Despite our reputation for being a nation of tea drinkers, Great Britain has been quick to incorporate coffee into its vernacular and daily routine. The popularity and success of The London Coffee Festival, which celebrated its sixth year at the Old Truman Brewery from the 7 until the 10 April 2016, once again demonstrated our appetite for a wide spectrum of caffeinated and non-caffeinated, hot and iced, milky or lactose-free coffee shop beverages. Coffee has certainly come a long way and London is officially a city with a world class coffee scene.
Interest around innovations in sourcing, roasting and the use of coffee beans now transcends industry professionals and extends to its discerning consumer base. This was measurable by the ubiquitous LCF canvas tote bags given to festival attendees that flooded East London as the LCF 2016 got underway. Visitors weren’t exclusively dedicated baristas; instead, a large contingency of the queue ranged from artists, casual coffee drinkers and urbane types looking for a lively afternoon. A line-up of DJs, interactive workshops, pop-up bars and food vendors were promoted as highlights of the LCF 2016 in addition to the bottomless espresso.
Brick Lane was literally abuzz as jittery attendees emerged — a standard ticket granted entry for a designated timed session. Those with VIP passes were permitted all-day access, allowing for more gradual caffeine highs. Once inside, it was apparent that the LCF has evolved beyond the appreciation of coffee beans from different geographical origins. In addition to tastings, there were two floors of art installations, coffee-based cocktails, roasting and pouring masterclasses, food pairings and a celebration of design and exciting developments in espresso machine technology.
Further attractions included live demonstrations from some of the top baristas in the world competing for the title of Coffee Master. Attendees watched 16 contenders demonstrate their talents across seven disciplines, comprising cupping, latte art and a signature drink. This drew curious crowds and 2016 saw Ben Morrow from Australia crowned as Coffee Master and awarded a £5,000 prize.
Some of the LCF sponsors enticed caffeinated masses with interactive activities and demonstrations. Bailey’s proffered coffee-based cocktails, where a fiver granted a spin of a wheel to select a mixed drink at random. The star cocktail was undoubtedly the Bailey’s Freakshake, which was commissioned for the LCF 2016 from East London favourite, Molly Bakes, and boasted the appearance of a monstrous alcoholic milkshake-cum-ice cream sundae with a brownie perched on top.
Tate and Lyle were also present and offered a multisensory experience: taking a page out of Heston Blumenthal’s book, they demonstrated how our sense of taste and smell can be accentuated through sound. This was achieved with a set of headphones, a vapour machine, a straw and a piece of fudge. The effect of the high-pitched tone enhanced the sweet-scented notes and flavour of the fudge on the palate. This lesson highlighted the interaction of our senses and their role in enjoying an aromatic blend.
Some emerging coffee trends spotted at the LCF 2016 included:
Matcha, Matcha Everywhere
After taking the US and Japan by storm, matcha is finally having its moment in the United Kingdom. At the LCF 2016, this Japanese staple was being added to lattes, offered in hot and iced tea and added to cold-pressed juices. If you aren’t acquainted with matcha, it’s a green powder ground from the entire green tea leaf; it professes to be the most concentrated form of green tea available with the same health benefits, including a high level of antioxidants and the ability to reduce stress and speed up metabolism. Matcha lends a sweet yet vegetal flavour to a drink, but it should be balanced and never bitter — try a matcha latte for yourself and you might be surprised.
Cold Brew is So Hot Right Now
Another established brewing process in the US, cold brew is still disregarded by many in the UK as a niche trend. But cold brew coffee has officially broken into the mainstream and is now on menus at Starbucks. At the LCF 2016, it was promoted as a refreshing alternative to coffee with a milder, sweeter taste compared to an acidic espresso-based drink. It was also being proffered as an apposite ingredient for cocktails — imagine a Cold Brew Tonic, where cold brew is topped with tonic water and served over ice.
Lactose intolerant coffee drinkers rejoice — leaps and bounds have been made in the world of milk alternatives. Some of these innovations were exhibited at the LCF 2016, which saw Alpro showcasing a delicious coconut milk latte and Oatly exhibited frothy liquid oat iterations of the same. Coconut milk was used as a diary alternative in other products at the festival, such as yogurts and cold drinks. While many tasters admitted to not actually being allergic to diary, the health properties of these alternatives are a huge appeal and soya-based lattes and flat whites were prominently represented.
As London Coffee Week 2016 draws to a close and bleary-eyed caffeine addicts return to their artisan coffee shops, they’ll be inspired to admire the complexity and potential of their caffeine fix. The London coffee scene will evolve as a consequence of these new demands and tastes. Speciality matcha drinks and cold brew will have to satisfy our appetite until London Coffee Festival 2017 — which will undoubtedly be an even greater affair — where more trends and technology will further revolutionise the way we enjoy our morning cup. ∎
(Photography: Rebecca Pate for Bubbobar)