Tucked away on the lane that leads to the back door of Ryan’s Pub in Smithfield is a coffee shop and small-batch roaster, Urbanity. The design is minimal and the space is ample. It’s equipped with shiny gadgets from innovative Irish coffee technology company Marco and there’s a Probat coffee roaster in the corner of the cafe, surveying the scene. When it comes to beans, these folks mean business.
“When I first got into coffee back in around 2006, it was almost impossible to find good coffee beans in Dublin. I’d order them online and practise at home with my home coffee machine. For a while I even experimented with roasted beans using a popcorn machine,” reminisces Jason Mac an Tsionnaigh, one of Urbanity’s three co-owners. Mac an Tsionnaigh, who has a background in bar and restaurant management, had a vision nearly a decade ago of opening a coffee shop with an in-house roaster in Dublin, after seeing similar set- ups on his travels to Scandinavia.
“The idea for Urbanity is based on the Scandinavian principles of roasting, which is a lighter roast to help bring out the flavour of the green beans,” explains Mac an Tsionnaigh. It opened its doors three months ago. Urbanity buy its green beans from Tim Wendelboe in Norway, who buys them direct from coffee farmers around the world.
On my visit, I drink a flat white made from a Brazilian bean that has been roasted on the other side of the room. It has a distinctively nutty flavour; the tasting notes say marzipan and almond, but my palate is not well enough versed in the world of coffee flavours to pick up on that level of detail just yet. I tend to prefer the chocolate and caramel end of the coffee spectrum, particularly in my flat whites (€3 here in Urbanity) and this bean delivers what I’m looking for. Urbanity has three grinders (most cafes only have one on the go, though it’s common to have two these days) which means they can easily offer you a choice of three beans, and thus different taste profiles, on any given day.
Among the team behind the counter is Paul Taylor, who you may recognise from his previous barista role at Tamp & Stitch in Temple Bar. There’s food, too, and in the kitchen is Amy Rondthaler. There are some pleasing salads that are inventive yet accessible. I add a small portion of salad to my sandwich order (an additional €2.50) and go for the roasted broccoli with a sweet tahini sauce, and a portion of a celeriac, orange, apple and sumac salad.
The ham and cheese sandwich (€6.50) doesn’t quite match the rest of the menu’s offering, which Mac an Tsionnaigh refers to as Ottoman. The ham is decent but the cheese is dull and sweaty. Urbanity had been so busy during the lunchtime wave that hit them before I arrived that I literally got the last Arun Bakery bun in the kitchen, so my options were limited. A Middle Eastern Chicken sandwich on the menu looked a little more interesting. There are plenty of house-made desserts, and a teeny tahini biscuit (€1) goes down a treat with my coffee.
When I mention the ham sandwich to Mac an Tsionnaigh, in a chat after my lunch, it turns out they have plans to shelve or at least adapt it. They used to use a vintage cheddar but their customers, who are a predominantly legal crowd on breaks from the nearby Four Courts, didn’t like the pungent taste. “The customer decides what you do,” accepts Mac an Tsionnaigh, with good grace.
Coffee is king here at Urbanity. Visit them from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, or on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.