Tagged "Coffee Travels"


London Calling

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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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.

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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, WorkshopOrigin, 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.

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This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: London Calling.

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Thoughts from the SCAA Expo 2015

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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A city known as the heartland of specialty coffee and the birthplace of Starbucks, it was appropriate that this year's Specialty Coffee Association of America Symposium (SCAA), Trade Expo and World Barista Championship (WBC) were held in Seattle. With its thriving coffee culture, exciting food scene and great weather (not withstanding the piercing cold), Seattle was the perfect stage for what would be the best coffee event of the year. Home to the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, with its amazing state-of-the-art acoustics and intimate lounge spaces which were perfect for in-depth debates, the Benaroya served as unique and powerful backdrop for the Symposium. For those not in the know, the SCAA Symposium is an intensive two-day seminar where all the leading professionals, scientists, leaders and organizations in the coffee industry congregate to discuss the topics which are driving the industry at present.

This year, the Symposium was broken into five sessions and the topics for discussion were chosen in response to the last Symposium in 2014.

Getting to the heart of it: Quantifying and Optimizing Specialty Coffee

This was a light hearted introduction to the Symposium as five speakers assessed the current state of the market in their specialist areas. Pierre Ferrari kicked the session off with a bang as he preached the idea of the coffee industry thinking ‘outside the cup’ by providing solutions for coffee farmers to plant various other crops to provide an extra source of income to aid their quality of life. Other topics ranged from a rethink of the value and capabilities of different varietals (Caturra vs Castillo) to an in-depth look into collaboration between small coffee producers by Catracha Coffee in Honduras (which promoted a profit sharing scheme amongst these farmers). Not only did this collaboration enable an improvement in the quality of coffee produced, but it created the concept of change within the community and encouraged the fruits of success to be shared by all. This session ended on a high note with an in-depth look at the current state of the specialty coffee market; it was good!

The Cutting Edge of Sensory Science

With a few variations of the ‘Flavour wheel’ currently in use, it was only right that the SCAA addressed the issue of creating a universal vocabulary of flavours, one which details description and intensity but is also transferrable across levels. The World Coffee Research’s partnership with Kansas State University has led to the creation of such a lexicon, with a wide array of 108 flavour notes and nine levels of intensity.

One of the more interesting lectures which came out of this discussion was from the guys at foodpairing.com. Through the use of complex algorithms based on the availability of this huge database, Bernard Lahousse suggested to the audience that flavour perception is about 80% smell. Therefore this system, used alongside a formula for pairing complex aroma signatures, creates the ability to pair a dish with a certain single origin coffee with great ease.

Water: The Invisible Driver of Coffee

A wide spectrum of topics was covered during this session. The issues raised ranged from discussion about the conservation of water in coffee processing methods to the management of water cycles on a farm. The perspective of the Coffee Market and Community and how they are affected by drought was also discussed, along with ideas about the potential standardization of the composition of water in the specialty industry. This was potentially one of the most enlightening and intriguing topics on offer that day.

Flavio Borem’s lecture on how changes in processing methods can effectively save tonnes of water was something of a highlight for us. In this current day and age where water is scarce, we as an industry should be looking at ways of encouraging sustainable practices. Flavio champions the idea that natural processing (if done correctly, with well thought out systems and practices) can create an equally consistent and high quality end product as that achieved by a fully washed process – but water usage is decreased drastically during natural processing, from potentially 1,240 litres of water to 0 litres of water per bag of coffee. However, in the specialty coffee industry where the emphasis is on quality, there needs to be a balance between natural and fully washed processing.

Out of the Box: Unexpected Innovations in Coffee

This came from a farmer who proved that coffee can be grown in California. He discussed the evolution of coffee rust, its origins and where it is today.

Charlotte Biltekoff’s discussion of how health issues are addressed scientifically, but also significantly influenced by culture and social values, was enlightening. She showed us how the definition of what comprised a ‘healthy’ diet has changed dramatically over the decades.

Gender Equity: Can Shifting Our Focus Improve the Supply Chain?

The role of gender equity was analyzed with reference to the impact it can have not just on the industry and coffee, but also on the community within coffee producing countries when it’s implemented in the right manner. Lorena Aguilar’s lecture demonstrated that empowering women and giving them a seat at the table is not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do, as evidenced by their results especially in reference to creating a better, more effective and efficient community structure.

The Bukonzo Cooperative Union hit a home run with the implementation of their gender equity programme – a regime which not only improved relationships between men and women in the households of that community, but also empowered women through the various leadership and training opportunities. In turn, this improved the quality of their coffee programme, which in turn brought about some amazing returns. The coffee quality increased from a cupping score of 77 to 85.75 in the space of less than four years – which was phenomenal!

Being stuck in the hustle and bustle of a roastery each day, one rarely gets to take a step back from it all and put into perspective the enormous range of topics which seek to drive our industry forward. The SCAA Symposium serves as the perfect platform for discussion and inspiration for these thought-provoking topics. And this drives us, as coffee professionals, in our pursuit in excellence, as we’re always striving to produce that perfect cup of coffee. But the Symposium this year also reminded us to take into account the social and environmental footprint that excellence brings with it.

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