Back in June we received word from Tim Wendelboe that he was putting together a line up of coffee roasters to provide service for this year’s MAD Food Symposium in Copenhagen, an annual meeting of the world’s top chefs, sommeliers, writers and food lovers.
We were asked to submit samples of three filter roasts and two espresso roasts, along with information pertaining to harvest dates, varieties, altitude and lot sizes, to his roastery in Oslo to be considered for the line-up. Once samples from all the contenders were cupped, we got some great news: our Santa Clara Espresso, Guatemala and our Olke Bire, Ethiopia and Gichathaini AA, Kenya coffees had been selected for inclusion.
Alongside the coffee, we needed three members of the Workshop Coffee Co. team to head to Denmark, to prepare and serve the drinks ourselves.
We had a short while to organise the trip, and spent some time deciding how we wanted to present both our coffee and ourselves. We reached out to our friends James and Lucie at Albam Clothing, who kitted us out in our own custom aprons.
On the evening of the 23rd August, Nico, Richard and I all met at our Clerkenwell store to divide all the required gear into our luggage. We were taking a lot of stuff, including V60 brewers, decanters, scales, dosing tins, stirrers, pouring kettles, towels, a refractometer, about 20kg of coffee to brew, and 120 100g sample bags, and knew we were pushing close to the weight limit. At 6am the next morning we left St. Pancras to get the train to Gatwick, and were all carrying an average of 19.2kg of our allocated 20kg hold luggage. Just made it!
Upon arriving in Copenhagen, we proceeded to our rented apartment, which just so happened to be the home of Danish film director, Christian Bonke, and dropped off everything that wasn’t coffee or brewing wares (amounting to a couple of shirts and not much else). We hopped in a taxi to take us to Refshalevej where we could see the enormous red circus tent all set up.
We gave our sample bags of coffee to be dropped into the MAD tote bags and unloaded our wares. It was great to see some familiar faces, and really exciting to get to meet some exemplary coffee professionals for the first time. Tim Wendelboe sat us all down with fellow event organisers, Jens and Bjorg, and briefed us on how he wanted the service to run for the duration of the event. With the line up of roasters and baristas representing Tim Wendelboe, Koppi, The Coffee Collective, Solberg & Hansen and Da Matteo, we felt pretty confident that it was going to be a great service, with some seriously delicious coffees on the bars.
The rest of the day was spent dialling in the various coffees we had brought with us, and to get familiar with the equipment. Bunn had provided water towers and batch brewers and Nuova Simonelli provided two Aurelia T3 espresso machines and two Mythos espresso grinders. It is always interesting brewing your coffee in a different environment through different equipment, and we were really happy with how things tasted. The water treatment was a reverse osmosis system (sadly the Danes are also cursed with vile water quality) supplied by Bespoke Water Systems, the same system we’re currently testing in our own Production Department.
The next morning we woke early to get to the tent for 7:00 am, and were scheduled to work the brew bar alongside Koppi and Da Matteo from 7:45 am. Once the Gichathaini was dialled in and tasting great, Rene Redzepi gave a short speech to brief us before the punters arrived. The best piece of advice given was simply “Don’t freak out.”.
As soon as people started arriving and the tent started filling up, we were instantly slammed! The three of us were brewing away under a menu that simply read 'Delicious Black Coffee' and we could barely keep up with the demand. The people we were serving had various degrees of experience with specialty coffee, but the general level of interest and curiosity was very high. Because all the coffee was included in the price of the ticket, there were no tills or payments to transact, meaning we had extra time to talk about the coffee and provide a more engaging service to a really captive audience. People wanted to know where the coffee was grown, how we roasted it, why we bought it, what flavours to expect, how we were brewing it, and where they could buy it! Working alongside two other roasters on one bar was great as it meant people could have a small taste of each coffee being brewed. It was also very intimate with 9 people working in a space of about 10 square feet, in a tent!
Once the lectures started and people made their way into the main tent, we packed down our brew station and moved onto the espresso machine. Now standing under a menu simply reading 'Espresso, Cappuccino' we were serving our Santa Clara Espresso for the lunch period and during the afternoon. It caught a lot of people’s eye that we were weighing every dose of coffee and weighing every shot pulled on drip tray scales. Several of the bakers in the crowd applauded our considered and scientific approach.
We closed down and returned to the flat, and after a much needed power nap popped out to Mikkeller Bar for a very modest couple of half pints and a blood sausage.
On the Monday morning, Tim briefed everyone again before service, saying that the feedback from Sunday was incredibly positive, and that we should focus all our energies on giving great and memorable service for the last day. We were manning the batch brew stations for the morning rush, so were capable of serving a much greater volume of delicious coffee. None of us were too experienced brewing filter coffee on such a large scale, so we trialled a few different settings before settling on a recipe that produced great results. We struggled to get enough out of the coffee and experienced some uneven extractions, so developed a technique of manually ‘blooming’ the dose of coffee with some hot water and stirring it all up to ensure a complete wetting of the grounds, and a more even brew. The results were much more consistent and very tasty indeed.
After brewing at least 50 litres of coffee in the morning, we returned to the manual brew bar for the last two services of the symposium. This time we were serving our Olke Bire, and, knowing how busy our first session on the brew bar was, we were far more prepared for the swarm of people coming in from the big red tent. Mission Chinese Food were running the lunch service, and with the smell of chilli and soy heavy in the air and Smashing Pumpkins blaring out, the hundreds of symposium attendees poured into the food tent for lunch. Alas, every person queueing was drinking a bottle of Mikkeller Beer, specially brewed for the MCF lunch service with coriander and lemongrass. We were barely visible through the haze of wok smoke, and everyone seemed content with their beer. Remembering Tim’s request to up the service angle, we decided that we needed to start bringing the coffee to the people.
Outside it was glorious, and people were perched on hay bales and long tables in the sunshine. Armed with a couple of pots of the Olke Bire and a sleeve of cups, we wandered around looking for potential coffee drinkers. People were so appreciative of the coffee being brought to them, and many weren’t even aware of the coffee service being provided inside.
We met a lot of interesting people that we might not have had we stayed inside, for instance the lovely folks at Blanch & Shock. A few bottles of Mikkeller may have made their way over to our side of the bar, and the atmosphere in the tent was incredible.
Once service was over, we cleaned down as usual and helped Jens pack up the equipment. After heading back to clean the flat and pack our things, we headed out to join everyone at Cafe Europa for a delicious dinner of lamb shank and polenta and several gin and tonics. Our bellies full and spirits high, we moseyed on over to the MAD afterparty being held under a bridge. Ice cream and Mikkeller beer were freely available: a hedonist’s paradise! Sadly the police came at midnight to stop James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem, and incidentally a huge coffee nut) DJing after he had played all of three tracks.
We headed back to the flat to polish off a few more beers and dance around the The Very Best of the Ventures playing on our host’s turntable. After tucking in our guest for the evening, Ben Kaminsky, we set our alarms for 5:00 am and turned in ourselves. There’s no denying we all felt pretty exhausted the next day after traveling back to London on the early flight, but it was a small price to pay to have been part of such an amazing event.
I really hope that we are asked to attend MAD again, and would recommend attending the event to anyone interested in spectacular food and drink or just hanging around with some really rad people for a few days in a big red tent in of the world's most beautiful cities.