocation for the caffeine-obsessed marked by its signature tote bags, we pocketed the few that caught out to us.
Let’s first build some ground here: dark, caramel and nutty were the undertones we were after. Not the fashionable ‘fruity and acidic’ roasts served by many of the artisanals. Apart from that, we were no single-origin snobs here, nor we were able to understand the complexities of coffee connoisseurship beyond our cheap Hario V60 filters and Monmouth IPA roast.
A quick look-see past the entrance and we’re already swallowed by the numerous booths and army of coffee comrades. As expected, the aisles were very crowded but, surprisingly tolerable. Walkable and no invasion of personal space. The down side was that the grounds were so huge it was impossible to cover even half of it in the mere 3hrs our tickets granted us.
Our first stop was for one with compostable Nespresso-compatible pods. For the sustainably conscious consumer, this one is for you. Tasty brews too, as we sampled their Colombian Sierra Nevada (fave!), Indian Coorg Estate (only for the stone hearts, this one defeated us), Dark Roast and Decaf (no compromising on taste for theirs, thumbs up!). A little browse on their site and these guys even have coffee flour! We bagged 12 of the Colombians and shuffled along.
Although the items were just being exhibited pre-launch, the beautiful colours of the hand-blown glass cups caught our attention immediately. They’re also in the midst of launching glass bottles that are made of 100% sustainable materials; a glass body, silicone cover and bamboo cap. The best part: its super lightweight.
Windmill Street Coffee by the folks behind Drury Lane.
Drury is no newcomer to any oldie in the scene since establishing in Soho’s Great Windmill Street in 1936 and Windmill Street Coffee is their new venture of the brand which launched at the festival itself. Windmill promotes a seasonal house blend that changes every 6 months and their current selection is made of a 50/50 mix of El Salvador and Colombia. Tasting notes: ‘red apple, caramel, pecan, cherry acidity’. We get served a generous full cup each-a flat white and a long black to split amongst us 3. Too hot for an immediate sip, which at this point was too late to reverse resulted in a, “guys, don’t you think this (long black) tastes like liquid char kuey tiao….kind of in a good way?” But as the coffee cooled to a more palatable temperature, the deep roasts were there. Pleasant beginnings, mmm.
Of course, the creators of beautiful, lusty gizmos.
May we first present the carefully curated filter coffee cup which is cleverly designed to hold the leftover filter grounds at the bottom of cup to prevent that face crunch at the end of your drink. Also, the double walled glass that is so very in-style at the mo.
We then got blown away by their new cold-brew maker. Marketed as being easy to use, pour and clean, we were sold when they offered us one of the smoothest, well-balanced distillations that was seemingly calculated with the precision of a science experiment. Home investments, we’d say yes.
Most of the gadgets had no retail price on site as they were fairly new launches, but the guys did mention that Harts of Stur is the only stockist KitchenAid is working with in the UK. They’re also offering a show offer, where you get 10% off with the code ‘LCF10’.
The ones who raised the bar, quite literally. Redemption Roasters caught us when we learnt that they 1) roast their own beans in small batches 2) train and equip young offenders at Aylesbury Prison with the knowledge and skills to roast a mean bean and 3) conducts their roasting and operates their cafe within the prison grounds for the prison community and visitors. To top it all off, their coffee is ethically sourced, and we stamp a mark of approval that it was delicious too.
Brass Monkey Cold Brew
Used in phrases to describe extremely cold weather, their name says it all. An international duo but mainly grounded in London, these guys partnered up with South London craft brewery, By The Horns Brewing Co. for that optimal sip. Specifically, this is what they’ve said to deliver:
“Cold brew coffee is a process where ground coffee beans are steeped in cold water for an extended period of time – in our case 20 hours. We then triple filter the brew and you’re left with a deep delicious concentrated cold coffee, which can then be further diluted and bottled or canned.
The benefit of the cold brewing process becomes apparent when you sip it; Its bolder, smoother and with a much rounded clear coffee flavour. Cold brew massively reduces the levels of acid found in coffee – which is fairly high in hot coffee. So it’s tastier, less acidic, naturally sweetened delicious gulps of coffee.”
For £2.50, we got the nitro brew and believe us when we say it was the most refreshing drink in that espresso maze. “It feels like beer on tap,” we tell Eddie and Peter, and they tell us that was what they were going for. Dark like ale with a thick foam on the top, this one promises a coffee moustache. All signs of a good drink. Bottoms up!
Steampunk Cold Drip Coffee Machine
It has not been up till this point where we’ve only managed to decipher that eager anticipation for warmer weather as we introduce yet another cold-drink related item. Standing in all of its meter high glory is this ludicrous and wacky piece made by Peter Harris. He tells us there is only 4 of these machines produced and that the first one is currently sitting in The Black Penny’s inventory.
Other bits included coffee accessories (if you’re serious about coffee you will buy a £120 full leather tool bag for morning serenity) like bags and luxury jewelry made from coffee grounds.
The deal is that coffee is a lifestyle. With that in mind, the festival also boasts offshoot subcultures of coffee drinking through a curation of various local fashion, design, art, lifestyle and wellbeing brands at Milk & Sugar‘s space as a breather from the many sips and (energy) dips. The area is also equipped with phone chargers and seats, though a water station would be have ideal too.
Food pairings at Grind featuring a massive 60 seater walk-in restaurant, quite the unusual occurrence for a festival setting. For the unfamiliar, Grind has the following similar to our local Toastbox with various locations around central London. Apart from their usual brunch menu, a 3-course meal with specific coffees to match each dish enabled the adventurous a gastronomic experience, if their stomachs still had space to spare.
Apart from that, the festival also hosted True Artisan Cafe, a pop-up concept featuring the signature drinks of 3 of the country’s top cafes. No need for early mornings to beat the cafe crowd and long tube rides, it all comes to you under one roof.
Double the Trouble
Go hard or go home. If you missed the espresso martini party during the industry launch, fret not, the space was planted with bars and booths. There were also murmurs of a Baileys flat white which we managed to get to unfortunately, boo.
Something for everyone
From the decaf brigade to the dairy-free or green juice loving, a good portion of the festival also included tea brewers with fresh chai and all things matcha. Rude Health, Alpro and Rebel Kitchen were also present. We freshened up with green juices and cashew milk from PLENISH, or if fermented drinks are your thing, Jarr Kombucha was also serving up some of their yummy bubbles.
Whether that cup is your next accessory for your Instagram #OOTD or part of your survival kit for that outstanding essay, the London Coffee Festival certainly has something for everyone. Dates for the next festival have already been released for 12-15 April 2018. We’re already counting the days……