When I moved to London, I was embarrassed to drink coffee. Tea is a national obsession here, and I was already American enough with my funny accent and foreign customs. Add to that the fact that ordering a “coffee” in London gets you a confused look—they don’t have a go-to style here like we do in the States—and I quickly converted to tea. But over the years coffee has become trendy in London, with independent coffee shops popping up all over and an annual UK Coffee Week developing. The latter kicks off this week with the London Coffee Festival.
The festival launched yesterday with an industry-only day, and I went for a sneak peek before tonight’s public opening.
Set in the confusingly labyrinthine halls of the Old Truman Brewery building in Shoreditch, the London Coffee Festival celebrates the city’s coffee scene and is the event for caffeine lovers and industry types.
Its location in trendy east London is fitting given the festival’s hipster vibe, with tattooed baristas vying for the title of Coffee Master and more beards than an Amish wedding.
But even the unhip can enjoy the festival, as I can personally attest. The space is divided into different rooms with over 250 stands, some showcasing new products and technologies, others featuring coffee brewing and roasting demonstrations. From Ozone to Volcano, Notes to Illy, small and large coffee companies are represented.
There’s also a new space called Milk & Sugar, which has non-coffee related products like fashion accessories and food.
And speaking of food, there’s enough samples to graze on that even someone as sensitive to caffeine as I am won’t go into hyperactive orbit after her fourteenth coffee.
There’s chocolate from Divine and Green & Black’s, puffy crisps from Popchips, and a crazy DIY espresso-injected banana and toffee pudding from Benugo. There’s even an entire section dedicated to tea for those wary of being seen as too continental. More substantial fare is for sale at stalls run by famous London restaurants like St JOHN, as well as cafes like Arancini Brothers and Herman ze German.
But coffee is the focus of the festival, from the faux Hyde Park with its picnic tables and live music to the long bars and high counters dedicated to education and demonstrations.
The Make Decent Coffee lounge is busy all day with curious visitors eager to learn how to brew the perfect filter coffee, and the roasting demonstrations at Union Pop-Up Roastery attract crowds interested in finding out more about the process.
And that’s to say nothing of the talks and presentations, which range from social media to home barista workshops and latte art classes.
My exploration took place at the very beginning of this year’s celebrations, but over 22,000 people are expected to visit the Old Truman Brewery this weekend.
The London Coffee Festival runs until Sunday, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy an espresso—or an espresso martini if you go to tonight’s launch party. In the meantime, I will be converting back to chamomile tea temporarily until my body is ready to take on more caffeine.