I need to get something off my chest. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but I feel I have to share it with people. OK. Here goes… I am obsessed with coffee. In fact, I’d say I am a coffee addict. Â The idea of not having a well-made coffee at some point during my day leaves me at a complete loss, so much so that last year I bought my own espresso machine so that I could make myself a good coffee, even on my days off. Ahh, I feel so much better now.
I should explain, when I’m not writing, acting or presenting, I am a simple Barista. I work in an Australian CafÃ© in Shoreditch, which is renowned for having excellent standards of coffee. Every day, myself and Jayme (my Barista partner) give our customers their caffeine fix with our unique blend of coffee. For the most part, I love it! It gives me a chance to be creative and meet some nice and interesting people.Â So when I was asked if I would attend The London Coffee Festival on a researching trip, I was thrilled!
Held at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, The London Coffee Festival is a haven for all coffee (and hipster beard) lovers. Over 250 stalls of artisan coffee, gourmet and street food as well as cocktails, live music and interactive workshops fill the Brewery with all stalls keen to show the public theirÂ classic products and the latest prototypes.
I kicked things off with a unique experience at ‘The Canteen’ of Square Mile Roasters, a multi-award winning London-based coffee roasting company. After being put in a group of four, we were given a fifteen-minute demonstration of their work and coffee by-products, all of which are not even on the production line. It was fascinating to see how passionate they are about not only their coffee but how keen theyÂ are to try and fight the problem of wastage by using their excess coffeeÂ waste into potentially new and exciting products. By using coffee as an ingredient, we tasted butter that had been mixed with their own coffee and churned by chaff, a gorgeous ‘Sour Buena Vista Soda’- a beautiful mix of pink grapefruit and cascara (a coffee cherry tea), a completely chocolate-free chocolate bar using dried cherry cascara mixed with cocoa butter and sugar, a creamy coffee based ‘Soft Serve’ which they describe as ‘like a Mr. Whippy, but for grown-ups!’ before finishing with their Colombian filter coffee. This was the most time-consuming stop of the dayÂ but fair play to them for making such a grand event to show off their potentially game-changing efforts.
After passing through the coffee machinery section which included brand new state of the art espresso machines, tamping accessories and even an in-car espresso maker, I found myselfÂ at the Monin stall. Monin is the biggest name in the coffee syrup world, with Monin being sold in over 140 countries. If you’ve ever treated yourself to a caramel latte, the chances are, it’s been made with Monin syrup. I wasn’t there for a caramel latte, though, I was trying out their new Le Fruit de Monin range which are fruity syrups specifically designed for smoothies, iced teas, cocktails and mocktails. My personal favourite was the delicious citrus flavoured Yuzu syrup, which went down a treat after the Columbian filter I had just tasted. It was also interesting to hear that Monin is currently working on an improved ‘60% less sugar recipe’ for the Le Fruit de Monin range by using the stevia plant instead of sugar.
The healthy lifestyle lecture must have inspired me, as my next stops were MoJu juices and Karma Cola. The tasters at MoJu were delightful and best of all, healthy. However, a quick look at their prices online will most likely put you off. A small bottle is Â£2.95, and although their samples were lovely, I wouldn’t be able to justify that price tag. Karma Cola, on the other hand, I really would! The Fairtrade organic cola stall was probably the highlight of my trip. I tried their organic Cola, Lemony Lemonade and Gingerella products, and they were all brilliant. Even more brilliant though is the fact that for every bottle you buy, they donate 3 pence to villages in Sierra Leone where they source their cola nuts, and have already donated over Â£75,000 from the sales of their drinks. The trio of flavours are now available in Waitrose, and a standard 330ml bottle will set you back a Â£1.69 which I think is excellent value for money.
Lunch time came around, and so IÂ treated myself to a burger with maple bacon, dolcelatte blue cheese and smoked paprika fries from the festival’s ownÂ ‘White Label Kitchen,’ which is a selection of handpicked food concepts from across London. Despite the temptation, I walked past the Baileys and espresso Martini stalls and headed into The School of Chocolate, run by Hotel Chocolat. I don’t know about you, but if I ever buy a hot chocolate from a coffee shop, I’m never really blown away by it. But after tasting the Hotel Chocolat Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, I knew I’d found a good one. In fact, I liked it so much I bought it for my girlfriend to try back at home. The salted caramel really compliments the rich, chocolatey taste and most importantly holds all of its flavour when it’s ready to serve.
My last stop was a quick visit to the Bonsoy milk stall. Bonsoy is known in the industry as the best creamy yet non-sweet soy on the market. I’ll be honest, I don’t get this whole soy obsession. Don’t get me wrong, I completely get it if you’re lactose intolerant but if you’re drinking it just for the healthy aspect? Really? You could walk out the coffee shop holding your soy cappuccino, with extra foam (don’t go there) and get hit by a bus and the last thing you’ll have tasted is soy milk. Not for me, I’m afraid. Before I embark on any more of a rant, I was there to find the best way to create latte art with soy milk. Take it from me, there is nothing more annoying for a Barista than being asked to make a drink with soy milk. The texture is incredibly difficult to get right, the acidity of the coffee tends to react badly to the milk, and the margins between getting it right and wrong are very thin. Thankfully, I was shown a great and relatively easy way to make soy still look pretty and taste nice (well as nice as it can!).
With all the coffee, food and juices in my system, I was in need of a proper refreshment. So I made my way over to one of the bars and helped myself to The London Coffee Festival official lager before leaving the Old Truman Brewery with a goody bag full of tasters, business cards and, obviously, the salted caramel hot chocolate. I was so impressed with the festival and, considering how many people were there, the event was run very smoothly, and all the staff were incredibly helpful.
I would recommend The London Coffee Festival to anyone who is keen and passionate about coffee and other alternative drinks to ones that are currently on the market. I would say, though, that if you’re going there to find ‘the perfect coffee,’ you’ll be there for days. The amount of retail espresso packs there was eye opening and if that’s your main aim, research the kind of espresso you like and then look for similar either online or at the festival.