The First Live Coffee Festival: Part Two

Cover title image reads Sheffield Coffee Festival: May 22-23 2021.

We recap the events and conversations held at the Sheffield Coffee Fest in England.

BY SIERRA WEN XIN YEO
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of Andrew McLean

Yesterday, we got a glimpse of what went into the planning of the first in-person coffee festival in Sheffield this year. Today, we follow up by diving into the action and exploring thoughts on how the event held up in an (almost) post-pandemic world.

Events that were held at the Sheffield Coffee Festival (SCF) included local roastery tours and producer chats, such as a live-stream conversation between Emmanuel Rusatira in Rwanda and Jordan O’Shea, owner and operator of Whaletown Coffee Co., co-founder of Cuppers Choice Coffee, and founder of the SCF. There were also fantastic panel talks, one of which I had the pleasure of co-hosting alongside a friend and colleague of mine from The Kore Directive, Izzy Austen. 

Jack Maloney, a barista at Albies Coffee, was the second-place finisher at the Northern Filter Championships at the festival.

Titled “Sustainability and Progression in the UK Coffee Industry,” the panel featured a diverse mix of professionals along the coffee supply stream, including powerhouse coffee companies like Raw Material Europe, STANDART, Cuppers Choice, and Oatly UK, sharing their insights into how COVID-19 has been a massive reset for our industry, and considerations in moving forward and paving a new, more inclusive, more sustainable future for all. Part of that involves some critical introspection as to how each component of the industry can do better. 

To me this was the most necessary part of the festival,” says Jordan. “There is a lot of negativity in the coffee industry at the moment, and I needed people to know that despite that, and through all the rough times of this past year, there are people willing to ask the hard questions and people willing to answer them. Ignorance just isn’t good enough anymore; these conversations need to be had so we can move forward together.”

STANDART founder Luke Adams (left) and author/judge Sierra Wen Xin Yeo (right) judging the Northern Filter Championships.

To round off the excitement of the first day, Jordan had saved the showstopper event for last: the Northern Filter Championships at Saw Grinders Union, for which I was very kindly asked to co-judge alongside STANDART founder Luke Adams and Cuppers Choice co-founder Harley Butcher. What ensued was madcap hilarity and sheer enjoyment. The coffee featured was a Colombian Java, natural yeast fermentation by Fabian Rojas from Huila, Colombia. Tasting of Ribena and cacao nibs, it was brewed on everything from Chemex, to Origami and OREA drippers, to V60s, and at one point even a French press by a host of talented brewers from across the country. 

This was, Jordan says, his way of creating an approachable introduction to coffee competitions for baristas new to competing. “I wanted to do a competition that reflected the habits of the home market, so each competitor had to make a 500-ml filter brew for each round,” he says. “Elle Bown was a very late entry to the competition as there was a dropout, but she entered as she felt there was not enough female representation, and then she went on and won it! So proud of her, she is head barista at Whaletown, so big celebrations here!”

Elle Bown entered at the last minute and won the Northern Filter Championships.

All said, the Sheffield Coffee Festival was certainly an eye-opener to the potential of coffee events in the United Kingdom as we move through and out of the damage to the industry that the pandemic has wrought. I had left the festival feeling cautiously optimistic that future U.K. coffee events would experience the same level of success, and it seemed that Jordan felt similarly, but was confident that we could push for more—higher standards of sustainability, accountability and inclusivity, which was evident in the energy of the festival. 

“We are very proud of being ‘specialty’ and the antithesis to commodity, but this has to be inclusive, not a cult,” he says. “I love this industry, but it cannot survive on being the ‘other,’ it has to lead the way. The coffee industry needs to be a safe community that stands up for each other, even if that means questioning itself sometimes.”

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Six years ago, Sierra Wen Xin Yeo (she/her) stumbled into the coffee industry the way most people do: via a burning need to pay the bills. She currently finds herself employed as Alpro U.K.’s resident coffee specialist. Sierra is constantly surprised at how much her side hustle – coffee and travel writing – unwittingly threatens to become her main hustle.

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