Transitioning out of the urban metropolis of Manchester city centre, through an underpass with railroad tracks overhead, you begin to encounter signs for CupNorth with some handy little arrows pointing you in the direction of the converted warehouse hosting the event. It’s not too hard to tell where the entrance is as there’s a rather angry looking coffee bean in a red cape handing out flyers outside. Tickets scanned, wristbands on, its time for that thing I’ve so far been avoiding all morning, coffee!
I grabbed myself a programme on the way in, the list of roasting houses and affiliates is long, so long that even with my love of coffee, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to drink this much. At first it’s hard not to wander around, getting excited like a kid in a sweetshop, so we do a lap, while doing some visual reconnaissance for later, finally stopping at our first stall Mission Coffeeworks.
Eager for us to try the coffee, small paper cups were almost immediately thrust into our hands. What was given to us was a pourover of their Dumerso Yirgacheffe, I was very impressed, it was exactly what it said it was on the bag, blueberry muffins. Savouring the flavours I almost didn’t want to drink the second offering out of respect for the first. Still of course I tried the Kii AB from Kenya, which while still a good coffee was definitely outshone by the former. So much so, that at the end of the day I went back and purchased a bag to take home with me. While not quite the haul I’ve seen some others make from CupNorth, it’s an enjoyable bounty that has me sat here drinking it now as I write this.
Afterwards we popped next door to the guys at Grumpy Mule, unfortunately there was none of my previous favourite the Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda on offer, but variety is the spice of life and so i dove in on another Panamanian offering of theirs, this time a natural processed coffee from the brew bar. Unfortunately I missed out on their brewing competition to get as close to the middle of the SCAE brewing chart as possible, which you can see over on their twitter account. Sadly I was in too much of a hurry to notice the fun that was being had in the foray surrounding their stand.
With a little time before Robert Leigh was to take to the coffee hopper stage, we thought it would be a shame while in Manchester not to sample at least one coffee from a Manchester based roaster, so we headed over to the the Passionfruit Roasters stand. Where they were more than willing to make us a V60 pourover from scratch. While waiting for the coffee to brew, we talked about their recent guest espresso appearance at La Bottega Milanese in Leeds and whether their coffee might be making its way back over the pennines again any time soon. It was getting close to 1pm so we grabbed our coffee and headed over to the coffee hopper stage.
Over on the coffee hopper stage Robert was giving a talk entitled ‘From Lime Street to Yirgacheffe‘ detailing his experiences as a coffee exporter on travelling to Ethiopia to source some Yirgacheffe coffee. An Englishman with english sensibilities thrust into a less talked about world of coffee, managing vehicular difficulties and a lack of first world health and safety regulations, while falling in love with the verdant jungle of Ethiopia’s southern region, its coffee and its people. A thoroughly entertaining insight into a region at the heart of some of the best coffee we drink.
After so much coffee it was time to grab some grub, literally, the food was being put on by street food specialists GrubMCR. We headed straight over to the guys at Comida for some montaditos and croquetas. Made right in front of us, we ordered two sherry vinegar marinated aubergine, basil and Padron pepper montaditos and two aged manchego and black summer truffle croquetas. The croquetas were something else and well worth any wait. Not yet content we headed outside the tent for cake from the Madeleine Express. Selling Noisette bakes goodies, I grabbed myself a salted caramel brownie and snapped up the last plum buckle to shove in my bag for the train home. Thoroughly satisfied it was time for more coffee.
On our way back from food, we decided to take a detour round to James Guard’s new Heart & Graft roasting room to see him work his roasting magic. On arrival we found the added bonus of Mike Riley of Falcon Green coffee running a cupping session. Missing the first couple of minutes of the cupping talk, we quickly caught up, on the left were the South American coffees, leading into the more acidic African coffees, broken up by a single coffee from Sumatra before finishing with a couple of great but delicate Yirgacheffes.
After Mike finished explaining the qualities of each of the coffees, they supplied us with silver cupping spoons and we all set about sampling the coffees. Personally I preferred the Yirgacheffes at the end, however, there were mixed opinions floating around about which coffee was best.
Cupping done, it was time to see James Guard’s shiny new Giesen coffee roaster. Where James was explaining the intricacies of coffee roasting, while letting us all have a smell of the beans at the different stages of the roast.
Finally it was time to let the beans drop, unfortunately these beans were no good for stealing, having been over roasted on purpose to help oil the new roasting drum.
Coffee Roasting done, we stumbled passed an asian art exhibit on the same floor as the roastery before making our way back up to the exhibitors hall. No doubt part of our hosts Artwork’s commitment to exploring new ways of introducing art to the public.
Back upstairs we headed to a Bristol/Manchester collaboration to taste the coffee Clifton was roasting for Takk. The lovely guys at Clifton brewed us up a chemex of their Kenyan Kamwangi AB which, having read the board already, refused to taste of anything other than blackcurrant, white peach and rhubarb. It was a very pleasant and fruity coffee. After chatting about how nice Bristol is and how cool Manchester is, even though it rains a lot, we took a detour past coffee cups of the world before heading to check out the Square Mile stand.
After so much coffee already, I was a little wary of this stand. They were offering their Kilimanjaro three ways, as a natural, as a pulped natural and as a washed. This meant we were going to have to try all three, obviously. Now I naturally favour washed coffees, I’m a fan of bright and fruity coffees, this being said, this doesn’t mean that naturals can’t be better than washed coffees. This was one of those surprising situations where i found myself preferring the natural coffee. The natural was more complex, had a fuller bodied mouthfeel and definitive strong flavours. A little coffee’d out and with not long left before needing to get our train, we popped over for chat with local Leeds lads North Star.
Waiting till they were a little quieter, we popped over to see how their day was going and to check out their new style packaging, which they were showcasing at Cup North. North Star were doing a short espresso menu in exchange for donations to Coffee Kids, who were running the children’s play area around the corner, while raising awareness and money to help coffee growing communities. We chatted a little about their new decaf from Finca Muxbal in Mexico, which had people believing decaf was worth drinking again before heading over to Origin for a quick chat before leaving.
We didn’t sample Origins coffee, not because its rubbish (it’s great!), but because we’d had it the week before at the Perky Peacock in York. Instead of sampling their Lomas Al Rio, we just had a chat with Joshua Tarlo about recently joining the Origin team and Origin’s great coffees of the past, like their Finca Tamana and their Tolima Gaitania. Unfortunately it was time to leave, so we headed for the door while being distracted by Atkinsons Coffee Roasters brewing up a siphon storm over at their stall.
Cup North was a great homage to coffee, with a whose who of roasters available to sample. The only major problem was that I wasn’t able to stay for longer or fit more in. With so much coffee related goodness going on, it was hard to keep on track and get round everyone. Apologies to all of the other great stalls there that day, next time I’ll have to come for the weekend or visit you where you live. It was also a shame to miss Tamper Tantrum on the Sunday too. All in all though, this was a great experience, well worth the ticket price and something I hope will be on again next year.