Caffe Culture 2008.

Had a very long but thoroughly enjoyable day on Wednesday, visiting Caffe Culture for the first time. It was notably more interesting for me in some ways than ExCel 2007 – primarily because this event is specifically for the cafe industry – and focused on all things coffee! Even though the endless array of stalls, sales spiel and hype can become a little dull after a while if, like me, you’re not there to sell or acquire products, but simply as a barista interested in the artisan side of the cuisine, there’s still a whole host of interesting things going on, and it was quite hard to fit everything in!

Watched the first session of the latte art championships, but unfortunately had to miss the second half that (I think) resulted in the top two entrants because I was in a workshop. I was surprised by the small number of entrants (only eight in total), given that this  was the only and final heat. I was also in some ways perhaps pleasantly surprised to see that there seems to be a far less intense focus on overall technique and flavour than I had expected, and than there is in the barista championships – because this means I will be less anxious about entering this one for the first time next year! It really did seem to focus mainly on the presentation, which is a shame in some ways, but at the same time less intimidating! But it’s by no means easy pouring under pressure with an audience, cameras, judges and an unfamiliar environment and machine – even the best can seize-up under those conditions, and it was heartbreaking to see baristas inwardly cursing pours they obviously knew they could normally execute far better…

I didn’t take a single picture (sometimes the paparazzi thing can seem a little inappropriate or gratuitous!), but I can vouch for there being a plethora of coffee-geeky material about: more makes of cutting-edge espresso machines dishing out more types of free coffee than I can possibly list, and many of the leading lights of the UK coffee scene ambling about (or working very hard on the La Spaziale stand!). I deliberately didn’t overdo the free coffee, as I wanted save myself for a 2hr cupping workshop at the end of the day, and so (as well as repeatedly tasting all 8 coffees in the workshop!) I only had two espressos and a macchiato; the loveliest of which was an espresso from Hugo from Relish, using a Square Mile coffee just before we left.

The advanced cupping workshop was a real highlight: a whole roomful of eight different lovely Central and South American coffees ground and laid out in over 72 cups for repeated tasting. The Cup of Excellence assessment sheets were quite a lot to get your head around, as you’d expect, and I found that my tastebuds certainly need a lot more training, but it was nonetheless a really enlightening and enjoyable event. Effectively and accurately assessing and comparing so many coffees at the same time is an art, and not something you can pick up in a few sessions, so it felt like jumping in at the deep end a bit, but Anette was very patient with our lack of ability and sometimes wildly inaccurate observations, and I intend to work on this aspect of the cuisine!

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