London Coffee Festival

Some disclaimers to start with.

  1. This post is long overdue. London Coffee Festival happened April 6-9, and I had purchased advanced tickets for the 8th and 9th. I went for the full day VIP tickets on the 8th, and the brunch session tickets for the 9th.
  2.  I had a friend visiting who expressed interest in tagging along to LCF with me, but knowing that her passion for coffee does not run nearly as deep as my own I wanted to be considerate and not force her into two full days of coffee mania. So a day and a half was fine.
  3. We had just gotten back from Italy, our flight was delayed, and we ended up back at homebase well past midnight, which made catching the early train into London a feat.
  4. The trains were completely off on Sunday with replacement bus service, making the half-hour trek to London three times as long and combined with fatigue, and having to jump on a plane the next day for a ten-hour flight to California…seem not worth it. So, yes, we skipped Sunday’s brunch session!

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Now that those items are out of the way, let’s talk LCF! Having been to Amsterdam Coffee Fest and loving it, I felt like I had a good baseline to compare from. I tried to keep my expectations in check, however, since each city and each festival has its own vibe (of course). I’m the person who shows up at 9:30 AM if an event starts at 10, but since we left late after our hectic night, we arrived just past 11 am. Which meant the crowds had already amassed. Luckily, there was a VIP entrance that expedited our entry!

  • The VIP tickets were worth it!

Not only were we able to get in and our quickly, we also had access to the VIP lounge and secret garden, as well as bathrooms (erm, “toilets” as the Brits say) that weren’t flooded with people. These were such nice reprieves from the bustling festival! It was also nice to not feel rushed to get everything seen and done in a three-hour session. We were able to amble about, engage with the exhibitors (though, getting the attention of the majority was unnecessarily difficult), retreat to the lounge anytime we needed a break-  oh, and as VIPs we were offered a free espresso martini, but this teetotaler couldn’t be bothered.

  • The Old Truman Brewery

This was a quaint venue in trendy Shoreditch that was so much larger on the inside than you would expect (like most buildings in London, I feel). It was a bit confusing though, and I felt like I was discovering new nooks and crannies with every lap I (unintentionally) did around the place. My favorite area was where all the teas were! So zen. There was also a nice, large outdoor space that was conducive to the food trucks and well as an alley with some food options.

There were so many good eateries around- I personally opted for Mooshies and was so impressed! I’ve had quite a few vegan burgers in my life, but Mooshies stands out for flavor, texture, consistency, and the customer service just added to the greatness! We witnessed two incidents where unassuming omnivores, coaxed into the establishment that does not blatantly states its vegan nature, were very impressed by the food! “This can’t be vegan, no!” was the statement that summed it up best.

Back to the venue, it got progressively more crowded as the day wore on, and it was a very warm day (above 70F/21c). The place was sweltering and I could see the exhaustion on so many people’s faces!

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  • Yes, I overdid the coffee

When I recently went on a trip to Paris with a friend, her husband rang and, in asking about me, asked if I was sick off coffee yet. What a reputation to hold! I didn’t have nearly as much coffee at LCF as I did at ACF, probably because I wasn’t able to talk with as many exhibitors at LCF and I didn’t want to be drinking coffee just to drink it, I was there to experience and learn! But at the end of the day, I was still jittery and a bit nauseated. Oops.

Overall, LCF was an experience and I wish I had done the brunch session on Sunday, but it just was not in the cards. The overpacked venue and hesitant exhibitors (snooty hipsters, dare I say?) dampened the experience for me, but I think as the years go on, things  change and improve! I’m so glad that I had the chance to attend LCF and would love to go again in a few year’s time to witness the progress. I’d also love to see more workshops, seminars, and basic educational classes. Even as a VIP, I was expected to pay 5-10 pounds extra to attend any of the workshops that were happening, which doesn’t seem quite right. Especially seeing as access to workshops at ACF was not any additional charge.

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Here’s hoping that NYC Coffee Festival works out in September!

-Karen

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Amsterdam Coffee Festival, Part 2

This post ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated, but when I talk about food I tend to be really descriptive. We covered caffeine in Part 1, so now we can cover the other things that go into making caffeinated beverages amazing!

Milk One of the reasons I had so many coffees, and ended up having the whole beverage, was the different types of milks. My favorite was the oat milk latte. I’ve been a fan of oat milk since I tried it in 2014, but even so, I was impressed at how far it’s come. I remember oat milk being a bit chalky, but its natural sweetness made it indulgent in my Sunday morning tea. Oatly! does an amazing oat milk which froths amazingly, I was legitimately impressed.

Also worth my attention was Rude Health’s hazelnut milk. It was smooth, with no funny stuff coating your mouth after (which can happen with fillers and thickeners other brands may use), and the flavor was light enough to appreciate the hazelnut, but not heavy enough to take away from the coffee. I tried it cold and warm (don’t boil it if you’re going to heat it!!), and could only imagine how amazing it would be with Hotel Chocolat’s 70% Hot Chocolate! Alpro‘s almond milk, which isn’t out yet and won’t be to consumers for a bit, is free of fillers and thickeners. As someone who’s never cared for almond milk, Alpro’s was pretty darn good.

I learned a lot about Jersey cow milk, the fat:protein ratio really does make a difference in flavor and consistency! After ACF, I definitely will be more attuned to where the milk in my flat white comes from!

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Water I was really excited for the water workshops, but in my haze and daze and excitement, I lost track of time and wasn’t able to attend any! I changed up my water filter game late last year and it made a striking difference in my morning coffee. I never appreciated how contributory water is to coffee, even though it makes up the majority of the beverage!

Barista Championships I enjoyed watching a few of the stellar baristas duke it out for the title of champion. I would have loved to watch every single competitor, but I only had a day to do everything. Fifteen minutes to make 3 coffee beverages (espresso, milk-based coffee drink, and a specialty), while discussing their coffee. The discussion part was quite intriguing- one barista who spoke on sustainable coffee farming particularly caught my attention- as was the nuances of each barista’s technique. Espresso pulling and coffee making was taken up to an art form by these people!20170311_122128

Community The overall sense of community during ACF was really meaningful to me. There were people from all over the world. Literally. They’d come from every corner to take part in this and share their passion with like-minded people.

I could go on and on about ACF, but I’ll keep it to those main points. London Coffee Festival is just a couple short weeks away, and I plan to gather more information as I’ll be more prepared. And I will certainly pace myself with the caffeine.

-Karen

Amsterdam Coffee Festival, Part I

I’m always a bit surprised at people’s disbelief surrounding the existence of coffee festivals. I’m also quite surprised by how many are held in the UK alone (Manchester, Edinburgh….). But yes, Coffee Festival is a thing and there’s one group of folks who host Amsterdam, London, and New York Coffee Festivals.

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Amsterdam was my very first experience with a coffee festival, so I went in wide-eyed and not knowing what to expect. I read about past festivals online, I knew the website (http://amsterdamcoffeefestival.com/) inside-out, but I had no expectations for the actual experience. Well, let’s be real, I knew it would be amazing no matter what.

Coffee I learned a valuable lesson: Pace yourself. I tried to mentally prepare myself for this, practicing ways to sip coffee, not feel inclined to finish a whole coffee, discerning when to skip a particular beverage. But once you’re inside the festival amongst the buzz and hype and passion, you lose count so quickly. I had 7 espresso-shots-worth of coffee…in 5 hours. And because caffeine suppresses your appetite, and I was so engrossed in all the happenings around, I totally forgot to eat lunch. Good thing there were some amazing vegetarian options at the mini food truck station. I must mention Black Goat Coffee, a roaster who uses 100% robusta beans (arabica is the unchallenged champion bean).

Chocolate High quality chocolate ran rampant here, from bars of 100% dark to hot chocolate powders. Rawchock‘s raw chocolate bars, which are also offered with exotic fruit flavors mixed in, were especially fun to taste test. And Macao‘s drinking chocolate was so smooth, even in cold milk!

Tea The Dutch Tea Championship took place at ACF, so naturally there was a great variety of tea to try and learn about. Let me just say, if I see kombucha, I will immediately go there, and YaYa had some pretty nice stuff. Aside from the amazing kombucha, though, there were a couple powdered tea beverages showcased, of which Chalo surprised me most. I’m an avid chai drinker and make my own at home; as far as powders go, I opt for David Rio (the David Rio Chai Bar in SF makes me biased), so for me to accept Chalo is something. Do powdered chais have a place in a connoisseur’s home? I think so- they make for a comforting drink on rainy afternoons when you’re not feeling the hot chocolate!

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Stay tuned for Part II!

-Karen