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Sadly It's Starbucks, Not Square Mile, That Ruled London's Coffee Festival

April 12, 2011 at 12:39 PM | by | ()

You had us at "Coffee Festival." When we heard that a three-day event dedicated to all things espresso, latte and so on was coming to London, we booked tickets immediately, anticipating an afternoon amongst the city's best artisanal purveyors and nerve-jittering samples galore.

What we didn't expect was to be met by a sea of high street stalls and a singer musically professing a deep-seated love for her morning cuppa (that's tea, not joe). In short, the London Coffee Festival, held at the Old Truman Brewery just off of Brick Lane from April 8-10, wasn't reflective of the cafe culture we know and love in the city. The imposing, though admittedly unavoidable, presence of Costa and Starbucks overshadowed the few independent purveyors we encountered. Beer and tea abound as well, as you might expect in a country often defined by pub culture and tea time. But what of the coffee we were promised?

Independent roasters and mobile merchants were there; it was a matter of weaving through the festival's three zones (Soho, Shoreditch and Hyde Park, respectively) and food stalls to find them. Conspicuously absent were Monmouth and Square Mile, both of whom enjoy an esteemed reputation among London's coffee die-hards.

We purchased an Americano from the team behind Bean About Town, but only after doing a full round of the venue in search of samples. Finding too few of the latter, we shelled out the cash to sate our gnawing caffeine craving.

Food trumped coffee in terms of quality and variety. We tried a stellar venison burger, Grasmere Gingerbread and other dunking accompaniments on our many laps of the Brewery, thankful to see a few of our favorite Borough Market vendors present.

Should the event return in 2012, we hope that more of our favorite London cafes, restaurants and roasters participate: Flat White, Caravan, Kaffeine and Monmouth, to name a few. Admittedly, we were looking for more coffee snobbery and connoisseurship at the festival. There are exciting, innovative things happening in London's thoroughly wired scene, and we wish that the people leading the charge had a presence at the festival.

[All Photos: Heidi Atwal]

Archived Comments:

Rubbish, A wealth of exhibitors... a great event!

I'm not sure what event the Author attended of if she even made the effort to engage with exhibitors a few feet past the main door but this report fails to give a well-deserved credit to the organisers and contributors to this inaugural event. I attended on Sunday with my partner, who's been `in coffee' for a number of years and is just launching his own chain of independent coffee shops in the East. As a business that's taken some considerable time to find the perfect House Blend we were very interested to talk to small independent roasters and see how our new blend stacks up. There was no shortage of wonderful (free!) samples of many excellent coffees. In fact, we didn't pay for a single cup and I must have worked my way through at least 12 macchiatos during the course of the day. We spoke with a whole host of fabulous people, from a one-man roaster with sumptuous blends to representatives from Colombia, Italy, etc. and tasted `coffee-caviar' from Lavazza! The food samples were stunning too, the very best experience being the amazing griddled scallops that were hand-dived off the Devon coast just 24hrs before - just divine! We had a chance meet Jeffrey Young, the event organiser, who was about chatting with people and welcoming them. For a first event, this Festival was a great success and if they build on it next year will certainly be a fixture worth adding to the diary. Sorry, but the reportage offered here by the Author doesn't reflect our experience at all and shouldn't be considered accurate.