Of all the exhibitions on the calendar the Edinburgh Coffee Festival – a trade-cum-consumer show now in its third year – held the greatest personal appeal when I first saw it advertised several months ago.
As someone who can’t hold my hand steady over a keyboard unless I’ve had a quadruple, treacle thick, espresso, this was an event I had diaried months in advance and, thankfully, my visit to the Corn Exchange last weekend did not disappoint.
Featuring dozens of exhibitors – all purveying the finest coffee (and tea) available on the market – I was in my element: roasters, brewers, baristas, coffee making equipment suppliers, you name it, they were there.
With a growing interest in the process behind coffee itself – a bit like the whisky and beer industries with their distilling and brewing – the event was also an opportunity for the many hundreds of independent coffeshops and retailers across the city to gather and investigate/experiment with the many and varied suppliers who took space at the exhibition.
What’s more, the exhibition featured highly interactive ‘demonstration’ sessions, which were over-subscribed with people who were interested in hearing about the tasting notes and sensory experience of coffee. It’s quite striking that these kind of events have taken so long to percolate through, if you’ll forgive me, given the craft industry shows that have been forming around alcoholic beverages for quite a number of years.
Martin Dare, Managing Director of Project R Events, which runs the exhibition, said: “We had just over 2,ooo visitors and the feedback has been really positive. There’s a real thirst for knowledge and most of the 20 demonstrations, talks and tastings were packed to capacity. The Edinburgh coffee scene has a reputation for being very friendly and there are good collaborations between the coffee shop owners in the city; we think this vibe also manifests itself at the Festival.
He added: “But also, exhibitors have commented that the event attracted a higher number of coffee industry people this year so there was more business-to-business activity taking place, which is great.”
Dare says there is also “loads of potential” to expand with already some “great prospects” for next year and ideas in development. It would be good to see the festival succeed given it kicked off in 2015 at the Mansfield Traquair in the capital, and shifted to Summerhall last year, putting on ever greater numbers for an event that was essentially an idea Dare had when he attended a gardening show, of all things, at the NEC in Birmingham a few years ago.
The exhibition does feel like a blend of trade and consumer and perhaps that’s where the future lies; I can see it succeeding with the ‘experiential’ hungry millenials market, especially with the mid-20s to early 40s young professionals and families market. Given the popularity of the live, interactive sessions at the festival (they genuinely were packed to the gunnels), these elements seem like ones to be built upon for the show in 2018.
I would also look for a greater foodie component to combine with the coffee; there were a couple of cake stands at the show, which I’m sure could add an extra dimension in future, especially for the Bake Off obsessed generation. Outside the venue, a couple of stalls served up artisan hot food (pulled pork, burgers, pasta, halloumi fries etc), which provided much needed lunchtime fare and, I’m sure if the audience grows, the diversity will grow with it.
The Corn Exchange is a good-sized venue with easy access for exhibitors setting up quite heavy equipment, so I can see why it was chosen by the organisers. However, it didn’t quite feel like it reflected the kind of cool vibe which I think the event deserves.
It genuinely is an innovative concept which has the potential to grow in its market and I think it would fit better in a space with a bit more atmosphere and character, which in itself could be a selling point for marketing the next event. That was just a mild criticism of an otherwise really well-organised exhibition which hopefully will be back for another stint in 2018.