A visit to the London Coffee Festival provides an insight into a blossoming industry with plenty of room to stretch it's feet.
Coffee houses popping up across the city of London is by no means a new thing, they first appeared in the English capital in the mid 1600s, caffeinating those creative minds forging The Age of Enlightenment. In more recent times however there has been somewhat of enlightenment in terms of the city’s coffee quality with a Third Wave of coffee roasting giving birth to a specialty scene every bit as innovative and energetic as anywhere on the planet.
While Monmouth could certainly lay claim to being the first specialty roaster (setting up shop in the late 1970s) it would be another 30 years before standards truly started to rise on a grand scale. In 2005 Soho’s Flat White brought an Antipodean flavor to the city and, with James Hoffman, Stephen Morrissey (an Irishman in London) and Gwilym Davies winning the ’07, ‘08 and ’09 WBC respectively, the rest of the world would soon to sit up and take notice of a city’s specialty coffee scene on the march.
Today 2 billion cups of coffee fuel $14 billion worth of turnover from almost 19,000 outlets, but what’s most impressive is the pace at which these figures have been achieved. In the past 15 years alone there has been an almost 400% increase in the number of ‘coffee outlets’…and there’s no sign of this pace abating any time soon.
Nowhere is all of this more evident than at last weekend’s London Coffee Festival at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane (London’s trendy hang out in the Eastern reaches of the city). Now in it’s fifth year the festival features 250 exhibitors and represents all that is dynamic about the specialty scene in the UK today.
Make no mistake, this is not just some trade show established to provide a platform for industry folk to shift some units… this is an engaging, evocative and, most importantly, accessible window into an industry on the cusp of a wave, a way to communicate to a sometimes skeptical marketplace, a means to captivate a city constantly on the hunt for something new and exciting. ‘The Lab Space’ holds up to twelve talks per day on topics such as industry trends & the future of the marketplace, social media strategies and brewing techniques for the home. The much anticipated Coffee Masters competition (created by Rob Dunne and Victor Frankowski of DunneFrankowski) allows the heaving crowds to get up close and personal with 20 of the world’s top baristas as they are tested on various disciplines including, but not limited to, brewing, latte art, cupping and a signature drink. With Workshop Coffee’s James Bailey eventually coming out trumps it was an exciting spin on the world of barista competition, their next stop will be New York in September. As Festival Director, Ludovic Rossignol states “a festival is not a festival without music”, and accordingly the crowds were treated to an eclectic line up of world music performed live in the hall.
A city’s coffee could be said to be only as good as it’s roasters, most of whom were out in force over the four days. Square Mile engaged on their first visit to a coffee festival, though you wouldn’t have guessed it. With a Black Eagle (matt black!) offering out exceptional espresso and a filter bench consisting of three SP9s (Marco’s latest offering) this was an ideal point at which to start you journey around the room. Union Coffee offered introductory talks to roasting along side a cupping competition, Ozone presented some of their new cold brew while The Roasting Party had a stand large enough to engage in a Mexican wave (really). All the while the crowds enjoyed appearances from the likes of Caravan, Workshop, Origin, Notes, Small Batch and Nude. Another new roaster gaining much attention is Assembly who will seek to redefine the roaster/café relationship to collectively create new approaches to coffee and café culture which ‘best serve the needs of the independent industry’, very much a case of ‘watch this space’.
There are also many subsidiary off shoots of the industry on display, each contributing their own to the energy of the event. Minor Figures (who has recently entered the Australian marketplace) drew much attention for their cold brew while the stand out new piece of equipment was most certainly Marco’s new SP9. A revolutionary product for the world of pourover, this single cup brewer is set to transform how cafes approach their filter programme.
Should you happen to be in London on the other 51 weeks of the year when the festival is not on then you can sample most, if not all of the above, at an array of dynamic cafes across the city including Mother’s Milk, Embassy East, Brooklyn, Black Lyan (a pop up due to close at the end of the festival, but check out the mothership White Lyan for some serious cocktails) and the soon to reopen (atop Old Street Roundabout!) Macintyre Coffee.
Samuel Johnson once said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”… while that notion could certainly be debated, it alludes to the electric energy that runs through this city. Music, theatre, restaurants and sport are all areas in which London can match and, more often than not, outdo other major cities. With thanks to a number of pioneering and driven industry leaders the city is no longer left lagging behind in the field of specialty coffee and can add yet another feather to it’s already bulging hat. Mind the gap? What gap.
This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: London Calling.