London Coffee Festival

This festival has become one of the highlights of the year for my industry and this year I took two members of our team to experience the energy and enthusiasm that currently resides in our industry.

We started out from London Bridge railway station and a compulsory stop at Monmouth’s coffee shop in Borough Market. For anyone interested in this business this is a fantastic experience. There’s a lot of sexy stuff going on in this industry but ultimately it’s about delivery. You can’t make a living producing 6 coffees an hour. Monmouth offer a hand poured filter coffee at speed which probably horrifies some Baristas but ultimately delivers a good cup of coffee primarily because the core ingredient, coffee, is great. They prove every time the old adage, keep it simple stupid, and the permanent queue bears this out.

Walking from Borough Market to Brick Lane and our ultimate destination the Old Truman Brewery is a lesson in how diverse the coffee market has become, on top of that the architecture is stunning.

And so to the show, a cacophony of sounds and smells that totally overwhelms the senses. The random nature of the layout adds to a feeling of discombobulation as one tries to absorb what is in front of you.

The coffee “masters” competition and latte art demonstrations always draw crowds of enthusiastic spectators, highlighting the difference between fantasy and the reality of delivery in a busy café. Still, it’s good to see what’s possible.

What the show did highlight though was the differing views that currently abound over the future of the café space. As one of the exhibitors pointed out there’s only so far that you can push traceability, sustainability and the ethical qualities of your coffee. They’ve effectively become the default starting point, so what new surprises are out there?

As coffee shops have effectively taken over the social space of the pub it makes sense that a number of stands were promoting coffee and alcohol combinations. In this regard there’s now a huge interest in cold and nitro brew coffees. These are drinks that historically were sold in much warmer climates, I guess that’s global warming for you! The combinations though really pushed the boundaries. I tasted coffee with wine, there was a session with beer and of course a myriad of coffee/spirit combinations. The advantage of using cold brew coffee as a base is that the coffee element tends to be a lot softer and when nitro brewed has a positively creamy texture.

Bringing an alcoholic offer to the café environment can make real commercial sense. Done well it enables longer and profitable trading hours and allows access to the popular cocktail market. It is however a fine balance as a family space can quickly turn into an adult-only drinking den. The advice I guess is know your market and adapt accordingly.

Health and environmental awareness permeate a number of stands. Re-usable and recyclable packaging abounds. I also had my first vegan burger, a redemptive moment for a confirmed carnivore! The Coffee ArtProject promoting new and existing artists as well as supporting Project Waterfall really does highlight how influential the coffee movement is in wider society.

Of course there’s the after show party kindly provided by our green coffee partners DR Wakefield, this time at “Dick’s Magic T-Bar”. A tremendous setting and a brilliant way to conclude what is always an extraordinary day.

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