At the end of April I took myself and a friend off to The Old Truman brewery on Brick Lane to soak up the results of a massive new wave of interest in coffee.

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  • Espresso martinis at the London Coffee Festival Photo: Emma Marks
    Espresso martinis at the London Coffee Festival
  • Ben Presland from Tate, Head roaster who roasted the coffee for the competition
    Ben Presland, Head Roaster at Tate who roasted the coffee for the competition
  • Caravan coffee Photo: Emma Marks
    Caravan coffee
  • Coffee festival totes Photo: Emma Marks
    The London Coffee Festival tote bag
  • Drinking Caravan coffee Photo: Emma Marks
    Drinking Caravan coffee with a friend at the London Coffee Festival

Recent research shows that despite the recession, sales of branded coffee grew 12.9 per cent last year.  Of  The London Coffee Guide’s Top 100 venues, 14 were opened in 2010.  So armed with nothing but my fixie and an alarming lack of facial hair we went to hang out with the capitals fiercest coffee geeks at the London Coffee Festival.

A relative newcomer to the coffee scene, I made sure to take an equally ignorant accomplice as moral support with both of us hoping to pick up some tips to make a nice cup of morning coffee. However my main reason for attending was in support of Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood who was competing in the finals of the UK Barista Championship using Coffee roasted by Tate.

Maxwell preparing his signature drink © scaeuk
Maxwell preparing his signature drink
Maxwell in competition © scaeuk
Maxwell in competition
© scaeuk

Before taking our seats by the stage to watch Max we took ourselves off to get involved and try some coffee. The venue was split into zones such as ‘The Lab Zone’ which contained the ‘make decent coffee lounge’ where my friend was taught to make a decent latte and I learnt how to repurpose my chemex from shelving decoration to actual coffee making implement. They have also posted a helpful how-to online so you can have a go at this at home. So far so good.

Retiring our barista aprons we moved to the ‘Soho Zone’, which touted itself as ‘a space to sample the best the independent coffee scene has to offer’. This housed smaller cafes such as Small Batch Coffee Company and Bonomi alongside the independent heavy weights of Sacred and Caravan, who stood up to the hype and served me one of my favourite coffees. If you haven’t tried it yet, a visit to Caravan is well worth the trip as their food is just as good as their coffee. They also served me a welcome shot of tequila which was so good I had to ask a confused barista to hold the bottle up for a photograph so that I could track it down for my future Mexican fiestas.

Maxwell's signature drink of Coffee and blackberries that have been roasted in the same way that you would coffee
Maxwell's signature drink of coffee and blackberries that have been roasted in the same way as coffee

I should mention that there was food, although exactly what you would expect from an east London love-in. Pop-ups galore with pulled pork, German sausage and curry filled flatbreads so nothing revolutionary but all good nonetheless. The main event however was quite a spectacle. Like coffee rock stars the barista’s are miked up and have 15 minutes to prepare an espresso, cappuccino and signature drink. These are then presented to four sensory judges, two technical judges and one head judge. The level of depth that the barista’s went into was impressive with talks of fermented blueberries and bean roasting profiles. However it’s a shame that you can’t join in with the tasting of the coffees, instead of being sat salivating at the chops thinking ‘gee I bet that incredible sounding coffee tastes good’.

Max finished a very impressive 2nd and I finished a lot more informed having tasted coffees from Bolivia,Columbia and Brazil. However the main lesson that I did learn at the London Coffee Festival is, where possible always let a barista do it.