Ok, it’s a little late due to things being a little hectic but I’ve finally got around to writing up my visit to Cup North Coffee Festival. (Must get up to date in the new year!) But here you go…brace yourself it’s a bit of a long one, so go grab a cup of coffee and settle in for some coffee chat.
When I was contacted by the lovely people at Cup North inviting me to visit their coffee festival, I jumped at the chance. How had I not heard about this before!!? It sounded perfect, a 2 day event showcasing independent coffee brands, roasters, cafes, coffee machines and accessories, along with the latest news and trends in coffee.
It’s still an up and coming festival but has already moved into bigger venue in the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester (next door to the Old Trafford football stadium), so it was very easy to get to by tram, car or bus. We jumped on a tram from the city centre and then it was a short 5 minute walk. Although we knew roughly where we were going there wasn’t much signage so we walked past the entrance until we were directed through a gap in some railings to find the entrance. This could have been because we had our heads down as we were being pelted by Manchester rain (nothing new there).
If you like coffee I’d strongly recommend a day trip Cup North, there are lots of free samples, a bar, cinema, demos and tutorials to keep you busy all day. For the hard core coffee lovers or if you’re in the industry it’s perfect for you and you could easily spend the whole weekend there with a 2 day ticket. First stop for me was food (naturally) organised by GRUB and showcasing local street food vendors. We opted for some of the Gyoza dumplings served with pickled mushrooms and soy and I could easily have eaten a double portion.
Once we were fed and less ‘hangry’ we ventured down the corridor past the coffee cinema and barista school to check out the first of the exhibition spaces. It was much larger than we expected with an audible buzz from the over caffeinated visitors and competing coffee machines and it took a little while to get our bearings and start meandering around. There were so many stalls to visit each with their own tips, insider knowledge and samples to share. Some were geared more towards people in the coffee industry selling wholesale or were importers but the majority offered a retail selection and were more than happy to talk to coffee lovers (but albeit novices like me).
I’d love to mention all of the lovely people we met but that would make for and even longer blog post so here are my highlights from the day and recommendations if you’re after a new brand of coffee:
Brew Lab from Edinburgh – OK so they might not be local but they did have some very tasty cold brew coffee which I’m hoping is going to be stocked in more bars and cafes across Manchester. Served chilled in glass bottles, icy cold on draught or smooth flow infused with nitrous oxide to create a creamier stout like consistency. They’re very keen to point out that this isn’t an iced coffee – it’s a cold brew, never heated, no sugars or sweeteners, just fine coffee brewed overnight in cold triple filtered Edinburgh water. It packs a punchy caffeine hit combined with luxurious coffee flavours with notes of chocolate, toffee and butterscotch. Let’s hope Brew Lab keep venturing down from Scotland and the word gets out about their cold brew fast.
Carvetti are an independent family run coffee roasting company based in Cumbria with a coffee shop in North Wales. They’re passionate about the quality and the origin of the beans that they roast and this certainly came across when we spoke to the owners and tasted their lovely coffee. We also had an education from them in the production of de-caf coffee (something I often thought was a healthier/cleaner option). I had never thought much about how coffee companies remove caffeine from their beans but was a little horrified when I discovered that some of the more commonly used commercial methods use scary chemical processes and aren’t remotely eco friendly to produce or organic to drink. Now I think I would much rather take the caffeine hit from a decent cup of coffee or pay more for a brand that uses the more costly but natural processes. Carvetti use a mountain water process to naturally filter the caffeine from their beans.
Bean Bros caught my attention with their quirky black, red and white branding with caricatures of the two bearded brother owners. They’re a small batch artisan coffee roasting company based in Huddersfield and their coffee is jam full of flavour. Their approach to craft roasting guarantees that the considerable efforts made by their coffee growing partners is brought to fruition and ensures that the qualities of each individual flavour are preserved in the process. I particularly liked the Boozy Gladys beans used to make a full flavoured Ethiopian espresso with flavours of apricot, strawberries and blueberries in sherry. We also tried their espresso stout which was something a bit different especially as I don’t usually like stout, but the small taster that I sampled was a delicious dark ale infused with coffee flavours.
Artimis Brew are a Yorkshire based company who specialise in making great cold brew coffee. The combine fine roasted coffee sourced from local roasters with filtered water, slow brew it for over 16 hours and then triple filter it to produce a smooth strong flavour. Served icy cold in a glass bottle straight from the fridge this could knock the socks off my usual iced lattes any day. I’m hoping that this artisan brand also makes it’s way into the abundance of Manchester coffee shops in 2016.
Neighbourhood Coffee are a Liverpool based company -apparently the city’s first specialty roaster and they’re dedicated to sourcing, roasting and brewing fine coffee while also telling the stories and journeys behind it. The friendly folk on their stand let us taste a range of their coffees and true to their word educated us on the tasting notes and where it was from. They regularly update their offerings with seasonal choices ranging from single origins beans to blends available to buy in single packets to try or bulk for commercial use. I think my favourite was their Nicaragua which has a chocolaty aroma, a citrus acidity and a caramel sweetness. They also educated us on the difference between filter, press, drip and v60 methods as although we’re coffee lovers we are almighty novices in the caffeinated world. I’ll be checking out their online store to stock up on some beans for our new coffee machine.
Mancoco is a micro coffee brewery and roastery nestled under a railway arch just off Deansgate in the centre of Manchester. Although they’re relatively new on the Manchester coffee seen, I’ve heard great things about their beans and apparently Simon Rogan snapped them up to supply coffee to his restaurant The French. I can’t believe I still haven’t made it over to their roastery yet and I’m going to be booking in a tasting session in the new year. Their website is currently closed for Christmas but they usually have an online shop where you can purchase various different grinds of their beans to try at home if you’re not local to Manchester.
J Atkinson and Co are a Lancaster based company supplying tea and coffee and equipment online as well as from their coffee shop. I love the design of their website which is full of artfully placed photos, containing a wealth of information about coffee making equipment as well as the various types of teas and coffees they supply. They have a great selection of very reasonably priced coffees and I can’t wait to work my way through their range starting with their organic Honduras de-caf (see my rambles above about my new obsession with high quality de-caf).
Heart and Graft joined the Manchester coffee scene in 2015 and are a roaster and coffee supplier based in the Greengate area. Housed inside an old light bulb factory their purple and brass Giesen W15 roaster has a clear influence on their branding. Living just around the corner I can’t believe I haven’t heard of them until now! They source and roast coffee for both coffee shops and customers and they welcome visitors to their roastery, hosting regular events and sharing their knowledge and inspire people by the journey coffee takes from field to cup. I’m looking forward to trying some of their High Road espresso with flavours of cherry cola, butter toffee, milk chocolate as well as their de-caf which is produced using a natural CO2 process (with no nasty chemicals).
We met Lawrence the owner of York Coffee Emporium and did a mini sensory test to see if we could distinguish 6 different scents commonly found in coffees. This was just a taster of the rigorous testing process that it takes to become a Q grader (similar to a sommelier for wine). We were presented with different glass bottles containing scented liquids ranging from caramel, butter to cardamom seed and despite recovering from a cold I managed to get all of them right. Their coffee is roasted daily in small batches which they then distribute to cafes and coffee shops. You can also order their coffee direct from their online shop including fortnightly and monthly subscriptions so you never run out of your favourite blend.
I enjoyed meeting the guys from Hope & Glory and sampling a few of their different coffees. It was a shame that this was towards the end of our tour of the festival and our taste buds felt a little numb from sampling so many different types of coffees but we were still able to get a good sense of the flavour and quality. They’re a coffee roaster based in North Lincolnshire with a great online shop and range of coffees available for mail order. They personally select the coffee beans using their years of experience, hand roast them and take extra care to package them carefully so as to preserve the freshness and taste. I loved their red branded packaging and seasonal blends including candied orange and golden syrup and the wonderland espresso blend.
We spent quite a long time at the Horsham Coffee Roasters stand chatting about their trips to Africa to source their beans, their initiatives to help the grower’s families and villages become more independent and the complexities of using blue tooth scales to perfect a v60 brew. They’re based in West Sussex and were incredibly knowledgeable about coffee. Most of their coffees are roasted in the light to medium range to allow the individual characteristics of the coffee to dominate, leaving behind that familiar roasted flavour. They source all of their coffee using carefully selected import partners or via direct trade and this year they have set up a direct trade program in Rwanda. I’m really keen to sample some of their de-caf coffee which comes from a single farm in Colombia and de-caffeinated using a natural ‘sugarcane’ method. Most de-caf coffees are processed after import but Horsham opt for the ‘sugarcane’ method over the other natural processes (spring water/CO2) as it involves far less ‘food miles’. This involves fermenting molasses derived from local sugarcane to create ethanol (alcohol). This is then mixed with acetic acid (found in vinegar) creating a natural ethyl acetate (which is commonly found in wine). This is then mixed with water and used as a solvent to remove the caffeine from the green beans. Apparently it’s a very effective low heat, low pressure method that can be performed onsite with little equipment whilst also helping to retain great flavour characteristics. The ultimate tasting notes are toffee and nutty with floral notes.
Origin Coffee Roasters originate from Cornwall and believe that they’re different from other coffee companies due to their innovative thinking. They source, roast and sell, dedicating time to teaching people about the wonders of their coffee from how to create a great espresso to the perfect latte. I’m looking forward to trying some of their Finca Limoncello washed coffee with notes of earl grey, lemon and chocolate – it just sounds yummy!
Ok, it’s not coffee but Kokoa Collective deserve a mention for their award winning hot chocolate which is made by using tablets of real chocolate (like very large chocolate buttons). I worked my way through trying their entire range of hot chocolates from the creamy white hot chocolate – a luxurious grown up milky bar (but better) in a cup, 58% milk chocolate – a creamy smooth hot chocolate, 70% chocolate – a classic hot chocolate, 75% chocolate – a luxurious rich dark hot chocolate and finally the 82% chocolate – the darkest of hot chocolate with rich layers of flavours. I liked the two extremes the white and the very dark. They can be purchased via their online shop and an be found in high end cafes across the country.
Last but definitely not least were the incredible Cakesmiths. I could have happily spent a good hour chatting at their friendly stand and sampling their tasty cakes. They’re a Bristol based bakery supplying indulgent handmade traybakes, flapjacks and cakes to coffee shops and cafes across the UK They had a beautiful vintage style display with a glass cabinet filled with the most delicious looking cakes with large light bulb display spelling out their name. My ultimate favourites were the banoffee tray cake (a moist banana cake with chewy toffee sauce and a creamy white chocolate icing) and the salted sticky toffee (moist date sponge with cream cheese frosting, sweet toffee sauce and a hint of salt). I was very sad to hear that they currently don’t offer retail so I’m on a mission to get them stocked in cafes across Manchester so I can get my Cakesmith fix. Come on Manchester – these cakes are blooming lovely!
I had such a great day at Cup North and I’m already looking forward to next year!