Norwich baristas do battle at The Forum

Cafe Culture at the Norwich Food and Drink Festival - Barista competition. Competitor Chris Parry.

Cafe Culture at the Norwich Food and Drink Festival - Barista competition. Competitor Chris Parry. - Credit: Nick Butcher

There are more than 60 independent coffee shops in the heart of Norwich and numerous chains serving the nation's favourite hot beverages. A new event aims to recognise Norwich's rich café environment and crown the best barista in the city. STACIA BRIGGS laps up the atmosphere.

Cafe Culture at the Norwich Food and Drink Festival - Barista competition. Chris Queen,Dave Hart and

Cafe Culture at the Norwich Food and Drink Festival - Barista competition. Chris Queen,Dave Hart and David Lane. - Credit: Nick Butcher

There was no excuse for Norwich not to wake up and smell the coffee at a new event designed to encourage everyone to enjoy a brewed awakening.

Café Culture at The Forum in the city centre was part of the Norwich Food and Drink Festival which in turn is under the umbrella of the county-wide Norfolk Food and Drink Festival which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Yesterday, Café Culture sought to bring together the most creative baristas in the city, cakes made by Norwich cafes, local businesses involved in hospitality, entertainers and the charity Macmillan to raise awareness about the lively café scene in the city while raising cash for a great cause.

Running from 10am to 4pm, the event – a joint initiative between The Forum, Mad About Coffee, The Lively Crew and the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival – included the festival's regional barista competition designed to discover the city's coffee king or queen.

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Local cafés and restaurants including Café 7, the Britons Arms, Strangers Coffee House, The Greenhouse, Roots, Mustard Coffee Bar, Looses Cookshop, Two Magpies Bakery, Waterside Café, Café Bar Marzano and Breckland Lodge, donated cakes to sell to raise cash for Macmillan and visitors were able to buy coffee, tea and cake and receive a leaflet full of offers to redeem in city cafés.

Lyn McAllister, owner of Café 7 on Surrey Street in Norwich, created a special 'Ice Bucket Challenge' cake for the event, a nod to the recent practice of throwing ice water over someone's head to promote awareness of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), complete with mint 'ice cubes' and an icing sugar bucket.

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'I love putting a smile on people's faces and lots of the cakes that I make have a bit of humour in them,' explained Ms McAllister, who runs cupcake making classes at her city centre café.

'An event like this is great because it brings all the cafes in the city together and gives people a chance to see what we do.'

Five competitors took part in the first Norfolk Food and Drink Festival Regional Barista Competition – Hanna Smailham from Two Magpies Bakery in Southwold, freelance barista Kieron Harper, Jasper Dumas from Strangers Coffee House, James Liddon from Marzano and Chris Parry from Smallsticks Café and The Waterside.

The city can already boast a wealth of talented baristas, including Hayley Draper from The Window Coffee who was a finalist in the UK Barista Championships in 2011 and Alex Sargeant, co-owner of Strangers Coffee House in Pottergate who is also a regular at the championships.

'Norwich really does have some amazing baristas and some great coffee shops that are the best of the best,' said Dave Hart, who used to work at the Institute of Food Research and in the research department of Maxwell House and also judges at the UK Barista Championships.

'The Window Coffee, Strangers Coffee House, the Red Roaster chain, Smokey Barn, King Street… there are lots of places to go in Norwich where the coffee is fantastic and where you know that what you're drinking is the result of a huge amount of hard work and knowledge.'

Mr Hart was the head judge of a panel that included two 'sensory' judges – David Lane of Grey Seal Coffee in Glandford and Christopher Queen of Smokey Barn Coffee Roasters and one technical judge, Richard Norman.

Judges adhered to national rules for barista competitions which involve a variety of factors such as presentation skills, taste – the balance between sweetness, acidity and bitterness – flavour – the coffee must taste how the barista describes it – and texture and each competitor made an espresso and a cappuccino.

'If you think you don't like coffee there's a very good chance you've not had the right coffee yet,' said Mr Lane, 'coffee should never taste like instant does or like the bland stuff you get from chains which is essentially coffee-flavoured hot milkshake. It should be rich with a degree of bitterness to it, but not so sharp that it makes your face crumple up! It should be full of body with chocolate and caramel notes.

'I do tend to be a bit of a difficult customer because I drink really great coffee every day and if I buy it elsewhere I want it to be as good.'

Mr Norman, of Diss-based Mad About Coffee, said: 'The coffee industry has been recognised nationally for many years and it's about time we put Norwich on the map. We have some exceptional baristas in the city and this is our chance to raise the profile of coffee-making as an art-form.'

The winner of the competition was Mr Dumas, whose coffee was praised by all four judges.

'Everyone who entered had really good technical ability and we all drank some very good coffee,' said Mr Hart. 'Jasper just edged it, but it's been a great day and lots of contacts have been made. We hope to have given everyone involved a good grounding to take their competition work even further and go all the way to the UK Championships – they're all capable of getting there.'

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