It seemed to have been the weekend for foodie festivals, after the success of the the Chocolate Festival on the Southbank, I headed for the London Coffee Festival on Sunday. With my recent interest in all things coffee related I couldn’t let an event like this pass me by, and with 100% of all ticket proceeds going to Project Waterfall – a charity providing clean water for coffee producing regions in Africa - I felt I had nothing to lose. A first of it’s kind, the festival was held on buzzing Brick Lane at the Old Truman Brewery and boasted much.
I was somewhat dismayed but certainly not surprised that on entrance to the first hall I was greeted with a Costa stand, followed closely by a large Starbucks one and then lots of shiny Italian coffee machines. This was no slick industry show like Cafe Culture but it was still dominated by the big corpoations and I felt it lent the ‘festival’ a rather false vibe. I feel strongly that London’s coffee scene is very much alive and thriving and we’re in very exciting times but this revolution is in no way led by the big companies, but by artisan roasters and brands and the independant coffee shops. Although many of the most interesting London coffee names were checked in the brochure as supporters of the project, I was dissapointed to see very little representation at the show itself. It was great to see Allpress and Bean about Town, but where was Monmouth or Square Mile or Climpson & Sons, Has Bean or Nude even…and where were any of the independent shops and coffee carts? As a consumer, none of my favourite brands or coffee shops were there and as a consequence I didn’t stay very long.
Having said that, it was great to see lots of filter coffee around and it was interesting to see Starbucks Reserve offering single origin tastings at their brew bar and there were a few things that caught my attention. Most interesting to me I think was Kokoa Collection who identified a definate gap in the market for good hot chocolate; offering their origin chocolates in varying cocoa percentages in easy to use tablet form. Lets face it, not everyone wants coffee, but not many places offer an equally tempting or thought out alternative, I really hope the idea catches on….I’ve loved the idea of KeepCup ever since I bought my first one last year at Cafe Culture and couldn’t resist buying myself a smaller version for my handbag to join his big brother at home. Such a great idea; you get to do your bit for the environment by wasting less disposable cups and get a great little product in the process, I spent far too long at the stand choosing between all the funky colour combinations!
Vestal Vodka had a small stand selling and sampling their small batch sipping vodka, of which I have a bottle at home – it’s got a beautiful, unnusual flavour and is great served with plenty of ice and a splash of tonic. William recognised me and offered me an espresso martini as a thankyou for taking a chance on his product (and why wouldn’t I, it’s excellent?!) Not an offer I fancied refusing, I accepted my boozy cocktail and fled, feeling slightly confused, to the gorgeous day outside.
For me the festival threw up lots of contradictions; if it was really about London coffee then where was the evidence of this? I think I prefer to follow my nose, taking recomendations where I can, learning about coffee on the London streets where it really is alive, and from baristas that are happy to talk about and share their passion. And with the arrival of St Ali, the famous Melbourne roastery now on Clerkenwell Road, and with places like Prufrock doing really interesting things I think it can only be the start of another very exhilerating era for London Coffee.
As if to prove my point I walked straight out the festival onto trendy Brick Lane and straight into a row of street food stalls, feeling peckish and needing something to mop up my martini I remembered hearing that Street Foodie Danny was starting out this weekend and found him and his partner Sarah serving their tasty little Korean sliders. At £2.50 each or two for £4 they were a bit of a bargain, and I wolfed down a korean marinated pulled pork with zingy, crunchy ginger coleslaw, leaving me room to nibble the cake pop I snagged at the festival on my way home, the other slider on offer was bacon and kimchi. It’s great to see more street food appearing in London,we definately have the potential here for more though so make sure you pop down and support Street Foodie if you can. I believe he’ll also be at the Real Street Food Festival at the Southbank, that sounds like it will also be worth a visit too!
The London Scene is alive and kicking, but it’s not to be found at a festival run by the big companies with the money. It’s individuals with a real love and passion for what they do that make that happen and I believe we have that here in abundance in both the coffee scene and street food movement we have here at the moment.