The coffee revolution
Ireland’s coffee culture has finally built up a head of steam, and now a new generation of baristas is showing us how to savour our cup of joe
Sochi Olympics medals: zero; GDP table: 55th; Euro 2014 qualification: don’t even mention it. In one area, though, we’re racing ahead of the game. The Irish cafe trade is building itself up to a high simmer with a swathe of new openings across the country. In 2016, Ireland will be the Rio to the international coffee trade’s world cup, welcoming 5,000 caffeinated anoraks to the World Barista Championships. It’s just desserts for a country that has undergone as incendiary a coffee-drinking revolution as ours in the past five years, in which the cult of the cafe is on an inexorable rise.
We have previous in this field. Samuel Bewley enterprisingly cut into the East India Company’s trade almost 200 years ago and he instilled tea- and coffee-drinking rituals into our collective mindset that are as much a part of our psyche as bitching about the Late Late.
We’ve seen many coffee phases: Fairtrade, Starbucks and its copycat brethren; and now there’s Third Wave coffee. It’s based on seasonality, sustainability, direct trade and traceability. These beans are from micro-roasteries across the world, a rapidly-expanding cottage industry that has recently made its way to Ireland. The philosophies of the young businesses across the country grinding, measuring and brewing these coffees centre around a certain traditionalism: wide-smiled hospitality, locally-sourced food, an emphasis on sociability and community. It’s a thoroughly modern village mentality with an international dragnet.
All sound a little intimidating? Fear not. We’ve sorted the Juan Ticona from the Maxwell House in this espresso-shot guide to coffeemania.
Lost & Found
2 Queen Street, Coleraine, Derry
With two couples at its foundation, it’s no surprise that the month-old Lost & Found already drips with a homely, convivial atmosphere. In the wilds of northern Derry, this quartet has found love in a hipsterless place.
“It’s exciting times for coffee in the country. I was in Trinity College when the whole coffee thing started to take hold, with coffee shops 3FE and Roasted Brown, and I wanted to bring that home. I’m from Portstewart and I thought it would be more challenging to set up somewhere with no real coffee culture. We love surfing, we love good food and we love the community that’s here. But it’s a bit of a wasteland for cafes up north. We have the chains, of course, but nothing exciting. We’re happy that it’s starting to spread out beyond Dublin.”
What was the genesis of Lost & Found?
“There’s four of us at the beginning of the story. There’s me and my wife Emily, we’ve always had the dream of opening up a coffee shop. About three years ago we met Dan and Kathleen Henderson and found we shared the same passion for coffee.
“Me and Dan started looking online and found HasBean coffee in England and started to buy bags of it. Then we realised we had no idea how to actually make it properly and after some poking around discovered something called Third Wave Coffee. We all loved coffee and the whole community around it. We went over to London to hang out in Workshop Coffee. The way they source coffee and the way they treat farmers is what excited us the most.”
How is Coleraine taking to you?
“We knew were taking a risk setting up here. Bigger cities have bigger segments of people, people who are well-travelled, mixed nationalities, but I love the fact that here we need to work a little bit harder to bring excitement to people. We’ve got to accept the fact that we’ve got a lot of different age groups, and we want to be able to introduce them to this specialist thing in a way that makes them feel comfortable.”
You’ve only been open for two weeks. Any early disasters?
“Thankfully we did a soft opening the day before we actually opened. I was making some sandwiches and picked up an incredibly sharp knife that had just been unpackaged and managed to slice one of my fingers.
“There was this moment where me and Kathleen are standing in the kitchen, her holding up my finger to stop me bleeding everywhere while her recipe book is slowly burning on the hob. We’re bleeding for our art!”
Filmbase building, Curved Street, Dublin 2
Last year The Irish Times named Roasted Brown Dublin’s best cafe despite some pretty stiff competition. Originally a mobile cafe, it has colonised a black spot for business that had seen four coffee shops disappear in as many years. Roasted Brown’s blend of wide smiles and wonderful brews give it the Cheers factor and it is now spreading the love across town by roasting and supplying its own blends.
What’s the Roasted Brown philosophy?
“Hospitality and relationships are high on our list of values. We’ve always wanted to have a place where people feel like they’re being served by human beings and not by robots, that Roasted Brown would develop into a community of itself. Rob [Lewis, barista] and I have made an agreement that we won’t make a business decision that would harm anybody else in the coffee scene.
“I think a good 90 per cent of our customers are our friends now. It’s not a sales pitch when we say we want people to feel welcome in here – in a way coffee’s actually secondary.
“When we get new staff we brief them that we want them to be less guarded with customers than they might be used to.”
Your roastery is in London. Is having an international connection important in sustaining business over here?
“I find it’s really refreshing, it brings something different into the mix. Especially as the coffee scene here has been dominated by one supplier for a while [HasBean]. They’ve done a cracking job, but it’s time to diversify, offer variety. Independent coffee shops creating their own roasts and supplying other small cafes is a positive thing, similar to the craft beer scene.”
Dublin’s been in something of a coffee boom for the last three years. Is there a risk of a bubble emerging?
“We’ve always agreed with the people in 3FE and CoffeeAngel that in 10 years time Dublin has the potential to be like Melbourne or Wellington where you can go into any coffee shop and you’ll get a great coffee (and if you don’t, you can ask for another). But then there are the bigger companies who see quirky coffee-making techniques and speciality blends and change the way their coffee shop looks overnight. That’s encouraging because it means we’re doing something right. But can they pull it off? I doubt it. I believe the shop needs one or two people who are passionate about doing it. What keeps us unique is that we’re trying to kill a beast, and that beast is horrible, over-burnt coffee. Bigger companies are never going to stop selling this coffee, and it becomes very obvious very quickly that the quality isn’t there.”
54 Hill Street, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
Ten years after Mark Ashbridge met his partner Bridgeen Barbour while working in the country’s first Starbucks, the pair have realised their dream of opening their own coffeeshop. Now three months old, Established is growing up fast amid Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter renaissance
Why was Established established?
“It all came from my own love of coffee and there being nowhere serving the kind of coffee that I like. We always felt like when we went to other European cities, Dublin, London, Vienna, Berlin and saw this whole other culture of cafes that we wanted a part of it. It wasn’t even necessarily about the coffee, but about the atmosphere and vibe of the place. Most places were traditional and quite stale here in Belfast. We thought the city deserved something new. I started geeking out quite a bit about coffee and spent a lot of money on making speciality stuff at home.”
Where does your coffee come from?
We used HasBean at the very start, and now we use 3FE as the mainstay for the shop, which comes down to great friendships with everybody down there.
“Belfast is a weird situation. I have an Irish and a British passport, and not to get into the politics of the whole thing, but I think everybody should cheer for Ireland. I could enter the UKBC, but the IBC sees Ireland as whole, like the rugby. I have friends in London, we also have Workshop and SquareMile coffee but I don’t get to see the guys.
“The Dubliners can come and visit and see what we’re up to. We can get an emergency supply if we need to.”
Is the thirst there for something more upmarket?
“One of the big things a lot of people have said to me is ‘we’re still in a recession, what are you doing opening a business?’. What I’ve realised is that if you’re going to take money off someone, then you have to give them a quality product. There’s a lot of unemployment, but people still have money they want to spend beyond their necessities. Coffee is a luxury.
“If I’m going to take £2.70 (€3.20) off someone, they shouldn’t be frittering it away. We probably are a little bit more expensive, but that’s because we’re buying coffee that’s more expensive to buy, single origin coffees, and that needs to be communicated to the customer.”
What’s your caffeine habit like?
“I’m tasting all the time, so I tend to spit quite a lot of it. But I make sure to sit down with one coffee a day that’s not for evaluation, that’s just to savour.”
Twisted Pepper building, Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1
When the godfathers of specialist brews 3FE upped sticks from their Twisted Pepper home, barista Tom Stafford turned entrepreneur and established a new, coffee shop on the Dublin nightclub’s ground floor.
Like the space around it, which also houses record and vintage shops, Vice evolves from month to month, keeping the city’s bon vivants well stocked with epicurean roasts.
Given that 3FE was here before, what was the identity that you wanted to establish for Vice?
“We’ve developed relationships with a diverse range of independent, international coffee roasters; it’s very important for us to offer that flair. We have Square Mile and Workshop coffee from London, Drop and Koppi from Sweden and other guest coffees from around Europe.
“We strive to produce a high standard of stuff, but try not to be snobbish. It’s a fun establishment in a more edgy environment.”
Speaking of edgy, what’s this I hear about you snorting sherbert?
“Our signature drink at the Irish Barista Championships this year was definitely one everybody remembers.
“Most signature drinks are pretty simple, traditional, so to mix it up a bit I got this idea of snorting a sherbert after seeing a video of kids doing it on YouTube. Because the espresso I was using was the sweet-shop espresso from Square Mile, a non-traditional espresso, I wanted to do a deconstructed signature drink.
“I expected the judges to be really apprehensive, but they rolled up their notes and got right in there.
“Thankfully I wasn’t on Joe Duffy the next day being reprimanded for leading the baristas of Ireland astray.”
I’m setting up a coffee business tomorrow. What should I do?
“Think outside the box. I just got back from New York and I have to say that I think Dublin has a specialist coffee industry to rival NYC’s, maybe even more advanced in terms of breaking through to a mass market.
“If you’re going to open up a place that’s a carbon copy of somewhere else, and this is something that happens regularly in the Irish hospitality business, I think you need to be braver.
“Try something different when it comes to the roasters you use, the way you make the place up, the way you serve the coffee. There are plenty of Starbucks around already. And don’t expect to make a lot of money doing it, it’s just not going to happen.”
19 George’s Quay, Cork
Choice is the name of the game in Cork’s Filter Coffee, a small space that packs in a cornucopia of coffees, contraptions and conversations – and even makes some room for exhibitions on its walls.
Take us back to the start of Filter.
“Before Filter I had set up Gulp’d cafe in the Triskel, with James Horgan who owns Plug’d [independent record store], which is really a great space. We opened Filter on George’s Quay in December 2012, me and the two Alexs I work with.
“The cafe is a 15-20 seater space in a sustainable interior (due to both a lack of budget and because that was the route we wanted to go down anyway). The counter is made of old doors, we’ve got scaffolding planks, nice pieces of wood and metal that we’ve scavenged. Essentially, we’re two bars in one. We’ve got the espresso bar at the front, where you can choose from a different Golden Bean or Badger & Dodo espresso every day, and then up the back we’ve got the brew bar with 16 different single-origin coffees we sell. The retails allows us to have a big stack of coffee, so we can try out up to seven different brewing techniques.”
Seven brewing techniques . Really?
“We do things like aeropress, Chemex, Hario V60 or the Clever Dripper, which is the new Japanese one on the market. There are all these little variants for the different machines, but I think it’s about the theatre of it all. We have a Syphon vacuum coffee maker that can take up to 30 minutes from ordering until when you get the coffee. We burn methylated spirits at the end of it, there are a lot of nervous giggles throughout. But people like to wait around.”
What’s your clientele like?
“We have our regulars every morning. We’re a little off the beaten track, but everybody in Cork thinks everything is miles away, so we get more on the weekend. We don’t have a specific market. Since we’ve opened it’s getting busier and busier. I like to taste constantly with people, learn along with them. The tastes change all the time, you’re constantly interacting with customers because nobody really wants to taste something that’s dark and bitter and horrible, you know? I keep a full book of what the coffee origin is, what the varietal is, who the producer is, to throw to people if they want to take more away. The direct trade thing is important, that farmers are actually getting what they should get for their speciality product.”
The same thing applies to your food supply too, right?
“All our suppliers are as local as we can get. We get supplies from a local chocolatiers called David’s, which is made in the back of this guy’s house, cakes from Diva Boutique , the best bakers in the world based out in Ballinspittle. We’ll be doing more guest espressos from around the world, like what the guys in Vice are doing in Dublin.”