Five years ago, London's coffee drinkers were restricted to branded chains or mugs of Nescafé. Now the capital's independent coffee scene is flourishing. Pop into the London Coffee Festival over the last weekend of April to see what all the fuss is about.
While tea may remain the national drink, coffee is fast becoming Britain's hot beverage of choice - with London at the centre of this blossoming, bitter-smelling coffee cult. In the past few years a raft of independent coffee shops have opened across London, which has been infused by a strong appreciation for artisanal specialty-grade coffee served by passionate baristas very much outside the branded coffee chain juggernaut.
The London Coffee Festival - the flagship event of the UK Coffee Week (23rd-29th April) - is a celebration of the capital's burgeoning coffee culture, a four-day bean binge bringing a flurry of caffeine-fuelled artsy and foodie events all under one roof.
On the back of the branded coffee shop boom brought about by the meteoric rise of Starbucks, Costa, Nero and Prêt à Manger, there has evolved a growing demand amongst more savvy and discerning consumers for premium quality coffee. The coffee industry is currently growing faster than the British economy - and London has fast become one of the leading cities for quality coffee in the world.
Gone are the times where you have to resort to getting your caffeine fix from a badge-and-apron-wearing wage slave in soulless identikit surroundings bent on reminding you where exactly you are. Arabica aficionados can now easily eschew the high-street bank equivalent of cafés and invest there energy in something a bit more personable and passionate.
Independent coffee houses run by talented, knowledgeable, innovative and enthusiastic boutique roasters and rockstar baristas with funky facial hair have cropped up all over town. The era of plain filter brews and coffee-flavoured warm milk is over; in a world of flat whites, long blacks, Americanos, affogatos, cortados, doppios, macchiatos, ristrettos and piccolos, there's no reason to accept mediocrity in a cup - especially in a city like London, which has emerged as the standard bearer of quality 'specialty grade' coffee.
And if you still need some convincing - or merely want to be reminded of this fact - then head down to the four-day London Coffee Festival near Spitalfields.
Running from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th April 2013 at the Old Truman Brewery off Brick Lane, the London Coffee Festival pays homage to this maturing movement, with artisanal coffee for sale, the latest coffee kits on display, barista demonstrations and competitions, eight zones dedicated to the art, science and appreciation of coffee production, a range of musical and artistic events, and numerous food markets to soak up the caffeine.
Two industry days on Thursday and Friday (10am-5pm) are followed by one public session and the London Coffee Festival launch party on Friday night (where many an Espresso Martini will be enjoyed) before the weekend opens the festival up to the public with three 3-hour sessions - Brunch, Lunch and Teatime - held on Saturday and Sunday.
The 2012 festival sold out quicker than you can make a chai skinny latte, welcoming around 12,000 visitors - that's almost one person for each espresso made in just one hour by a crack team of baristas the year before (the total of 12,003 in one hour still stands as a Guinness World Record).
The festival is separated into eight zones, some of which are named after areas of London - such as Soho, Hyde Park and Shoreditch. Pride of place in the Soho Zone is the True Artisan Café, a pop-up café showcasing the best London's independent coffee scene has to offer. Here visitors can marvel over the magic of London's most talented baristas from 33 coffee venues and micro roasteries - such as Small Batch Coffee Company, Nude Espresso, Union, Alchemy, Extract Coffee Roasters and Bonomi.
Bespoke coffees and cocktails can be sampled, live DJs will throw down the tracks and there'll be lessons on how to make professional coffee (including those cute steamed milk patterns that often adorn the surface of your beverage, best known as 'latte art').
In the second Soho Zone, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee founders Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia will push the boundaries of coffee making at their pop-up Union Roastery. Alluring aromas of caramel, nut and chocolate will welcomely waft in the air, with visitors invited to experience stations on roasting, brewing and tasting as they get to grips with the exotic flavours of Union's speciality coffees.
The Lab Zone's Make Decent Coffee Lounge will give guests tips from the top on how to make the perfect coffee at home, while in the same zone, the Lab Stage will run an exciting and wide-ranging programme of live interactive demonstrations, workshops, talks, theatre and debates (did you know that the Kopi Luwak coffee is made by coffee beans eaten and excreted by the Asian Palm Civet cat? Well, you will now).
Here visitors can experience first-hand the latest brewing techniques, discuss coffee's ethical issues, and explore London's coffee history - which dates back to 1652 with the opening of the first coffee house in St Michael's Alley, Cornhill, EC3, by a Sicilian called Pasqua Rosée. There'll be chocolate and coffee pairing sessions from a Lindt Master Chocolatier, Espresso Martini lessons, coffee-making races and a lecture on the Matcha Latte - widely tipped to be flat white of the tea industry and made from 100% ground green tea leaves.
In the Hyde Park Zone, L'Accademia di Cimbali will be a mecca to the traditional and iconic La Cimbali - the world's largest manufacturer of espresso and cappuccino machines - while the Showroom will host the UK Barista Championships, as well as the Brewers Cup (celebrating the craft of filter coffee brewing by hand), and Cup Tasting, Coffee in Good Spirits and Latte competitions.
The London Coffee Festival is not merely about the coffee beans, with the Hyde Park festival zone playing host to some of the best acoustic talent the London music scene has to offer. Two art exhibitions have been curated too: one inspired by the 20th anniversary of the acclaimed TV series Twin Peaks and involving 13 international artists, and the other, the Coffee Art Project, featuring pieces linked to the world of coffee from both emerging and established artists.
An Artisan Market will be dedicated to delicious foods you can take home, such as speciality cheeses, meats, olives and breads, while a Street Food Market will serve up hot food and ready-to-eat snacks - hog roast, gourmet burgers, Rhoti wraps, Dim Sum and Tex Mex. Brewers & Union return to the festival with their sumptuous combinations of specialist craft beer and food (pulled pork, smoked brisket and eggs Benedict).
Friday night's Espresso Martini Launch Party (26th April, 8pm-10pm) features music from Liverpool singer-songwriter Tom Moon, Brighton-based songstress Larissa Eddie and modern day rock soul artist Jnay. The first public session will run 5pm-8pm on Friday evening and visitors will be allowed to stay on for the opening party. The musical entertainment continues over the weekend with a full programme of acoustic sets from a host of UK performers and up-and-coming stars.
Weekend public sessions will run from 10am-1pm (Brunch), 1pm-4pm (Lunch) and 4pm-7pm (Teatime). Tickets start at £9.50 (advance) or £12.50 (on door). 50% of all ticket sales go towards Project Waterfall, aiming to raise £1m to deliver safe drinking water and sanitation projects for up to 100,000 people, specifically in coffee-producing countries in Africa.
Coffee connoisseurs are today being engaged by artisanal independent coffee shops in a way previously seen in the wine, cheese and chocolate industries. It's an exciting - and evolving - boom. London is at the forefront of a new breed of aspirational coffee concepts - and the four-day London Coffee Festival gathers this movement under one roof, grinds it together and serves up a brew of balmy blends.
With enough caffeine to keep the whole of London awake for four days, plus a wide range of coffee events, food samples, tastings, demonstrations, masterclasses, tips from the top, barista competitions, live music and art, the London Coffee Festival packs more of a punch than you'd find in countless chain cappuccinos or languid lattes from the high street. So raise your coffee cup to the roastery revolution!