The Manchester Coffee Festival brings together the dozens of businesses in the local coffee community for a two-day event focused on coffee. The event places a particular emphasis on creating an environment in which anyone, regardless of their background in speciality coffee, can learn about the industry.
In this interview, I chat with Hannah, one of the organisers of the Manchester Coffee Festival. We discuss the Manchester coffee scene, the logistics involved in running the Manchester Coffee Festival, sustainability at the festival, and more. I hope you enjoy the interview.
To get us started, I would love to hear a bit about how the Manchester coffee scene has evolved over the last few years.
The way that the scene has changed in the last three-ish years is that we have gone from having a lot of independent shops who have one cafe to having a couple of bigger cafes who have opened their second and third outlets. For example, Federal, and Takk. Takk have recently been acquired by the Grindsmith group and they are probably one of the bigger players in Manchester now because they have a roastery and a few cafes. Ancoats have also just opened their second cafe.
That's definitely one of the ways the scene has changed in the last few years. Those cafes that started out five or six years ago have gotten to the point where they are doing so well that they are able to open a second and third cafe. All that that said, the Manchester coffee scene is a close-knit community. The community is growing but still a small city in comparison to somewhere like London where there must be thousands of baristas.
Let's say I have two days in the city. What areas should I visit to explore the coffee scene as much as I could in those two days?
I would definitely head to the Northern Quarter. That's where there is the biggest concentration of good cafes. You are close by to the Ancoats neighbourhood which also has another bunch of good cafes. There are some great cafes outside of the city now too. I think with COVID and being in lockdown, neighbourhood cafes have gone from strength to strength because people were not able to head into the city. We have a much better quality in neighbourhood cafes and a few new ones have popped up in the last year.
If you had one day to spend in the city and another day to get out on your bike and visit some of these cooler ones that have just opened up outside of town, I would definitely recommend that.
I would love to hear more about the history of the Manchester Coffee Festival. What was the motivation behind starting the festival?
We started in 2015 so this will be our sixth year of running now. In 2015, I was working in the coffee industry and I met Ricardo Gandara. He is my partner for the event and at that point he was a keen home barista who worked in science. We got together through another small coffee event that we had worked on and we decided that we wanted to create a coffee festival in Manchester. There was not anything else like that outside of London at the time. The Glasgow Coffee Festival closely followed us; we both launched in the same year.
We wanted to put the Northern speciality scene on the map. We saw it as being just as good as anything down in London and we wanted to open up the world of speciality to consumers in Manchester. We want to make speciality coffee accessible. One of our key goals has always been making speciality coffee accessible to all. We want to reduce the barriers that some people may face when they go into a speciality coffee shop such as not understanding the menu or the way in which things are presented.
We try to convey our accessibility goal to all of our exhibitors and encourage them to do interactive and educational activities on their stands which are fun and get people to learn about coffee.
Speciality coffee can feel intimidating at times so accessibility is definitely an important value. Festivals are well positioned to create an open forum for knowledge sharing for anyone interested in coffee.
I think people come prepared to learn or to have their mind opened to new things. Those who come without that mindset tend to not have as good of a time. You have to come with that mindset and be prepared to get stuck in and chat with people. Then you will get the most value out of the event and what the exhibitors have to offer.
Why did you decide to host an event in 2021?
We had a couple of years out because of COVID and the year before because I had just had a baby so we were itching to get back to it!
Deciding to host the festival was not a decision we took lightly. We appreciate there are risks and understand that we need to take good care of people and make everyone feel comfortable.
What are the main tasks involved in setting up the festival?
There are many, many jobs. The first big task is to secure a venue and create a floor plan. We have to connect with a production team who are able to build the stands and spaces. There are extra logistics involved this year with COVID and there is also security to consider.
Then we have to sell the event. We sell all of the exhibitor spaces. We sell tasting slots where companies can deliver tasting sessions, We have a music stage this year. We are working with a record shop called Wilderness, based in Manchester. They are hosting the music stage. We will also have a market area for crafty and ceramic startup businesses. We will also sell tickets to attendees. There is lots of marketing involved. I do not do all of the work. We have someone who handles our communications, we have a designer, and we work with other people on different elements of the event.
We have an advisory group who help to advise us with our talks program. We have a whole program of talks going on throughout the event and they are supporting us. There are a million tasks. I could stand here all day talking about them!
I noticed that you have opened up an application to let anyone propose a talk for the festival. I think that will be an interesting program.
We tried opening proposals for talks at a smaller event a couple of years ago. It worked really well. We heard from some people who we would never normally reach out to because we did not know they were out there, including some academics which was cool. Our goal this year is to create a really diverse program where we have a whole bunch of different people represented on the talks program. This is also why we worked with the advisory group. They could help us reach a wider audience for our talks program.
You are working with a lot of local businesses for the festival. How have you found partners for the festival?
If the event sells out we will have about 50 exhibitors. A lot of them are people who have exhibited before and who return year after year. The rest are people who are new and who have heard about the festival through being in the industry or through marketing. That's the exhibitor side of things.
Partners in terms of Wilderness for example, their record shop is by my house and I asked them if they would come on board and do a music area for us.
Our bigger headline partners like La Marzocco, Oatly, Urnex, and Vegware are people who we have worked with for a long time. These businesses have values that align with ours.
For example, we are working with Vegware to create a closed loop for their biodegradable products this year. We could not do a reusable cup scheme because of COVID; we do have to use paper cups. But they will all be biodegradable and we will have special containers where you can dispose of your cup. They will be collected by the official waste team who will deal with the cups properly and compost them. A lot of people do not realise a biodegradable cup cannot just go in the bin to be processed properly.
Sustainability is definitely important for events, especially in coffee where there can be a lot of waste generated.
One thing that does not sit with me well working in events is the environmental impact that we can have. There is so much waste at events. There are some things that are unavoidable such as printing signage. We do try to make an impact in the areas where we can.
Normally we would have a ticket price that includes a tote bag with flyers from partners, a branded pen, and that kind of thing. In my mind, I sometimes go to an event, I get a tote bag, then it goes into the pile of tote bags that I have. Another way we are trying to reduce our waste this year is that we have a ticket that does not include a tote bag. You can pay a bit more and get one that includes a tote bag. We know those people that pay that bit extra want the bag. That's another way we are trying to reduce our impact this year.
Let's say I am going to the festival for the first time. Can you briefly explain what someone who buys a ticket can expect from the festival?
Like I said earlier, I would come with an open mind. You are going to have your mind blown with information on coffee. You will get the opportunity to meet so many coffee different coffee experts, from roasters to green coffee people. We have an amazing talks program that may include talks on coffee, chocolate, marketing, and social issues.
We will host the UK Cup Tasters competition which is one of the most exciting competitions to watch. Most coffee competitions can be quite boring. The competition always has a great atmosphere. We also have the tasting rooms which are normally hosted by Tom from the Manchester Coffee Archive.
For the first time, we will have the music stage and the food trucks inside. Normally we would have the food trucks outside which is not the best for November. I am quite excited for having a music stage inside and food trucks and we are going to create this festival zone inside.
The event is a full-day event. If you want to get the most out of the event, come for the whole day. There is so much to see and do.
You can learn more about the Manchester Coffee Festival on their website at www.cupnorth.co.uk or on their Instagram page @manchestercoffeefestival.
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