Waking up and heading to the festival on Sunday morning we had one thing on our minds, Cakesmiths’ breads, toasted, with butter on. Cakesmiths’ cakes are great but their breads are even better, or as they like to call them loafcakes, we ordered a smashing pumpkin and a banana and chocolate slice to be toasted and put away a pear and ginger for safe keeping. It took a bit longer waiting for them to be toasted, but it was well worth the wait and we enjoyed them thoroughly before setting off to find our first coffee.
If they’re happy, smiling, joking around and thoroughly Yorkshire, chances are you’ve happened upon the staff at Grumpy Mule, just like we did. With the chemex gone a little cold we got to choose what was brewed up next and being unable to read the bags as they were above head height, we were offered a choice of three coffees, where with very little hesitation we agreed upon a natural processed coffee from El Salvador. As we’d mentioned over at the origin stand on day one it’s kind of unusual to find a naturally processed coffee from El Salavador with most exports being of the washed variety, plus we fancied something with a lot of flavour to start the day with.
Flavour was what we got from the Santa Rita Natural Honey with red fruit and berry flavours complemented by a nectarine like sweet stone fruit acidity, lots of fruit and lots of flavour and all from an origin where I’ve come to expect clean, sweet caramel and citrus coffees. We hung around for a while to joke about and chat all things Yorkshire and coffee before heading off to try our hand at Union’s cup tasting.
Union always have some form of interactive coffee related fun and games at their stand or some kind of roasting workshop and for some reason I always seem to do terribly. This time around it was a tasting challenge, where we were presented with four taster cups and four lots of coffee or general taste profiles to match them up to.
All poured from batch brews from behind the stand, one coffee was supposed to be nutty and spicy, one citrusy, one berry like and the other chocolatey. Now I’ll be honest I didn’t really look at the notes on these coffees I just looked at the huge bowls of produce in front of them and tried to match them up, although it’s worth noting I’ve had a few of these coffee’s before. Starting from left to right we started sampling the coffees. The first one we tried tasted somewhat citrusy, it was also pretty familiar, I’d gone through a bag of the Yayu Wild Forest last year, we placed that one in slot number two. The next coffee, well that’s where we started to lose confidence in our decision making, there was chocolate flavours in each of the next three and it wasn’t particular easy picking out the rest of the flavours. Dont we taste coffees a lot I thought to myself? Shouldn’t this be easy?
We arranged the next three as best we could and felt somewhat sure we’d made the best choices. Asked if we thought we’d done well, we laughed and guessed we were about to find out. For the first time at the festival we were hoping to hear that annoying siren to signify we’d got them all right, but we weren’t confident. First up was the Bobolink, we got that wrong, there was our full score blown! We’d put the Los Lajones (the berry one) in the nuts and spices category. Next up was the Yayu Wild Forest, we got that right, which was fortunate as I’d drank that one before (although this was a new crop), next the Los Lajones we’d placed the Liberacion in (the chocolatey one), so wrong again, which left the Liberacion or chocolatey one where we’d placed the Bobolink. If it all sounds very confusing, that’s because we’d messed it up so badly, with 1 out of 4 correct, we left wondering if it was about time we booked ourselves in for a sensory course with the North Star Academy. No siren for us, only some humility and respect for the people who do this for a living.
We’d heard the guys over at Neighbourhood Coffee had begun selling Nespresso compatible pods filled with coffee roasted by their fair hands and couldn’t miss the opportunity to give it a try. Nespresso is now a thing and it’s been a thing for a while and to pretend that it’s not important because it doesn’t taste as good as hand brewed coffee is to miss the point, which is that lots of people are drinking Nespresso. Now getting them all to switch over to specialty coffee is a bit of an ask, but getting them to switch over the pods they are using at relatively the same price point based on flavour, well that doesn’t sound too hard does it? Well that’s what Neighbourhood are hoping.
They’re not reinventing the wheel over at Neighbourhood Coffee, they’re just offering some accessible single origin coffees in an accessible format, in the hope that some might ditch a questionably sourced blend of ‘intense’ coffee for a flavourful coffee from a farm where the roasters know the farmer. Now that being said, what do they actually taste like?
It’s at this point I should probably point out I’m predominantly a brewed or filter coffee drinker myself, I like espresso, but I only order it on the odd occasion, I prefer longer less intense drinks. The Nespresso pods are quick and easy to prepare, it’s less than a minute and only a couple of motions to produce two Nespressos. To taste, they’re just like the flavour notes, the Guatemalan is a chocolate orange and the Colombian is a sweet citrusy caramel, the mouthfeel is good and they’re both better than many espressos I’ve had in the past. They’re also less intense than an espresso, they’re much more like a lungo, something I’ve ordered plenty of times intentionally. What’s evident though is that given some decent coffee this process is one we’re going to have to get used to and its the overwhelming convenience that is going to count for a lot, to many. Thankfully though some roasters are starting to take note and offer an alternative to the coffee pods already out there, so that given the short price tag you might consider the Nespresso machine as just another one of your brewers.
It’s always nice at coffee festivals to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while, so we popped over to see Nino at Casa Espresso and see how those guys were getting on. Apparently turning up on Sunday to see them had meant that we’d missed out on their natural Rwandan, which had by all accounts sold out to great applause, so it’s likely I’ll be revisiting that in the new year. Their Ethiopian was on batch brew, but it had been there a while and tasted like it had been good about an hour ago, which Nino recognised and offered us the espresso instead.
Waiting for it to cool, we asked Nino what he thought of the pizza offerings outside, being Italian, his eyes lit up immediately, he was a big fan of Honest Pizza and had been following them for a while now. Nino’s from Caiazzo, the mecca of pizza where Franco Pepe makes woodfired pizzas at Pepe in Grani, considered by many to be the best pizza in the world, which he would encourage anyone to go to should they get the chance. Turns out Honest Pizza had made the pilgrimage there last year and that’s probably why their pizzas were so good. Anyway, the espresso, the Indian Gems of Araku suited espresso, I’d tried it as filter previously and it had been smooth and balanced, but not overly exciting to me, as an espresso its funky natural qualities come out to play and provide something far more interesting especially at the prospect of milk. Still apparently it was all about the Rwandan, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for that one.
After all the hot stuff, we thought we’d see what our local cold brew purveyor was up to on their stand. With a Ethiopian natural, a washed Colombian and a Panama Geisha cascara on nitro, I got the impression that the Artemis boys liked the same kind of coffee as me, just cold. We’d tried their normal cold brew before, with it being stocked all over Leeds, so we tried a couple of samples to refresh our memories. The Ethiopian retains some fruitiness and some acidity in amongst the smoothness created from the nitrogenation and the Colombian is the please all super smooth and creamy nitro, no doubt best for cocktails and drinks combinations. Both better for the summer months and evenings than a cold Manchester winter day though.
What we were interested in most was the cascara nitro, I’ve brewed cascara, I’ve even brewed some really tasty cascara, we’ve eaten cascara chocolate and we’ve drunk a few cascara sodas, but we’ve never tried geisha cascara and we’ve never tried nitro cascara either. This particular cascara is from the Los Lajones farm that supply Union with their Panama Geisha and is cold brewed before being infused with nitrogen, so we grabbed a cup to try. I feel like this is a kind of new drink, its not really coffee, its not quite cold brew, but it was really tasty. Super fruity with these clean distinctive berry flavours and a smooth and creamy mouthfeel, it was a pleasure to drink and felt like a pretty decent drink to be serving in bars for those driving rather than those over priced syrup and sodas. It tasted like a great body for mixing too, it was exciting and new and I’d order it again.
Having tried something new and exciting, we doubled down and thought we’d try a cascara pale ale from a collaboration between Clifton Coffee Co and Moor Beer as a celebratory drink to call a close to our Cup North adventure. Poured by our barista (who didn’t drink!) we had a few sips and discovered a complex and fruity pale, with sweet red fruity notes in amongst the hops, if I was a major craft beer nut, I’m sure I would have asked for the barrel.
Having done the rounds and enjoyed the coffee, it was time to say a farewell to 2016’s Cup North so we popped to the Heart&Graft x Conti Espresso one last time, to say goodbye to the lever machine and for one last Honduran Espresso to take with us. It would have been a shame to leave without pulling a shot myself and so I did and it was a lot of fun too.
Swinging by Atkinsons on the way out for a bag of coffee, you can see our modest, but great take home swag below, of which we’re currently part way through. A more relaxed, more casual and somewhat more intimate festival this year Cup North was enjoyable without being stressful and came with tonnes of great coffee like it always does. Until next year.