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Article: A Day Behind The Bar at Hay Festival 2024: The Barista Experience

H Van At Hay Festival 2024

A Day Behind The Bar at Hay Festival 2024: The Barista Experience

We were lucky enough to be at the Hay Festival again this year with our H Van, fuelling all festival-goers and artists. 

Join us as we explore a typical day in the life of Eve, a dedicated barista and journalist at this year's Hay Festival 2024. 

From the early morning rush to the late afternoon caffeine fix, discover how Eve expertly crafts the perfect cup of coffee, works with our team, interacts with attendees, and experiences the vibrant atmosphere of one of the most celebrated literary events of the year! 

“A day working in a coffee van at a book festival sounds quite idyllic don’t you think? But Hay is no low-profile festival, and the reality is not so calm. Loving literature tends to go hand-in-hand with loving coffee and that shows at Hay. A new book, a specialty coffee and comfy deckchair in the sun – it’s a trio made in heaven. With around 300,000 people visiting he festival over 11 days, we were in for some busy days in our H van. Late May Bank Holiday Sunday was one of those. 

Kept awake by the gale force winds, I accepted I wouldn’t get a wink more sleep and rolled out of my tent at 6am and took myself on a walk around the quaint book town of Hay-on-Wye, admiring cute brick ivy-covered, bunted houses and windows of book shops holding special edition covers of classics, gothic titles and children’s favourites. You could say this was the calm before the storm, getting me ready for a day at the H van.  

By the time 8am rolled around I was at the festival site setting up for the day. The day at our H van begins by dialling in the grinders, firing up the espresso machine, cutting and laying out cakes and pastries (which tend to catch the eye of passers-by), stocking our retail stand and other general tasks that I won’t bore you with. In short, we prepare ourselves for the slew of orders and make our patch at Hay welcoming for festival-goers and festival-workers alike, ensuring we have all the caffeine and sweet treats ready to get them through their day of attending and facilitating book signings, talks from profound authors and, of course, relaxing in the colourful hammocks in the greenspaces on site.  

By 9am a queue had formed, the coffee grinder hummed, milk steamer hissed, and pastries flew out. Our pastry counter was stocked with kouign-amann (the name of which piqued much interest among customers. “Who’s that?” many asked) and to-die-for almond croissants from Alex Gooch and pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and all-butter croissants from Abergavenny’s Angel Bakery. You might be wondering what coffee beans we were using – black gold as standard, Jenkins Jones decaf and our Bloom seasonal hopper on Batch. 

Hay Festival is known for its inspirational, charming atmosphere, and I lost count of the number of customers who commented on the “lovely atmosphere” throughout the day. Although we built up a long queue at times and people had to wait a little longer for their coffee everyone was still smiling and pleasant by the time they had their first sip. We had a system going for customers – order at our outside stand, pick up at the van window – and ourselves – one team member taking orders at the till, another restocking and keeping things clean and organised, one barista pouring shots, another steaming milk with the heavy responsibility of mastering the latte art in the festival-scheme recyclable cups. We’d switch roles throughout the day.  

Our H van was sandwiched between the main festival book shop where notable authors could be found signing books and Discovery Stage, one of the main stages where celebrated artists from Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler to spice-girl-turned-children’s-author Geri Halliwell-Hormer discussed their life triumphs and current creative projects, and a few steps from Global Stage – here the likes of author and journalist Elizabeth Day, football sensation Gary Lineker and former prime minister Theresa May gave talks on topics from friendship and sport to the abuse of power – it is safe to say there was a constant flow of excited traffic passing by.  

As such the morning passed in a flash.  Following directions to the “best coffee on site” from others at the festival, Nicola found us at lunchtime for an oat cortado and cherry morello blondie and let us know she wasn’t let down by her high expectations. We each took turns to head to the food hall for lunch ourselves. After deliberation over which of the caters, all offering mouth-watering smells, to choose I settled on a fully loaded sushi burrito from Happy Maki and was certainly not disappointed.  

The afternoon rolled in bringing a few problems our way, namely a flooded stock gazebo thanks to the brief but brutal rainstorms. Nevertheless, site maintenance was quick to help, raising our fridges with wooden pallets and we could get on serving the constant queue of customers who didn’t let the rain dampen their moods.  

Clearly Hay Festival goers don’t heed advice on cutting off your caffeine intake at 3pm as we continued rolling out coffees into the evening, though there were more orders for our Jenkins Jones decaf post lunchtime. But what was the favourite drink of the day? It was no surprises that our black gold flat white was the most popular drink, with an oat milk chai latte also in high demand.  

Customers shared their joy by making up names when we took their order. We had a Mr Fungi stop by for a long black and a Doctor Foster from Gloucester in for a mocha and lemon polenta and pistachio cake before rushing to their 5pm book signing. “Oh I needed that,” they said upon first sip of their drink. 

By 8pm, a solid 12 hours later, it was time to clean down and shut up shop ready to do it all again tomorrow. All in all, Bank Holiday Sunday was a successful day at our H van with mid-festival good vibes, happy customers and plenty of flat whites.” Eve  

Hay Festival is a place where coffee and culture blend seamlessly. 

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