Being called a ‘roaster’ in Scotland is not usually meant as a term of endearment but thanks to the rise of the craft coffee makers times are-a-changing.
One man who is riding the crest of that particular wave is Martin Dare, an event entrepreneur whose Edinburgh Coffee Festival is on its third venue in three years thanks to a very heavily caffeinated and growing army of espresso aficionados.
After kicking off in 2015 at Mansfield Traquair in the capital, and shifting to Summerhall last year, this artisan festival is now set to take up residence at the Corn Exchange, in anticipation of more than 3,000 visitors when its doors open for the one-day trade-cum-consumer show in October.
Martin, who already runs the trade show Agri-Scot and consumer event Gardening Scotland at the Royal Highland Centre, candidly tells me that he had no knowledge whatsoever of coffee before launching the show two years ago but after a conversation with an exhibitor at the Glee gardening show at the NEC in Birmingham, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
“The exhibitor was talking about the London Coffee Festival and it just sounded like a fantastic event. We were all keen coffee enthusiasts in the team and thought that was the sort of event we would like to attend and to organise, and there was nothing like that in Scotland. So it was really from that conversation that we decided to give it a go,” says Martin.
Martin’s company Project R Events (spawned from his firm Rural Projects, which runs Agri-Scot and Gardening Scotland) initially invested around £5,000 on set-up, including web, advertising and promotional costs; it was a sum he deliberately wanted to keep low so as not to expose the firm to too much risk. The event, as it turned out, was a success and he ended up with around 25 exhibitors in its first year, rising to 35 last year and the company is on target now to reach around 40-45 stands in 2017.
“You start these things quite modestly and try and grow them,” Martin adds. “If it doesn’t work you’re exposing yourself to a lot of risk, but based on the feedback and enthusiasm for an event at the Corn Exchange I think it’s got the potential to grow further but I want to do it incrementally. We’ve got to grow exhibitors with the size of the audience to get the balance right.”
As we speak, Martin is preparing to visit the London Coffee Festival next week at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane; it is a huge event with 35,000 visitors spread across four days, two for trade and two for the public. Martin’s show is on a smaller scale but uses the same model as coffee, like craft beer and gin festivals, is very on trend; outside London, Edinburgh has the second highest per capita rate of coffeeshops in the UK and the increasing focus on roasting techniques, the different tasting notes between the Robusta and Arabica beans, not to mention all the climatic influences on the growing process, has turned coffee into an artisanal craft with a large following.
The Edinburgh Coffee Festival will also introduce educational elements this year where visitors can obtain a ‘certificate of learning’ – and there will be demonstrations and workshops for the audience. Although only slated for a day-long event, there will also be a preview evening the night before where the business side of the industry can gather together to make important contacts.
“It is a relatively new scene here compared to London, Australia, New Zealand or the West Coast of America, but this whole development of local coffee roasters is helping feed the interest, there’s a groundswell of people looking to try different sorts of coffees, and who are interested in the history and heritage of coffee,” adds Martin. “I wouldn’t say we’ve attracted the big boys yet but we have had more interest now we’re in the third year – it’s quite gratifying that it’s getting on the radar outside Scotland. I’m meeting some big players at the London Coffee Festival next week, so we’ll see.”
The atmosphere must also be pretty ‘wired’, I suggest, but perhaps without the dangers of crowd control represented by beer, wine and spirits.
“There’s definitely a lot of awake people,” Martin says. “But the coffee industry is keen to meet and get together; they like a party, I’ve discovered, so we’re going to try and provide that on the Friday night.”
As for the operational side of the show, Martin has deliberately avoided shell schemes and instead employed a joiner to build stands from pallets and panels to give the show a more ‘craft-y’ look and feel, and has also brought in DJ sets and a local band. He’s yet to reveal what’s in store for this year’s event but as he speaks of plans for years four and five it’s clear he’s intending to make sure it’s a rich blend with a lasting finish.
The Edinburgh Coffee Festival is on at the Corn Exchange on October 14.