Union Summer Carnival
Summer festival at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee
I arrived a little later than I would have wished.
I was half an hour later than I wished arriving in London, then I went on a detour to Lower Marsh, behind Waterloo Station, to investigate Lower Marsh Market and happened upon a little coffee shop Love & Scandal.
As a result, I missed the cupping session and arrived part way through a fascinating talk on coffee, trees, forests, climate change and Ethiopia.
Kew Gardens have been carrying out mapping of the forests, how will be effected by climate change, how to mitigate, and will the coffee varieties survive.
To preserve the forest, we need to add value, we add value by encouraging the farmers to focus on quality not quantity, but this will only succeed, if the farmers have a market for their quality beans.
Union has been helping, they have improved the care of the trees, educated the farmers to only pick the ripest reddest coffee cherries, have improved the drying stations to use polypropylene netting not hessian and to establish a cupping station to enable the farmers to evaluate the quality of their beans.
These must be in excess of 84 on a Q scale, anything above 80 qualifies as speciality coffee.
Union are marketing as the region, Yayu Forest.
How much information on a bag of coffee?
This came up in the next session on Generation Z and the five waves of coffee.
Most people are only aware of three, if that.
Zero: Quality coffee beans, usually Arbabica, available from local stores.
First: Mass marketing of instant coffee.
Second: Starbucks, a marked improvement, coffee as a lifestyle.
Third: Artisan coffee shops, roasters, focus on high quality, money going to growers.
Fifth: Marketing hype, creation of chains.
Oxfam are still stuck at zero, peddling the fairtrade scam with tubs of black powder to which you add hot water, poor quality coffee that makes people feel good because they have been duped into thinking they are helping growers.
Many would question the existence of the fourth and fifth waves.
This session people either loved or hated. I fell into the second camp.
Anthropologist David Graeber describes bullshit jobs, jobs that exist to employ people who perform no useful function. That was what I was seeing.
Generation Z, Millennials, I groan when I hear these terms. Are people hardwired within their DNA when they are born?
We live in a world where nearly everyone is interconnected through their smartphone.
This has huge implications on social behaviour.
What we should be discussing is this interconnection, and how it is used, not stereotyping behaviour on the basis of when born.
We saw it with Jeremy Corbyn, when he easily won two leadership elections, when despite the smears in the oligarch-owned and controlled media, he almost won a General Election.
PR and marketing show little understanding of this interconnection, how it functions.
It is also personal space, invade at your peril.
Social media is social networks, social, interaction, many to many. It is not broadcast, one to many.
Andy Street former boss of John Lewis has said you do not control it or own it, it takes you where it flows.
We are post-capitalism, capitalism ended in 2008.
Basic tenet of the market is that it self-corrects. it did not for 2008 banking crisis, the criminal bankers had to be bailed out.
Classic Marx, cost is land, labour and capital. We now have a fourth factor, information.
Information has a tendency to flow, you cannot unknow what you know. Like water downhill, it has a tendency to flow. Only artificial and draconian copyright and intellectual property rights restrict this flow, and in doing so, hinders innovation.
We have pure information products, e-books, digital music, that can be reproduced and distributed at near zero marginal cost. We have physical products with high information content, eg mobile phones.
The marginal cost of information products, or physical products with high information content, is falling exponentially.
Robots will take over at least forty per cent of jobs, or would if it were not for wages being held artificially low.
If we focus on brands, then at risk of cultural jamming, as Naomi Klein, author of the seminal No Logo, discusses in how we jam the Trump brand.
Nike went from producer of $70 retail sports shoes, factory gate price at the sweatshop factory of one dollar, to a lifestyle choice.
Apple likes to project a lifestyle image. What of the workers committing suicide?
Actually we do. Baristas help each pother, little cooperating networks form.
In Lincoln, indie coffee shops are considering, maybe already have, a joint loyalty card.
Rather than attempt to form so-called fifth wave businesses, why not grow organically, skilled baristas leave, set up their own coffee shops?
If we follow this route, we also can sustain organic growth for coffee roasteries, and plough money back to sustain growers, encourage them not to replant coffee trees with a less sustainable crop.
Try a quality coffee in an artisan coffee shop then go back to tax-dodging corporate Starbucks and demand the same quality?
I think not. More likely to search out other artisan coffee shops.
How much information to put on a bag of coffee? Danger of information overload. Why not small information panel, QR code to scan for more information?
Every bean has a story to tell. Why are we not telling that story?
The earlier session on Ethiopia, was telling that story.
Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development presented to the two co-founders of Union.
A coffee brewing throwdown in three rounds.
Here I was a little baffled. Different methods were used by the competitors.
Should everything not be equal, a level playing field? One method in itself, may produce a superior outcome. On the other hand, maybe that in itself tests the skill of the barista, with the coffee given, part of their skill, is to choose the method that will best bring out what the coffee has to offer.
Watching the competitors, intense concentration but at the same time relaxed.
Then the judges, which coffee would they prefer? They indicated by pointing to or tapping the cup.
The judges explaining their decision would have provided useful feedback.
On display, a fancy all singing and dancing espresso machine from La Marzocco.
It was one of several different machines, there to be used.
A couple of baristas were making a coffee. Could I have one please? They handed me their coffee. A queue formed.
There was to be a short talk by a guy from La Marzocco. Either it did not take place or I missed it.
On entering, various coffees on show, fake milk, chai. Including the almost mythical Geisha coffee.
I have always thought, using cold brew coffee to make cocktails, a waste of good coffee. Half of Cold Brew Coffee is padded out with recipes.
For more on Geisha, read the excellent must read God in a Cup.
The Japanese iced filter I liked. Little recipe cards were available.
Many will be familiar with Oatly, or at least the name, as it was the wrap around for Caffeine 26.
My previous experience of fake milk was a cappuccino in Malaika, a vegan coffee shop in Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife. To say the least, it was disgusting.
A Greek barista was making himself a cappuccino. Would he make me one too please?
It was so-so. A marked improvement on my previous experience. Not great.
Was this the coffee, the machine, the barista? A direct comparison with milk would have been useful.
The previous week, dinner with an Indian. She told me how they drink tea, half milk, lots of sugar. It sounded disgusting. I was shocked. I expected as I drink tea, fresh boiling water on tea leaves, no milk, no sugar.
Prana Chai was served ice cold. To me it was like a milkshake. A strange tea milkshake with spices.
Talking to the guys later as we walked to the DLR Star Lane Station, they said they were thinking of describing as tea latte, which seemed apt.
In the car park, excellent pizza from a clay oven by Arancina.
For everyone a goody bag.
All in all, a very interesting, informative and entertaining day, and a big thank you to Union for the hard work organising their summer festival.
Based in Docklands, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee was co-founded by Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia in 2001.
Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia are co-authors of Real Fresh Coffee.