Fancy a coffee? It’s complicated
Black, short or whatever way you like your coffee, the world of beans and baristas has become a lot more sophisticated
Kary Purdy outside his shop, Coffeeangel, on South Anne Street Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller
I ’m standing in a small room off the Lisbon Road in Belfast and about to cup. My host, Hugh Gilmartin from Specialist Beverages, says we are ready to go. Cupping involves accessing the aroma and then tasting. Eight coffees later and I am staggered. Coffee is something most of us consider a constant in our lives, yet I have moved through aromas of ash and smouldering tyres, tobacco, flowers, chocolate and orange. I’ve tasted elegance and beauty (I kid you not); been seduced by rich and voluptuous and I am reeling. “Now that,” Gilmartin says with a smile, “is coffee.”
Two weeks later Colin Harmon of 3FE in Dublin opens a sachet of Bolivia Finca Loayza Feliciano Ramos. “I love Bolivian coffees,” he says. “At first they seem obvious – rich and full bodied, full of the chocolate-toffee notes we associate with coffee – and then they come through with all sorts of stuff; berries and cherries, a wildness that is just so exciting.”
Both men will talk about coffee all day and luckily we are getting to hear rather a lot more from them. 3FE has spawned a host of serious cafes and Specialist Beverages has just launched into Dublin at Hatch and Sons (which I need to declare myself a shareholder in).
The Irish Times takes no responsibility for the content or availability of other websites.
For those who can remember, there is not, at least initially, much that is new about this so-called cutting-edge coffee trend. My parents bought coffee from Bewley’s in bean form and had it ground to order, depending on the machine. Later they bought beans and ground at home.
There are, however, some significant differences and the primary change is in focusing not on the brand, not even on the coffee, but the bean.
El Salvador is one of the most exciting regions for coffee at the moment, according to Gilmartin. Having been shut out of the world markets during various wars, its coffee varieties remained largely unchanged, while elsewhere higher yielding and more uniform varieties were grown. The result is that individual and interesting beans are finding their way from the ground and into people’s cups. This is an illustration of a fundamental change in the coffee world.
So how do we negotiate this new relationship with beans and espressos? Our love of all things Italian has meant that the world of coffee has for years been dominated by the thick, inky shot made from water forced through ground beans to produce a crema-laden syrup. Purists drink the short shot, most have it fashioned into cappuccinos, lattes and, latterly, the flat white. The idea is to produce a uniform and constant coffee hit. But coffee, as Gilmartin has pointed out, is a hugely variable crop. Why, he asks, do we want to make it all the same?
We’ve had the cafe revolution. Now we are evolving beyond that to focus on really, really interesting coffee. For Harmon this means a fundamental shift from drinking to tasting.