A Film About Coffee X Laynes Espresso
We at Shlur love coffee. Thought we’d best clear that up in case the not infrequent articles about coffee and cafes hadn’t made that already apparent. Having said that, though, our love affair has very much been with the end result, the cup at home or at cafe, and so we’ve never really engaged or known about what actually goes into putting a hot cup of Honduran or Ethiopian or El Salvadorean or whatever right there. It’s like dating someone without ever finding out how they became the ravishing creature you see before you. They just emerge fully formed and you don’t question it.
A Film About Coffee aims to inform and show us how we oughtn’t take for granted our morning wake up, focusing specifically on specialty coffee and the wonders roasters like Ritual Coffee Roasters and Stumptown manage to illicit from the coffee bean, in fact the seed of a cherry. Brought to Leeds by the fine folks over at Laynes Espresso and aired at the beautiful Hyde Park Picture House, its screening was expected and proved to be the coffee culture event of the year for Leeds, its packed attendance showing how much people give a damn about their coffee in this fair city.
Champagne was switched for a caffeine reception, Carl and Luka of Laynes fame doling out advice and cups of as many as you could pallet of three filter coffees especially chosen for the event. I went for two, trying the Drop Coffee Epiphany Muhirwa from Rwanda and following it up with a Colombian Finca Tamana lot 1 chaser from Workshop Coffee. They were both so good I have no regrets about rising from my slumber at four in the morning later that night wide awake and unable to get back to sleep. The Drop Coffee was exactly as Carl described, high on acidity with a dark berries to orange fruit flavour but a slightly sweet caramel finish, increasing in prominence as the cup cooled. The Finca Tamana, as recommended by Luka, had a dark flavour overall with less acidity, a nuttier praline taste with dark chocolate at the back coming through. It also came with an interesting story behind its production, with an interesting amount of back and forth and collaboration between various roasters. This level of background to a coffee’s journey from farm to bag set the tone for the kind of ground the film would cover in more broad a scope quite nicely.Dual-wielding our coffees (or in one companion’s case a triple threat of tipple) we took our seats in the main room, which even a three-quarter hour before the screening was filled with a Who’s Who rogues gallery of the Leeds coffee scene. The boys of La Bottega Milanese, fresh-faced from winning the Best Barista award at the Leeds-List Food & Drink Awards 2014, were only two seats over from us. The cool kids of Mrs. Atha’s were seen loitering outside and even some baristas from further afield were in attendance, with a couple of members of the Sheffield-based Upshot Espresso team putting in a showing. The attendees were an ode to how close-knit the specialty coffee scene in Leeds and Yorkshire is.
As for the film, what threatened on paper to be very dry or preachy managed to be filled with warmth, welcome information and a lot of ground covered in terms both the unknowing and the in-the-know could gain something from. Taking us on the story of the bean from farm to roastery to cup, you see just how much effort goes into making a seemingly simply cup of coffee that most people will complain took too long to make if it isn’t in their hand thirty seconds after ordering. Thirty seconds isn’t even a fraction of how long it took, mate.
The focal point of the film was the farmers and the early stages of production, returning there over and over to highlight its importance and show the side of coffee production the majority of people will take for granted. Aside from large-scale operations in Brazil, the growing of the bean, its picking and even its washing is done entirely by hand (and at times foot). Every individual bean is finger-picked then washed in ways almost entirely devoid of machinery. Coffee preparation, the film showed, may be one of the most truly analogue industries remaining, the bean a fickle mistress who cannot be made into anything consistent or even
tasteful by homogenized automated production lines. The farmer growing the bean is really the oft unsung hero of the coffee bean; if he grows and washes crap plants, you get a crap cup. So to see the farmers drinking, for some of them, their first ever cup of coffee as prepared by the people of Ritual was quite a smile-inducing sight, especially with the mixture of feelings flitting across their face ranging from wonder to confusion to pure simple enjoyment.
The different brewing methods for cafe coffee are also glossed over, showing more the sight and sounds than the theory or technique, though this is understandable to avoid becoming too dry and purely educational a film. Filter coffee in America still predominate, with almost any cafe worth its salt having a dedicated V60 station. Some are looking to change this, though, like the crazy in the best kind of way boss of Blue Bottle Coffee, who decided he need a siphon bar to make the best coffee. These machines are home chemistry kits for coffee nerds, and are quite, quite beautiful, if baffling to unknowing eyes.
Espresso, it’s safe to say, is still the predominant European way of preparing coffee, but the film casts our eyes to Tokyo, Japan, where one mad genius is taking his espresso to the next level through sheer perfectionism. The owner of Bear Pond Espresso Katsu cares so much about quality he won’t open shop until he’s happy with his grind, pull and resultant taste. He was as fanatic about espresso as Americans were about filter. Espresso is “sex”, espresso is “a drug to somewhere else” to Katsu, and he sees himself as the gatekeeper and boy does he take that role seriously. This was then followed up by showing the work of Daibo, a Japanese master of traditional coffee brewing, filming in majestic, hypnotic imagery his preparation techniques, coffee production taken to its most ritualised state.
The film and the night overall was a big success, and to see that so many people in Leeds care that much about coffee to see a film about it rather than just drink it, high quality or no, was heartwarming. Anyone who enjoys a good cuppa every now and then (read: every morning, lunchtime and evening) should see this film to better appreciate what it is they can at times take for granted. Maybe you’ll learn something.
Further screenings are occurring across the country. If you want to see where your nearest is, or even fancy putting on your own night, check the A Film About Coffee website for details.