You may have seen recently that we are gearing up to be the only caffeinators at Rock Oyster Festival in Cornwall, and all the talk about music festivals and obviously coffee got us wondering if there is a foolproof plan you can follow to consistently get a good cup of coffee at music festivals.
Now, if you’re headed to Rock Oyster Festival, don’t worry, the issues discussed in this article won’t affect you. You are in safe hands, we have four separate sites (yep four) where we will be serving amazing coffee and cakes, but for all those attending the many swathes of other festivals on the calendar, theres a good chance you wont be as lucky so pay close attention.
We’ve all been there, and it’s the worst. 35 minutes queuing in the early day’s heat with a head perhaps a little fragile from the night before, finally you arrive at the front of the queue and get a ‘coffee’ that your pretty sure would get sent back even in a custodial suite.
Let’s look at ways to reduce the amount that this happens and therefore increase the overall quality of your time at the festivals you love.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that the best way to ensure you have great coffee at a festival, is to take great coffee with you to the festival. Of course along with some brewing equipment, but even under the assumption you are taking your own, a flat white just hits different, doesn’t it?
So let’s start the routine by waking up in a sweatbox of a tent with a clouded head. Take our word for it, you are in no state to queue for a coffee right now. Now is the time to get the camping cooker out and the kettle on, we’re brewing the first coffee ourselves.
Aeropress is the benchmark for great portable coffee, but those with a group of friends can be forgiven for simply taking a large Cafetière (an unbreakable one preferably).
Washed Colombian is my go-to comfort cup, it never disappoints while not being too challenging for those first morning sips, but I’ll leave the finer details up to you.
Once you have had a coffee, and most probably a giggle with your slowly awakening team, you are ready to get up and search for that golden shot of caffeinated medicine, much like Popeye nonchalantly searching for a can of spinach. Let’s get out there.
By the first morning of any festival, you have probably familiarised yourself with where the food and drink stalls are. No doubt by now they are all getting busy. When you arrive at the amphitheatre of food vans, don’t rush into anything. I know the queues are massive and ‘the sooner we get in line the sooner we get a coffee’, but you will be waiting for ages anyway so let’s first make sure that where you choose to wait doesn’t turn out to be a massive let down.
Have a quick stroll and take a look at each van/yurt/rickshaw selling coffee up close, you’re not buying anything right now so it’s fine to skip the queue. The important part is what to look for when looking, because the quality of the dashing young man’s beanie and tattoos in conjunction with the inflated festival prices are, believe it or not, a bad reference for the quality of the coffee.
Here’s the list of what to look at when you are up close to the action.
Let’s watch an espresso pour into a cup. Watch as they press the button and see if the coffee is taking the right amount of time to extract. Optimal is between 25-32 seconds but we don’t have a stopwatch to hand so we’re just making sure it’s not coming through in 6 seconds because as we all know, that will taste BAD.
While you are close enough to watch the shot, also have a glance at the steam wand. Is it clean? You should be able to see your reflection. If it’s caked in 5 millimetres of scum,
A. that scum is going to go into your drink and,
B. we’ve now learned that the easiest part of the whole set-up to keep clean, isn’t being kept clean. What does that say about the rest of it?
Is the vendor proud of the coffee they are selling? Can you see a kilo bag displayed anywhere? Is there a sign of any sort that’s provided by the roaster? Chances are if there are none of these things, the vendor isn’t buying very good coffee, otherwise, they would be telling you about it. By now we all know, that if you buy bad coffee, you serve bad coffee.
Now, these last two are on the more pedantic end of the spectrum but hey, we are reading an article about how to find good coffee at festivals after all.
Is the van/yurt/rickshaw where the coffees are being made level? As in, is it flat? If the van is on a hill and hasn’t been levelled, meaning the coffee machine too is at an angle, then no matter the skill of the barista every shot will be channelling, as good though they may be at making coffee, they are no match for gravity. If you are not familiar with the term ‘channelling’, here’s a link to explain. Don’t forget to apply the same logic to the espresso machine itself!
Are there any scales that you can see? can you see them weighing the shot before pulling it? This is the absolute gold standard at a festival but hey why not hold them accountable it’s a coffee shop like any other? If you see a barista weighing the shots, you have found the stall to buy coffee from.
If followed, this list of things to look for can and will eliminate the ocean of options that usually overwhelm us at festivals, meaning you can focus more attention on having a good time.
So go! quickly! Get in that queue, it’s not getting any smaller and you can now rest assured you’re getting the best coffee on site.