London Coffee Festival 2017

My fiancée gives great gifts. It was a no-brainer to buy me something coffee-related, but she knows that I love experiences. It might have been four months away, but it was a great Christmas present to know that in April we would be getting the train to London and filling our boots with caffeine.

Had we made a mistake?

But then I started reading reports of those who had been before, and talking to baristas who had been there and literally (probably) bought the t-shirt year-in year-out.

“It’ll be rammed – you won’t be able to move!”

“The exhibitors aren’t as good as last year.”

“You’ll spend half your time queuing if you don’t turn up an hour earlier than your entry!”

And so it went on. So much so that by the time we were boarding the train I was wondering whether we had made a big mistake. Should we have gone for a later session instead of the brunch session? Should we have got the red-eye train from Birmingham and even sillier o’clock? Will three hours be enough?

We shouldn’t have worried.

Caffeine City

There were queues when we arrived at 9.30am for a 10am slot. Long queues. But once 10am hit the queue disappeared pretty quickly because the staff were doing a great job of filtering people upstairs and downstairs. The Old Truman Brewery is a big place, even thoiugh apparently there’s capacity left to fill. We were sent upstairs first of all, which I wasn’t too keen on once I got up there because I realised it was mainly the tea and accessories exhibitors. I love all the shiny pretty objects, but I’d left the house without as much as looking at a coffee bean because I expected to be fully caffeinated within about 10 minutes of getting through the doors. We had a good look around and then headed downstairs to where the good stuff could be found.

And there it was: Caffeine City. There was an incredible number and variety of roasters from all across the country and across the world. The usual suspects were there: Union, Curve, Taylor St etc. I was also really pleased to see Crankhouse Coffee exhibiting, and I made a point of going over to congratulate Dave on a really fine product range.

Samples abounded, though it wasn’t always clear who was able and willing to pull a shot or whether they were charging rather than giving away free. Nevertheless, by the end of our session I had managed to sample enough to give myself a big caffeine headache. The two best shots came from Curve (an Ethopian single-origin which was outstandingly bright), and the Ciclista Espresso Blend from Terrone & Co. I was ready to throw my money at Terrone & Co, but they told me that they had none of the Ciclista blend to sell – I think that was an error on their part, not even halfway through the weekend. I was also really disappointed to note that they only sell it via subscription on their website. I don’t want it *that* much, so we both miss out.

More than just coffee

It was welcome to see that there were more than just coffee producers and machine manufacturers in attendance. There was a huge chocolate sculpture made by Hotel Chocolat (one of my all-time favourite brands). Thankfully they’d used chocolate which was at the end of its shelf life, and which was being sent off to feed pigs once it had sat in a sweltering London warehouse for the weekend. To be honest I’d have probably eaten it anyway. There were also various small companies plugging their latest wares. Probably my favourite was a sparkling kombucha tea, closely followed by a coconut-water-based cream soda. A big no-no was an espresso and chocolate spread; a product which basically ruined two of life’s great pleasures.

A recurring feature at the London Coffee Festival is the Coffee Art Project in aid of Project Waterfall. There were some fantastic pieces exhibited and for sale, and the remaining ones can be found here. If anybody wants to shell out the £550.00 for this one then I would definitely buy them a coffee when in Birmingham.

Coffee and stuff: a winning combination

We left the Old Brewery about four hours after we entered (after ignoring our alloted end time, sssshhhhhh). And even though my love of coffee is far greater than that of my fiancée we both really enjoyed it. My only regret was not drinking enough water or eating enough food, because after leaving I had a humungous caffeine headache that lasted for an age.

I would absolutely go again. The biggest draw is definitely seeing some of the UK’s top coffee roasters showcasing their stuff. If you have an incurable case of upgraditis then the machines and accessories on offer would have kept you occupied well beyond closing time. Birmingham will have its own go at a coffee festival at the beginning of next month. I think they’ll face an uphill struggle to get anywhere near the success of LCF 2017. In fact, I can’t really think of a city across the world that could do it better.