01 April 2019

The London Coffee Festival 2019

This year's London Coffee Festival took place last weekend, a four-day event taking place at the Old Truman Brewery in Spitalfields. Once again, I couldn't get out of the office to attend one of the two industry days (Thursday and Friday) but I spent all day Saturday, the first full public day, at the festival, taking full advantage of all that it had to offer.

I was granted a full-day press pass (thank you to London Coffee Festival and Hope & Glory), which meant I could take my time exploring. Although the venue was the same as in previous years, it always takes me a couple of hours to get my bearings for all four floors. As always, I recommend that coffee geeks book more than one three-hour session — or a VIP ticket, which provides fast-track entry and all-day access, so you have enough time to see and do everything. VIP tickets also include a copy of The London Coffee Guide and a coffee cocktail. There's a VIP lounge too, but there's not much to do there.

As in previous years, I've divided my review into three sections: coffee, experiences and kit.

The main reason I attend the festival each year is to catch up with roaster friends and to try out new or new-to-me roasters. Although I was only there for a day — and did miss a few of the roasters I'd been hoping to visit — I didn't do too badly with this objective.

Belfast-based roaster Bailies has been on my radar for a long time, so I was pleased that after a quick recce, their stand was one of the first I came across. I tried three coffees: a Panamanian natural Gesha, a Guatemalan natural maragogype, and an experimental Costa Rican lot. The first two were particularly impressive and although I hadn't planned to buy any beans, I bought a 100g bag of the Guatemalan coffee, which was entered in this year's Cup of Excellence. Bailies' packaging is right up my street too.

Just across the way was another roaster with striking packaging, the brand-new PLOT Roasting, based in Woolwich. I sampled a lovely Tanzanian Iyenga AB, which had juicy tropical fruit notes. I also liked the bright, colourful packaging of ii Common, who have attempted to simplify coffee flavour profiles by describing each variety as either sweet, strong, bright or complex. Thanks to Brian of Brian's Coffee Spot for pointing me to Common (and also for the gift of some coffee from China, which I look forward to sampling).

At the stand of Belgian roaster MOK, I enjoyed a peachy Ethiopian washed Wolichu Wachu filter coffee, and over at 39 Steps Coffee Haus, they had a fab Colombian Gesha, whose flavours came out beautifully as it cooled; it was worth the 10-minute queue to get to the coffee.

I was lucky that Phil Wain, Editor of Caffeine Magazine, gave me directions to the Qima Coffee stand because I had been struggling to find the London-based Yemen coffee specialist about which I had heard such good things. They were selling 100g bags of their single region microlot for £8.50 — a bargain, as it is a complex but delicious coffee. I also learned that they supply their green Yemeni coffee to Le Café Alan Ducasse in King's Cross. At Volcano's stand, I tried their Crisis Coffee, which, as part of Café from Crisis, is used to train people who are experiencing homeless in barista and service skills to help get them back to work. It's great to see that there are several initiatives that combine coffee and social enterprise in London now.

I also enjoyed some delicious coffee from several of my favourite roasters. Curve, based in Margate, had launched some gorgeous, colourful new packaging and were serving a rather lovely Colombian Gesha, among other coffees. Over at Outpost, meanwhile, the Kenyan Kamwangi AA filter coffee had vibrant raspberry and redcurrant notes. And at Origin, they were selling a Panama Gesha, but I stuck to a coffee cocktail instead. Not just any coffee cocktail, but Dan Fellows' World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship-winning Japanese Old Fashioned cocktail, served by the man himself.

I also paid a visit to Grumpy Mule who last week launched a very special Yemeni natural-process coffee, which Dave Jameson kindly sent to me to try. Grumpy Mule is the only UK roastery to showcase coffee from Mokhtar Alkhanshali's Port of Mokha this year, and the complex raisin, orange peel, cinnamon and milk chocolate notes came through beautifully when brewed in my Kalita. I'd been wanting to try Port of Mokha coffee since loving Dave Eggers' book The Monk of Mokha, and was so pleased I finally got the chance. You can get 15% and free shipping until 30 April 2019 on Grumpy Mule's website with the code GMPOM.

The Union Coffee team were running 15-minute 'flavour discovery' sessions, designed to help you to improve your palate — and heighten your awareness of tastes and aromas. We first got to take a little taste test, trying three waters that had been slightly flavoured with one of five basic sensations (sweet, sour and bitter, in this case). We then smelled several scented strips of paper and attempted to place them onto the flavour wheel — I did fairly well at this. Finally, with our newfound sensory awareness, we smelled and then tasted two coffees and had to determine which had the chocolatey, nutty and cherry notes, and which was more citrusy. Using my nose alone pointed to the wrong answer, but once I tasted both, I was fairly confident in my answer.

This year's festival also had a long overdue focus on efforts to cut down on the number of disposable cups. I brought two KeepCupsb with me — a 4 oz and an 8 oz — and tried to use them whenever I could, although occasionally, I wasn't fast enough to proffer my cup. There were a number of washing stations throughout the festival, and good recycling facilities, although — alas — still too many cups in the bin. KeepCup and Best Coffee were running a reuse challenge, which prompted readers to take their reusable cup to various challenges and complete small tasks to receive a stamp. If you collected at least four stamps, you could enter a competition to win an eco-friendly weekend in London.

Once again, I attended several sessions in The Lab, which hosts talks, panel discussions and interactive workshops. The location this year, on the top floor but in a rather noisy open-plan space, but the programme was great. I heard a panel discussion about the rise of the home barista — and learned how much further down the speciality coffee rabbit hole I still have to fall (no home roaster yet!). Later in the day, I listened to Professor Jonathan Morris from the University of Hertfordshire's informative talk about the five eras of coffee history. Jonathan was selling and signing copies of his book, Coffee: A Global History, which I look forward to reading.

Finally, I went to an inspiring session with Fi O'Brien and Casey Lalonde, the titular Girls Who Grind Coffee, who spoke about the importance of promoting the role of women at every stage in the coffee industry, from farm to cup. They were joined by Daniella and Karla Boza from Finca San Antonio Amatepec in El Salvador, whose coffee is available via Girls Who Grind Coffee. Daniela talked about how her father had expected to pass his farm down to a son, but instead had three daughters who now run the farm. The connection the sisters now feel with those who drink their coffee is empowering, Daniela said, and the feedback they get is invaluable. Karla, meanwhile, talked about how they care for the thousands of trees on their farm (a former theme park!) as though they are their children.

I also spent a little time watching sessions at the ever-popular Latte Art Live, in the hope that I will pick up some tips, and the Coffee Masters quarter finals. Whatever your thoughts on coffee competitions, watching some of the best and most passionate people in the business performing their craft always inspires me.


For those who didn't bring a reusable cup with them, there were plenty of cups on sale at the festival. KeepCup's double-walled LongPlay cups were there, as were SoL Cups, who had a special London Coffee Festival edition. I had long had my eye on the HuskeeCup, and bought a sleek black 8 oz cup from the Origin stand. As its name suggests, the HuskeeCup is made from discarded coffee husk, and it's light, cool to hold and cool to look at. I now wish I'd also bought a 6 oz version for practising my latte art at home (they were the cups of choice during Latte Art Live); they will soon be available in Origin cafes. Some other cups that caught my eye were the Cupalors from France: ceramic and stainless steel travel mugs, with interchangeable cork, merino wool and leather cases.

On the brewing side, I couldn't resist buying a turquoise Edo Barista jug for brewing my Aeropress better sans kettle at my office. Unfortunately, my budget didn't also stretch to the matching turquoise La Marzocco Linea Mini. At the Sage stand, they were demonstrating their new Barista Pro espresso machine, which I got to preview a couple of weeks ago. An upgraded version of the popular Barista Express, which I've owned and enjoyed using for two years, it has digital controls, faster heat-up and a sleeker look than its predecessor. Luckily, my Barista Express is still in very good condition, so I don't need a new machine, but if you are in the market for a 'mid-range' home espresso machine, the Pro model is only £100 more expensive than the Express...

Here's what I came home with: some coffee, a mug, a jug, a couple of books, a magazine, and plenty of postcards to remind me of the great coffees I tasted so that when I am less overstocked, I remember which roasters to return to.

Disclaimer: I attended this year's London Coffee Festival as press; thank you to the festival organisers and Hope & Glory. As always, all opinions are my own.

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