It is perhaps not so well known that Shoreditch has a long and illustrious history as housing the first two London theatres in the 16th century. Well roll on half a millennia and Shoreditch is at it again – this time host to the London Coffee Festival 2014 – and what a theatre of flavour it has proven to be! With over 250 artisan coffee and gourmet food stalls, offering caffeine and also decaffeinated kicks from around the globe, coffee and to a certain extent tea freaks will all descend on the Old Truman Brewery Building near Brick Lane between April 3rd and 6th in search of beverage heaven. I was fortunate to be invited by the festival to attend on one of the two industry days where the good and the great of the media world plus those all important coffee shop owners and professional coffee aficionados could browse at leisure, sip, swoon and savour at the latest flavour sensation – but for me the festival was more than glad handing industry professionals. I have a real interest in making great coffee as a consumer and also representing consumer interest and those brands that go out of their way to demonstrate their passion, the quality of their staff and their product knowledge, customer service and, most important of all, their products. To test this, I took my eldest daughter Alexis, who knows more than a thing or two about how great coffee should taste.
So, in no particular order, let me tell you what it is like to taste really great coffee – what great tea is all about – what flavour sensations there are to be had with the food on offer at this exhibition of exhibitionists – for the London Coffee Festival with all its pizzazz, fanfare, music and street food is a veritable assault on the senses that once experienced, has to be repeated. Of the many brands on display, let’s take a look at those that really impressed me: Curiously, I am going to begin with non coffee products for no other reason than coffee at a coffee festival tends to dominate proceedings.
Cawston Press http://www.cawstonpress.com/ are master blenders of England’s finest fruit juices. It is rare in these days of mass produced drinks to find a company truly committed to producing a product that is properly free from artificial additives but Cawston is one such company. From straight pressed juices to carbonated cans with exciting flavour combinations from apple and elderflower to the most refreshing fizzy rhubarb, traditional English fruit flavours have been very much kicked into the 21st century by the people at Cawston.
Nata Pura http://www.natapura.com/ Portugal is famous for few great things: José Mourinho, sardines and Pastel de nata. Whilst you may have heard of the first two, chances are you have never tasted the third, a delicious custard tart ubiquitous on Portuguese street corners and in tiny whitewashed bakeries. I have tasted many Nata all over Europe but I can say hand on heart that you will have never tasted anything so deliciously unctuous as those made by Nata Pura; a beautiful fusion of a salty, flaky pastry and mouthwateringly sweet egg custard filling. Made with the freshest of ingredients, the chef at the show did say that I could have the recipe but in the next breath and with a wink of the eye retorted that if he did tell me, he would have to kill me! I’ll settle for a life not knowing but will forever remember putting a Nata Pura into my mouth for the first time. I implore you to try one, then another and then another. Addictive isn’t the word! Eden Bakery http://eden-bakery-uk.com/ Eden Bakery Ltd is the official UK distributor and main subsidiary for Tatar Pekseg KFT Hungary frozen bakery products. An award-winning brand in Hungary, the company has subsidiaries in over nine European countries and after tasting some of their savouries, from miniature cheese parcels, scones, pizza slices, Berliners and pretzels, it only reinforces why eastern European bakers have the edge over their Western European counterparts, well in my book at least. Well worth hunting out.
Kokoa Collection http://www.kokoacollection.co.uk When you need a restorative cup of cocoa, perlease don’t reach for that old out of date tin languishing in the far reaches of the cupboard. Get yourself some proper drinking chocolate from the Kokoa Collection, melt it softly in a double boiler and add warm milk. Heaven is as simple as that! Nisi’s Artisan Bakery http://nisis.biz/ Artisanal bakeries are springing up faster than pound shops these days and that is no bad thing. Some eclipse the rest though and I have to say without equivocation that Nisi’s is one such company. Biscotti is something which usually tastes best outside a Venetian cafe with a neat double shot espresso watching the world go by. Wrong! Those winners of several Taste awards which emanate from the portals of Nisi’s bakery are worthy primos of the biscotti world boasting: classic toasted almond, Chocolate chunk with hints of bitter orange, roasted hazelnut and straight chocolate. They could, in the blind tasting, easily stand against the very best from anywhere in Italy. Try them and explore for yourself, true dipping delight with Denise Stevenson’s excellent biscotti.
Shott Beverages UK Ltd – http://www.shottbeverages.co.uk A relative newcomer to the UK drinks scene, Shott make several cordial style drinks and syrups to accompany coffee. As a standalone winner which tastes great just diluted as a hot or cold drink is their lemon, ginger and honey. Made from ingredients gathered when they are at their most potent taste wise, this superb elixir livens the palate and refreshes the parts that other cordials simply do not reach. If you’re in need of a citrusy pick me up, look no further than a shot of Shotts. You will not be disappointed.
Fob Foods http://fobfoods.com/ Although the website is under construction at the time of writing, you must bookmark Fob Foods for future use. Producing a highly innovative product, peanut butter and chocolate Samosas, everything about this concept shouldn’t work, but it does! The textural combination of unctuous chocolate or peanut butter filling with a hot and crispy samosa triangle is as compelling for the next bite as it is delicious. Check the website out when it is ready and order a bucketload. You will need that many!
Divine Chocolate http://www.divinechocolate.com/uk/ The company’s website may boast that it is, “Dreaming of Spring.” Well all I can say after tasting a couple of the company’s delights is that I am dreaming of chocolate heaven. Owned by cocoa farmers, it is an ethically focussed company producing a brilliant product and has a range of exciting flavour combinations from their new sultry dark mango and coconut to milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt, each beautifully encapsulated in attractive POS paper wrapping and with its edible contents literally to die for. Hit the website, visit the online shop and enjoy the pleasure when you receive your joy in the post. Nākd http://www.naturalbalancefoods.co.uk/nakd/ Raw food is huge business in the US. Judging by the range, diversity and quality of that on offer by the Nākd brand, it won’t be long before it’s huge business in the UK too! Nutritious, healthy food and deliciously tasty are not common bedfellows usually but Nākd has blown this concept apart with its delectable range of snack bars made from natural ingredients such as fruits and nuts, both wheat and dairy free and with no added sugars or hidden extras – but with one common thread running through each – they simply taste out of this world. Try. You’ll thank me for it.
The London Coffee Festival, although full of alternative delights to coffee, is essentially a caffeine lover’s paradise. With coffees and brands representing the four corners of the globe, here’s a just a few of the companies which took my fancy from the hundreds on show. That is not to say that those not listed here were inferior. On the contrary, but there is only so much caffeine one can consume in a day – so here goes – welcome to my particular rollercoaster ride to flavourtown.
Original Columbian Coffee http://originalcolombiancoffee.com At a coffee festival, there will be plenty of run of the mill varieties – but I have always been about advocating the new, the different, the innovative and the exciting – and so it was when I saw a lovely lady called Lina from Columbia wearing a traditional sombrero vueltiao and her able male Barista assistant. It just piqued my curiosity. I’m so glad my daughter and I stopped to chat because Lina was not only passionate about her product, she was deeply knowledgeable and informative, advising that the company originated from a family of coffee growers with over 90 years of heritage created in honour of Lina’s late grandmother and mother to share and promote the ideals and passion they had instilled in her. The coffee we tasted was directly from within the coffee triangle where the area’s climate (average temperature of 18º to 22ºC with rainfall from 2000 to 4000mm annually), soil, and topography (having an average elevation of 1,759 metres), are particularly ideal for coffee production. The coffees selected from this area have a full body, are rich in flavour and exhibit a fine, balanced acidity. What was most apparent, however were the fruit, floral notes which are, Lina enthused, a feature of coffees specific to those grown in South America at high altitude. If you are looking for something different, silky smooth and with endearingly pleasing floral notes, this is the coffee for you.
UCC Coffee http://www.ucc.co.jp/eng/ Founded in 1933, UCC has Japanese origins but global aspirations. Keeping with this founding spirit, the company has refined a product in which it is involved throughout the whole process from cultivation to roasting and sales. Now exported to ten countries, the UK fortunately being among them, seek out UCC coffee and you will be very pleasantly surprised. Saigon Coffee Company http://www.saigoncoffeecompany.com/ Fancy something a little left field? Then look no further than the Saigon Coffee Company headed by An Ngo, Director, who has brought a wonderfully refreshing and innovative product to the market. Talking to An, I was a little surprised to discover that of all the recognised coffee exporters in the world, Vietnam is the second largest of them! The climate of Vietnam is often hot and humid so coffee is mostly taken chilled and mixed with crushed ice. Called ‘Ca Phe Da,’ Vietnamese for simple Iced Coffee, An’s product is anything but simple and has to be tasted to be believed. A delicious alternative to the traditional summer frappe.
A rounded and balanced coffee festival wouldn’t be a rounded and balanced coffee festival in the true sense of the word unless it gave equal respect to that other great institutional drink, tea. So, without further ado, let me inspire you with a few of the best of the day. Vivid Drinks http://vividdrinks.com/ Matcha tea, that gunpowder smooth green stuff from Japan is reputed to have many times the antioxidants of conventional green tea. That said, it is often not to everyone’s palate. Those clever people at Vivid have thought about this and mix theirs with a number of juices from grape and elderflower, lime ginger and honey to pear and rhubarb. The result is a pure, cleansing, healthful drink which not only tastes delicious but you know with each mouthful is doing you good as well. Nice one Vivid!
Equalitea http://www.equalitea.co.uk/ I love unusual teas and Equalitea presses all the right buttons in flavourtown from Rooibos, liquorice and apple to Argentinean Mate. If you are looking for tasty, eclectic teas to try, you could not do better than visit the Equalitea website and place an order.
Drink Me Chai http://www.drinkmechai.co.uk/ A thirstquencher originating from the dust-filled streets of hectic Indian cities like Mumbai and Dehli, chai has been a revelation for the UK drinks industry and is only now getting the consumer recognition it deserves. Drink Me Chai have not only tapped into this rapidly developing market but will surely capture it with their delectable range of lightly spiced chai flavours from vanilla, to mango to peppermint. A serious alternative to straight tea, you haven’t lived until you have tasted a chai so go on, what are you waiting for!?
The London Coffee Festival 2014 had dozens of coffee paraphernalia, accoutrement and accessories supply companies but two really hit home in terms of product quality and suitability for coffee lovers in my view.
Mokasirs http://www.mokasirs.com Mokasirs is Italian through and through. The company understands coffee and also understands that the perfect receptacle enhances the flavour of great coffee. As well as selling its own comprehensive range of coffee, it also merchants its own delicious coffee mousse fredde (cold coffee mousse), sugars, coffee pots, cups and saucers including a classy glass line which looks simply stunning. If you want to make your coffee and tea sing, why not give the site a visit.
Coffee Hit http://www.coffeehit.co.uk/ Coffee Hit boasts the best range of coffee gear on the planet – and who am I to disagree? From Espresso, coffee, to tea, supplies and Barista tools, Coffee Hit is a one stop shop for the essential tea and coffee lover.