06 April 2014

London Coffee Festival 2014

I missed last year's London Coffee Festival as I was getting closer to the source in Costa Rica, so I was very much looking forward to the 2014 LCF, especially after a small taster at SPIN x LCF. I booked a ticket in today's brunch session (10 am to 1 pm), which turned out to be a good call, given the length of the queue outside The Old Truman Brewery for the 1 pm session.

I didn't have much time to read up on the event and much as I like tasting coffee from new caf├ęs or roasters, I was wondering if I would reach caffeine saturation too quickly and run out of things to do. I shouldn't have worried because the LCF was very interactive, with plenty to hold the interest of the discerning coffee drinker. I paid £18.75 for my ticket, which included the booking fee, a copy of the 2014 edition of the London Coffee Guide, a goodie-filled LCF tote bag, and a donation to clean-water charities, and most of the stands were offering free samples — in exchange for a voluntary donation to charity.

While I got my bearings, I stopped by La Cimbali for a macchiato. They have some seriously stylish coffee kit, including a grinder with a bluetooth connection to the espresso machine, for optimum coffee geekery.

I then made my way to the Volcano Coffee Works stand. Volcano is based in south-east London (yay!) and they supply my office local, Drink, Shop & Dash, with their excellent coffee. At the LCF, Volcano were letting people have a go at making their own drink. It's been a long time since I last made a macchiato on a professional machine, and the espresso machines at the sandwich shop I worked in back in the early 2000s was nowhere near as nice as the beautiful, shiny Rocket machine I got to play with today. I think I did a decent job (you can see it brewing in the second photo below), although my macchiato art needs a lot of practice.

As I headed out from the "Hyde Park" section to "Soho," the offer of a "coffee slammer" stopped me in my tracks (I think the La Marzocco crew were behind this). This was awesome: chopped hazelnuts replaced the salt lick, then a quick shot of espresso, followed by a spoonful of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Delicious. A raspberry and popping candy version was also available.

There was a lot of cool merchandise for sale, including limited-edition glass versions of the KeepCup. Even though I have way too many coffee receptacles, I was tempted by the pink one, but they didn't have it in the small size.

Make Decent Coffee were also demonstrating and selling cool coffee kit, including the V60 dripper and the Aeropress. I am thinking of buying a dripper at some point, but I think the Kalita Wave is the most stylish version and no one at the LCF seemed to be selling it. Phew, say my Aeropresses!

Union Hand-Roasted Coffee organised a number of activities. First, I tried my hand at the timed coffee-tasting competition, where you got to try four sets of three coffees, identifying the odd one out each time. Unfortunately, I had already had quite a lot of coffee when I started and I don't think my palate was at its best. It was good fun though. Later, I listened to one of their roasters talk about the art and science of coffee roasting, which was a geekier version of the demonstration I got at the coffee plantation I visited in Costa Rica.

The Make Decent Coffee folks encouraged me to stop by the Orang Utan Coffee stand. I tried a sample of their Sumatran coffee, which was very good: light, floral and refreshing (perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up). The Orang Utan Coffee Project is dedicated to helping Sumatran farmers manage coffee plantations that produce great coffee without destroying the rainforests in which orang utans make their home. It's great to know that as well as drinking a good cup of coffee, you are supporting a worthwhile sustainability initiative. I would have bought some beans but have a surfeit at home; they will be selling them online from the end of this month, though.

The finals of the UK Barista Championship were taking place today and I stopped by to watch one of the finalists, Estelle Bright, as she produced the required drinks — four espressos, four cappuccinos and four espresso-based speciality drinks — in under 15 minutes. It was really impressive to watch her work calmly under pressure, even with a big audience, and talking through what she was doing. And bonus points for coordinating the cups with her hair!

Finally, I took a look at the Coffee Art Project, where various coffee-themed pieces of art were on display. This piece reminded me of my desk at work on many an under-caffeinated morning.

The LCF was a great way to spend a morning. I learned a lot and got to try some great coffees, and to sample chocolates and various other coffee-associated products. I would definitely recommend next year's event to any coffee aficionado or anyone who wants to learn a little more about their favourite caffeinated beverage. If you can get to one of the morning sessions, it will probably be slightly less busy and easier to navigate.

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