May 1, 2014

The London Coffee Fest – Where I Was Reminded Why I Love Coffee


Ok, so I was lucky enough to spend three days at the London Coffee Festival in Shoreditch. Where ironic gelled moustaches are the norm and you can proudly wear a flat cap in your twenties.

Everyone Asked Me: ‘What Was There to Do? Did You Just Drink Coffee?’

Yeah, I did slurp over 40 crafted coffees, but it was much more than that. The festival epitomised coffee; as an old-time craft, a cultural experience, a scientific process and a trans-global tool for connecting remote villages to western mega-cities – today I drank a coffee in London; the beans were from Caranavi, Bolivia, but they were roasted in Australia by St. Ali.

They say to actually to make a coffee from plant to cup takes 2,000 hours and I believe it. To pursue a career in coffee is a wonderfully inter-connected participatory journey. To be in the business you have to hang with roasters, machine manufacturers, farmers and a host of other coffee entrepreneurs.

The event symbolised that coffee, to quote the festival’s official programme, “is the marriage of culture and coolness.” It’s a stylish catalyst for happiness, creativity and craftsmanship. There were live musical beats, artistic presentations, and fashionistas.

So What Did I Learn?

In a sentence: that coffee is so much more than a drink.

I met single origin roasters, manufacturers of innovative coffee equipment, coffee aficionados and those lucky bastards who source the coffee direct from the farmer.

Everyone I met had their own agenda. Whether it was a carbon footprint commitment to producing the world’s first carbon negative coffee, or the coffee company dedicated to the juiciest Ethiopian single-origins or even “Hario” selling their hand-brewing equipment – however they’re all united in putting high quality specialty coffee.

So next time someone says to me “Ok so what’s the deal with you and coffee. Its just a drink.” I will answer with the following (excuse the pretence): coffee is not as monotonous as “ a drink” nor a “exchanged-commodity” to be measured by its caffeine hit.

It brightens up your day – sometimes I wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, and then I remember…I’ve got that new coffee. As I prepare my coffee just as like it, its a special moment of self indulgence, that makes me feel privileged for a pittance.

And if you prefer going out to a café, although they make coffee for everybody, at the same time the barista prepares that coffee for you. Where else can you get a tailor-made service and a smile for 2 quid.

It’s so subjective – it doesn’t matter what other people think or taste, it’s your cup of coffee. You might enjoy undertones of lemon while your friend might prefer full-bodied bitterness. You’re both right – a good coffee is a coffee that you like.

Each cup has a story and the industry goal is transparency.

In one day at the festival I met:

‘Kahawa Origins’ who source delightful rarities directly from Malawian South Sudanese and Cameroonian small-holdings and give 10% back to the coffee-growing communities. Check them out below:

‘Original Colombian Coffee’ who have kept the business in the family for over 100 years and roast in, you guessed it, Colombia, in order to reach citrusy espresso perfection (and they’re close!). Check out their Facebook page below:

‘Black Sheep Coffee’ who want to leave the herd behind and “robusta your assess” with the Robusta revival retailing unorthodox specialty grade Robusta!

Or ‘Alma De Cuba’ who are ‘bringing artisan Cuban coffee back.’ Back from what you might ask? After Castro’s 1959 revolution, Cuban industry was nationalised and the United States enforced an embargo that effectively killed the coffee industry. Alma de Cuba (Soul of Cuba) are bringing it out of exile.

These stories show us that every cup of coffee has endured an extensive global process through farmers, roasters, entrepreneurs, and, eventually, into your cup.

So do me a favour, next time your drinking a coffee look at it through a different lens. Take a split second and think: who grew this? What is it like there? How did it get here? I guarantee that cup will taste better.

Perfect Daily Grind.

Feature Photo Credit: Bex Walton.