This year's Caffè Culture show will be an excellent source of information and inspiration for caterers that want to make the very most of the speciality coffee sector. Ian Boughton reports.
Now that the average customer's expectations of coffee are higher than ever before, the major question for the hospitality trade is how players in the hotel, restaurant and bar sectors can work most profitably with modern-day coffee.
The big learning opportunity of the year is the Caffè Culture show, which demonstrates how caterers can make the very most of the speciality coffee sector. As all food and beverage managers know, exhibitions can be an unpredictable source of business information. It is possible to find an absolute gem of an idea, but it is also possible to waste an entire day.
This year's Caffè Culture will have more than 250 exhibitors and a likely attendance of 10,000, so it would be easy to get lost or sidetracked. The secret is in how to gain the maximum advantage from one tour of the Olympia show site.
The art of choosing seminars is always difficult - it is very easy to chose wrongly and waste half an hour. The Caffè Culture show puts on a series of free seminars within the main conference hall and there is one presentation, run on all three days of the show, which is guaranteed to assist - this will be the Coffee Boys, Hugh Gilmartin and Johnnie Richardson, talking about the biggest challenges to be faced in a coffee operation.
Unusually for a seminar, this is not theory-waffle - these two operators have both run successful businesses, and in one case have experienced losing everything. They recounted their experiences in the books Wake Up and Smell the Profit and The Step by Step Guide to Setting Up and Managing Your Own Coffee Bar. This year they have conducted the largest-ever survey of café bars in the UK to find out what are the biggest hazards facing the coffee market - this will, almost certainly, be a session of practical straight-talking.
So will one item from the seminar programme by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, which is putting on three days' of talks at £175 a day.
"For the hospitality trade, go to the third day," says organiser Gary McGann, of the café trade wholesaler Beyond the Bean.
"You can hear Chris Sanderson from the Future Laboratory, who would otherwise charge a fortune to give you a half-day strategy session on trends in consumer behaviour, and what your customers are likely to want."
Also speaking is Lewis Allen of Portland Design Associates, who harangued a recent coffee conference into the understanding that while the coffee trade frets among itself about "the perfect espresso", consumers have more general wishes of the venues that serve them.
the best of the stands
Around the stands, there are clear highlights. There is more opportunity than before to find out about true speciality coffee from different lands of origin - this year, there will be coffee farmers from Costa Rica (stand B84), Brazil (D126), Colombia (B20), Panama (B112), Mexico (M5), Rwanda (D126) and Uganda (H66).
Cafédirect (T9) will offer the chance to speak to Thierry Akroman, who is part of the brand's procurement team based in Mexico - that, says the company, shows that Cafédirect really is direct.
The Cup of Excellence people (who encourage individual farmers to grow to exceptionally high quality, then bypass the farm-gate middlemen and sell by internet auction, often raising astonishing prices) will be at stand L10, and there's a chance to catch several of our most knowledgeable green-bean importers, notably Mercanta (D42) and DR Wakefield (H42).
jamaica blue mountain
The world's rarest coffees will be on show at Sea Island (Q49) which specialises in origins that few people have heard of, but it is also an authority on Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. With so much fake Blue Mountain on the market, it is a worthwhile idea to talk to an acknowledged expert on the island's coffee to make sure you are dealing with the real thing.
Grumpy Mule from Yorkshire will argue at stand E46 that for the first time, the food service trade has access to ethically-sourced coffee that stands up in terms of quality (the coffee trade has bitter arguments over the standard of much Fairtrade coffee).
Rombouts (H86) will be looking to argue that those who are prepared to invest another couple of pence per cup will find they can move up from "standard" quality to "exceptional", with a more than proportional increase in selling price.
The biggest brands in coffee machines are all on show - most notably this year Nuova Simonelli, whose Aurelia (pictured, below right) has been chosen as the official machine for the finals of the World Barista Championship. This can be seen at stand H110, and the British distributor is now First Choice Coffee.
In bulk brewing for hotel, restaurant and conference situations, Bunn (D80) will discuss the technical subject of pulse brew and why it allows for a higher standard of brewing when a catering operation needs to make and hold a large quantity.
Marco Beverage Systems (E105) will have a new addition to the Filtro Shuttle system, which allows bulk-brewed coffee to be made available at various locations in a building.
Two notable competitors will be battling for attention in the espresso machines arena - La Spaziale (K84) will be featuring its well-known principle of precise control in brew-head temperature energy-saving devices. And so will Dalla Corte (S12), launching the semi-automatic machine that comes with the modest claim of "a machine like no other", offering the flexibility of manual control with the operational assistance of semi-automation. Energy savings are claimed to be 10% higher than the range has achieved before.
The Drury Tea and Coffee Company (D82) has made improvements to automatic milk steaming and frothing, which means the operator can turn attention to other jobs while the milk is being prepared. For a fully-automatic machine to say it will "set new standards in the art of frothing milk" is a massive claim to make - and that is why the Swiss-made Franke (E60) has attracted a lot of pre-show attention.
Crem (H44) is the Lancashire supplier that used to be Style Café. Its newest freshbrew machine is the CQube - it has minimal environmental impact, says the company, and blends into all types of environments.
With the current growth in mobile coffee service, Fracino (D30) will offer dual-fuel machines for use on carts, vans and coffee bikes. The company says these are "the most powerful and easy to use in the world - work all day long with no loss of pressure".
A wonderfully practical question for caterers who use traditional espresso machines is: does your grinder waste 30% of your coffee by spraying it over your counter? Anfim (J32) says it has created a new kind of grinder in which the output creates less waste.
Caffè Culture really does promise some things that have never been seen before at a British coffee show. The most dramatic, although it may not be practical for all coffee outlets, is the arrival of molecular gastronomy in the coffee market - this is the experimental work pioneered by the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià, who did a lot of work with Lavazza in creating different formats for coffee. We rather hope to see how coffee can be turned into foams or caviar "eggs" by Cream Supplies (L16).
Beyond the Bean (K104) is the most significant wholesaler to coffee trade distributors and beside its new cookies and smoothies is now talking very seriously about the market for customers with specific dietary requirements. The UK now has 1.8 million diabetics, 600,000 coeliacs, 2 million vegetarians, and 750,000 lactose-intolerant customers - it is a mainstream situation for which operators must now cater seriously.
CaffE Culture, 23-25 june, olympia london
There will be around 250 exhibitors at Caffè Culture. The organisers recommend free advance online registration - admittance on the day is £20. To register, go to http://www.caterersearch.com/Articles/2010/05/27/333584/Caffe-Culture-2010-preview.htm" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.caffeculture.com](http://www.caffeculture.com)
World Barista Championship
During the same three days, the World Barista Championship will be held. This year the UK is represented by an Australian, John Gordon, who works in London and who swept the board in the British final, taking the best espresso, best cappuccino and best signature drink categories.
During the show, the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe holds its conference - tickets are £195 for one day, and £495 for all three, from the show website.
[See our earlier preview of Caffè Culture >>