This year's Caffè Culture takes place at the Olympia, London on 10-11 May. Will Hawkes explores the highlights for café owners and coffee lovers
The success of both places is worth noting, as neither existed until just over three years ago; Benedict's has been open for less than a year. If you wanted a coffee in Crofton Park before then, it would have been instant, but now you can drink coffee that has been roasted just a few miles away (by Dark Fluid in Grove Park). It all adds up to ample evidence of the revolution in British café culture, with first Italian- and then Antipodean-style cafés popping up on high streets across the nation.
Not surprisingly, plenty of people are keen to open their own version of Arlo & Moe. This is where Caffè Culture comes in - a trade show devoted to helping café owners and those aiming to join them make the right decisions. First held in 2006, Caffè Culture, which this year takes place on 10-11 May at the Olympia, London, boasts more than 230 exhibitors plus a wide variety of masterclasses, workshops and presentations.
This year's event reflects the growing diversity of café culture in this country, according to event director Cheryl Carroll. "The direction has changed, it's more Antipodean now," she says. "The look and feel is very different, and there's the consumer trend of wanting to know where their food comes from. This means that the show has changed; now, exhibitors display a vast range. When we started, it was just machinery and coffee, but it's now much broader, with a lot more small companies: for example, we have one exhibitor who makes fudge in their shed."
Caffeine's Schaerer bean-to-cup machine
There's a huge diversity of exhibitors, offering the accoutrements of the modern coffee vendor, from plastic lids to espresso machines and beyond. You'll find businesses like roasters Bauhaus Coffee (stand RV5), Ecoffee cup (stand C41), which manufactures diverse and elegant cups from bamboo fibre, and Sweet CoffeeItalia, a company that makes automated coffee roasters (stand A1).
Coffee machinery can be hugely sophisticated. Coffee machine specialists Caffeine Limited will be showing its latest Schaerer bean-to-cup machines on stand E12. The machines feature an advanced milk system called 'Best Foam', that - the manufacturers claim - gives operators total control of the texture and temperature of the foam, delivering the best lattes, flat whites, cappuccinos and espresso drinks. It can also make bespoke foam and other hot and cold drinks, such as milkshakes and hot chocolate. "Cold espresso-based drinks are growing rapidly in popularity - the ability to create beautifully textured cold foams is another benefit," says Justin Stockwell, Caffeine Limited's managing director.
"This latest technology is a very exciting development. It's simple to use and the operator can set the exact consistency and temperature of milk foam that they want, to ensure the perfect serve, whatever the drink."
Lavazza will be showcasing through one of its distributors, Blue Cap (stand G24). The company will be demonstrating the Blue capsule machine, which will be dispensing Rotondo, one of Lavazza's most popular blends. Branded point-of-sale items will also be on display, to support and maximise coffee sales for operators who serve Lavazza.
Lynsey Harley, founder and coffee quality director of speciality roaster Modern Standard Coffee, will be on hand at the Cupping Zone to take you through the diverse and often baffling world of coffee. Harley, a qualified Q Grader, World Barista Championships technical judge, World Brewers Cup Sensory judge, UK Barista Championships head judge and Cup of Excellence juror, will lead attendees through cupping, where the qualities of a particular coffee are assessed.
Chef Works Urban range
But of course, coffee does not a modern café make. Customers require a diverse range of options, and there's a diverse range of exhibitors at this year's event. Take catering equipment supplier Stephensons, for example, which will be exhibiting at Caffè Culture for the fourth time, on stand B51. Its focus this year is on unique and quirky crockery, says managing director Henry Stephenson.
"Café operators are always looking to differentiate themselves from chains and other establishments," he says. "Therefore, this year we will focus on encouraging cafés and coffee shops to express their personality with unique and quirky crockery. Presentation is an essential consideration for enhancing food and drinks and we strive to help customers provide the possible experience." Stephensons will be exhibiting its Acme coffee cup range and the expanded Price & Kensington teapot (pictured) collection and copper products.
The idea of running a coffee shop can seem attractive, but like many of the most exciting ideas, there's drudgery, too, and lots of cleaning. Good-quality equipment is essential and Nelson, which produces commercial catering equipment, will be showcasing its kitchen and cabinet design and installation services, plus its Advantage warewashers and a range of space-saving catering equipment from its Blue Seal range, on stand E41.
Staff uniforms are becoming more popular in the café world. In London, New York and Melbourne, some of the most fashionable cafés kit their staff out in aprons and bibs, a look that may seem fussy to some but that can certainly contribute to the sense that the staff know what they're doing. Distributor Uropa (Stand E25) will be showcasing the Chef Works Dorset Urban Bib Apron, an antique-washed finish, 100% cotton bib apron.
Flower & White blueberry muffin
In modern cafés, the food offer is as important as the coffee, and the possibilities (depending on space) are huge. Visitors to Caffè Culture will be introduced to any number of different brands, all hoping to win their custom. Some are traditional, like Lotus Biscuits, on stand D2; while others are rather less conventional, such as Buddha Water, a soft drink made from birch sap (stand B65). The drink is a healthy alternative to more sugary treats, according to agent Yourtonic's Catherine Mulcahy. "People are looking for refreshing alternatives to the usual sugary offerings," she says. "This is where Buddha Water fits in - it's a lightly sparkling water, with a refreshing dash of pure, organic birch sap and all-natural flavours."
There's even quirkier options, too - like cappuccino popcorn from Ten Acre (stand C32). More traditional are muffins, such as the gluten-free versions by Flower & White (stand C51), which are available in six flavours for foodservice (lemon curd, blueberry, coffee caramel, white chocolate and raspberry, salted caramel and triple chocolate) and three flavours for retail (white chocolate and raspberry, salted caramel and triple chocolate). "They're gluten free, but without compromising on taste or flavour," says co-founder Leanne Crowther.
Price & Kensington
There's an enormous variety of activity away from the exhibitors zone, too. There are seminars aimed at both newcomers and those aiming to take their business up a level: newbies, for example, can find out about how to use social media from journalist Guy Clapperton, who'll offer insights on what works, from Twitter to TripAdvisor. Edwin Harrison, owner of the Artisan Coffee School, will explain why staff training is so important.
For those already a few years in, there are talks on the value of franchising from consultant Euan Fraser, getting ready for expansion from iCafe founder Umer Ashraf Malik (who runs five Glasgow cafés following investment from former Dragons' Den dragon Duncan Bannatyne). Perhaps most intriguingly of all, there's a presentation by consultant John Richardson on some unique research into Britain's café culture which should provide a fascinating insight.
Then there are the masterclasses, which will cover everything from advertising to water quality. "I'm excited about the talk called 'What Can Music Do For You?'" says Carroll. "I'm really into music so if somewhere has lovely music I'm more likely to stick around. It's about how owners can create the right ambiance through music, and how it can evolve through the day." The discussion, to be led by Gavin Larkins, head of licensing at PRS for Music and Brian D'Souza, managing director of OpenEar, will take place at 10am on Wednesday morning.
If that's not enough, there's one final good reason to visit this year's Caffè Culture, according to Derek Lamberton, editor of the Caffè Culture Connect newspaper: "The highlight of the show will undoubtedly be the rare opportunity to see some of the finest vintage espresso machines in the world," he says. "Leading collector Doctor Espresso will have his classic Italian lever machines from the 1960s and 1970s polished up and on display."
Flower & Whitewww.flowerandwhite.co.uk
Sweet Coffee Italiawww.sweetcoffeeitalia.co.uk
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