For coffee lovers and industry insiders, the London Coffee Festival (LCF) is a rich source of inspiration and education. We spoke to event organiser Alex Berti about the LCF team’s plans and hopes ahead of this year’s festival, which runs from 7th – 10th April at the Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.
DR Wakefield: Alex, this is the festival’s sixth year, how has it changed in that time?
Alex Berti, Allegra Events: That’s right, our first was in 2011. Growth-wise, it's been phenomenal. In the first year we had about 7,500 visitors, last year we hit 26,500. This year, we've expanded our floorspace by at least 80%, and we're on course for at least 30,000 people over the four days. I'd say that, as a paid-for event, it's the biggest coffee event in the world right now, without a doubt.
DRW: Do you think LCF’s size and international diversity reflects the coffee industry, as a global community and network?
AB: Definitely, and the community is a network. Once you get into it, the network may not seem as large as it appears from the outside. A lot of people know each other; a lot of people move within businesses and start up new things.
And London is the place to be for coffee. I think that’s partly due to the massive influence of the Australians and New Zealanders who pioneered great coffee in their restaurants and cafés back home. A huge influx of them coming to the UK ten years ago has been one of the driving forces behind the independent resurgence in coffee here in the UK. But the UK has taken speciality coffee to the next level over the last few years, and it’s fantastic to be a part of that.
DRW: Has London always played such a central role in the coffee scene?
AB: I think London has always been very strong, and over the last five years I've been involved [in the festival] I've noticed that while the bigger chains are still present, the industry has leaned more and more towards independent roasters, independent cafés and independent suppliers.
The other thing we've noticed is how the demographic of the coffee-loving consumer has become extremely attractive to other parts of the industry. People in the food-oriented sector want to appear at the show because they see a lot of value in our visitors, both trade and consumer. Companies like Hotel Chocolat and T2 are sponsoring a big part of the event now.
Ours isn't a branded show where the big names dominate. They're still there, but they very much sit alongside the independent players in the industry. If anything, companies like Starbucks take part in the LCF to show their independent roots. Overall, I think that's one of the big trends in the industry: a resurgence of independent players who are getting much more involved.
DRW: The School of Chocolate by Hotel Chocolat is new to the festival this year. Tell us a little about that. And what else is happening for the first time this year?
AB: The new exhibits come from these complementary industries. One of the obvious parallels to coffee is chocolate, given the importance of origin and the roasting process. That's what attracted us to doing something with Hotel Chocolat. They will be hosting tastings and talking about how the product is made, but at the same time be looking to speak to the coffee lovers about their approach to roasting coffee.
The other thing we'll be doing this year, which is a VIP-only experience, is a little pop-up restaurant. There's a café in Amsterdam which calls itself The Scandinavian Embassy. They've created a fantastic coffee and food pairing menu, which is something we haven't had before. The vision behind this is that the next phase for coffee will be restaurants and fine dining taking coffee a little more seriously.
Then there are old favourites, like The True Artisan Café, which has changed format slightly in the sense that we've now got a roasters' village for small UK roasters. We've also changed our lab and workshop programme to be working with key partners on takeovers. Caffeine Magazine will be doing a takeover, as will our parent company Allegra Strategies; a full morning of talks that are business and industry-focussed on the coffee sector. These will be very focussed on trends and analysis of where the industry has been and where it's going.
DRW: What's your personal favourite part of the LCF – both as an organiser and as a visitor?
AB: I think it's probably the diversity of the whole thing – the fact that it's not just about coffee any more. There’s a little bit of everything, from tea to interesting soft drink concepts, like Karma Cola or Mörk Chocolate from Melbourne. If you're not a coffee-lover, you can still come to our show and have a good time.
DRW: What are the benefits for traders visiting the show?
AB: First, there's obviously the education aspect. Apart from what we'll be doing in the Lab, Career Magazine is doing a session of talks for 'coffee-preneurs', people who have opened new businesses in the industry. And it's not just for coffee. One of the guys from Plenish, a cold-pressed juice company, will be speaking at that session. You can learn directly from founders about their stories and the challenges they face. There will be a session on the pitfalls of opening a café, too. That's the talk element.
"The UK has taken speciality coffee to the
next level over the last few years, and it’s
fantastic to be a part of that."
Then there's the educational experience of visiting different stands and talking to actual coffee roasters. A lot of trade visitors from outside London don't have a lot of contact with their roaster. Many will be buying through a distributor, so it will be nice for them to have contact with people who can talk to them about the actual process that goes into creating blends for their cafés or restaurants.
As a trade visitor, you also have the chance to find new things. We have a little Innovation Zone at the show with a curation of new concepts like the Minipresso, an espresso machine you can fit in a handbag. It's interesting for tradespeople to come along and find interesting new concepts for their cafés, restaurants or supermarkets. From a trade point of view, it's about education and sourcing new products.
Thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk to us. This year’s London Coffee Festival runs from 7th to the 10th of April, and we’ll be exhibiting for a second year. We’ll see you there!