It’s rare you encounter an experience that is as non-contrived, yet dynamic, as the Independent Barcelona Coffee Festival, which took place over the weekend of May 6th and 7th in the Catalan capital.
“We just sat down with our friends, like Nømad, and said ‘Guys, we have to do something,’” so tells me Joaquín Parra of Right Side Coffee Roasters. “First our idea was to do a BBQ, and now the BBQ turned into this,” he says, as we stand outside of Espacio 88, a warehouse space where the main activities were held for the final fruition of their original idea: the first Independent Barcelona Coffee Festival.
People are pouring in around us, drawn by the sounds of the DJ and the huge crowd gathered around the espresso station in the middle of the warehouse space. Impressively, the organizers managed to keep the familiar, BBQ-like feel of the event they had initially envisioned.
“The best coffee event ever done in Spain,” claims Kim Ossenblock, better known as “Barista Kim” a well-known coffee expert in the Spanish-speaking world, who resides in Barcelona. “This was really the beginning of specialty coffee in Spain for the people.”
Indeed, the event, which was organized by several of the city’s best specialty coffee roasters (Nømad Coffee, Right Side Coffee, Satan’s Coffee Corner, and Skye Coffee Company) along with All Those, a local platform that promotes specialty foods in the city, symbolized much more than just a good party. Barcelona boasts plenty of unique food, edgy art, and independent style, but it has lagged behind many other large cities in Europe when it comes to the arrival of new wave coffee. But if the energy and enthusiasm that accompanied this event are any indication, that’s about to change.
I could have picked from dozens of different moments throughout the festival, but here are seven that show why this event means great things for the future of coffee in Barcelona.
1. Barcelona style
It’s hard to compete with Barcelona’s irresistible combination of seaside location, artsy neighborhoods, and independent flair and style—and this event captured Barcelona in its purest form.
“I used to visit the London Coffee Festival, the Berlin Coffee Festival, and you visit all of these festivals but you are not living the city,” remarked Parra—events like this traditionally revolve around a single location, often a convention hall or in the case of London Coffee Festival, a converted brewery in Shoreditch. Independent Barcelona Coffee Festival flipped this script, giving festival-goers the opportunity to “live” Barcelona as events took place throughout the city’s neighborhoods. More than 20 participating venues hosted cuppings, lectures, and other events on the first day. Activities on the second day such as cuppings, talks, and the Spanish AeroPress Championship, were focused around an industrial arts space in the Poblenou neighborhood.
2. The grassroots spirit
This festival was refreshingly grassroots and locally focused. Rather than targeting coffee professionals, this festival focused on raising the appreciation of specialty coffee amongst the Barcelona public and, in particular, raising their awareness and support for local coffee roasters and cafes.
One of the only “global brands” involved in the the event was La Marzocco, who hosted the closing party, as well as a latte art workshop and cupping in their True Artisan Café, in partnership with Valladolid-based roaster, Puchero Coffee.
“We managed to display what specialty coffee is and means in a simple, cool, effective, and non-pretentious way, the latter being the most important thing to keep in mind as the industry grows in Spain,” said Marco Bergero of Puchero Coffee Roasters.
He continues, “The independent nature of this festival is one of the main reasons why we decided to participate as roasters.”
3. Democratizing the Coffee System
One of the most impressive aspects of the festival was the cooperation demonstrated by the organizers, who could be considered competitors in the specialty coffee space. This spirit of cooperation and equality dominated the festival.
“There are a couple of rules and so we try to be fair with everyone—no roaster with more money gets a bigger stand,” Parra tells me. “Here, there is not going to be Costa or Starbucks or big companies. It’s just small companies—we have a similar vision and we share this passion. We are not here to make money, we are here to make noise.“
4. The Rotating Espresso Station
This democratic coffee philosophy was most noticeable in the setup of a station with four different espresso machine models, through which eight different roasters rotated during the course of the second day. Visitors could visit any of the roaster/espresso machine combinations and receive a free coffee of their choice, exposing attendees to a wide variety of different companies and types of coffee.
Jordi Mestre, owner of Nømad Coffee Roasters estimates the festival gave away around $6,000 in coffee drinks at the four espresso machines over the course of the day. “It was a festival where everyone was at the same level,” Mestre tells me. “The four espresso machines put everyone at the same level and we think that this will be our signature. Next year, we will do this for brewing, too.”
5. The evolution of Spanish coffee culture
Mestre likens Barcelona’s coffee awakening to when the specialty coffee movement arrived in London, where he first learned the coffee trade. “It’s the same as in London. Ten years ago, lots of Aussies and Kiwis started opening cafes and roasteries in London, and then the British and Americans started catching up.”
According to Mestre, when he first started Nømad Coffee in Spain in 2014, he used to have only expats as customers, but lately he senses a change to a more local customer base. “We need to make coffee easier for everyone. And we are starting to communicate with and make coffee for them.”
To bridge this gap with the Catalan population, the festival organized a series of talks that, interestingly, were not focused on coffee, but instead on the specialty food industry, which is a familiar concept in a country known for their fine wine, cheese, and meats. By relating higher coffee quality to higher quality specialty foods, they illustrated this to the public.
6. The New Talent
This year’s Spanish AeroPress champion, Carlos Zavala, is a good example of the new talent that is bubbling up across Spain.
“I have been obsessively drinking coffee for many years, but I have worked as a professional barista only for the most recent five months,” says Zavala. He continued:
“I’m a philosopher and all started with a paper I was reading on Kant’s Critique of Judgment. “What’s the nature of the taste judgment?”, that was the question. I started to look at the cup of coffee I was drinking, and discovered a totally new world in that moment. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of research in order to balance the objective and subjective elements that make a cup of coffee taste awesome.”
7. The Parties
Like any respectable coffee event, much less one in Barcelona, the Independent Barcelona Coffee Festival included its share of parties.
On the first evening, Nømad and All Those celebrated the launch of their new gastronomic space, and also the launch of the Barcelona Specialty Coffee Map, with a party. Attendees spilled out into the street, mixing with baristas and other specialty coffee professionals. Likewise, the guys from Cafè Fred were at Oma Bistro along with Cafés El Magnífico to present their cold brew to the public.
For the closing party, the guys from Right Side and Nømad teamed up with Garage Beer Company to brew up a special coffee beer. The party, sponsored by La Marzocco and held at Garage Beer, also included live music and coffee cocktails.
Between the parties, the beer, the DJs, and, of course, all the coffee you could drink, the Independent Barcelona Coffee Festival felt a little bit like you had been invited to a good party hosted by a particularly cool friend, who also happens to be a generous coffee innovator.
I asked Jordi Mestre, from Nømad, about the future of the event. “We are already talking about an industry day for next year,” Mestre says. “But we also need to have one day open to the public.”
Is Mestre worried that as the festival grows, it will go in the direction of events that lose touch with their grassroots origins as they become more successful, such as a Glastonbury or a Burning Man?
“No. It could have been corporate this time already, but we didn’t invite them.”
Sara Mason is founder of SHIFT Social Impact Solutions, and a freelance writer based in Barcelona. Read more Sara Mason on Sprudge.