Dublin’s new world-class coffee and café culture
Café culture has always thrived in Dublin, and while we mustn’t forget the institutions that laid the foundations, there is also a new and dynamic generation ready to write the next chapter. In the summer of 2016 Dublin is set to host the annual World Barista Championship, as well as the many spin-off events at locations across the city.
With this comes the recognition that Dublin belongs on the list of the best coffee capitals in the world. What’s more, it’s a symbol of the progress that the city has made: there’s palpable energy in the industry, new cafés opening left, right and centre, and the ones that exist already:
to name a few – have a loyal legion of followers. Here there exists a real market for third-wave coffee, as the best operators raise the bar and customer expectations rise in response.
3fe is what the coffee community considers to be the leader of Dublin’s third-wave specialty cafés and roasters. It was former investment banker Colin Harmon, 3fe’s founder, who spearheaded the industry’s reinvention in Ireland, beginning a process that now has Dublin ranked alongside London, Oslo and Copenhagen as among the most forward-thinking coffee cultures in Europe. The 3fe café, a twenty-minute walk from the city centre, has become a place of mini-pilgrimage, readily embraced by the new swathes of visiting coffee geeks. The site fits the third-wave template: retro-cycled utilitarianism with cast-iron piping holding up fat slabs of layered plywood for tables. A pioneering brew method uses a ‘splurgee’, a water fountain that, with a Chemex, makes excellent filter coffee: the espresso is some of the best you’ll get in the city. The short food menu is geared towards breakfast, brunch and lunch and features the likes of a ‘brekkie bap’: a perfect portrait of old and new Dublin containing quality egg, bacon and red onion chutney with inimitable Irish sausages on brioche, plus a side of watercress. In keeping with Harmon’s commitment to improving the industry and educating its followers, 3fe runs regular coffee classes in its own training school (upstairs at the same site).
Fergus Brown is one to watch. He’s fast becoming one of the key players in Dublin’s coffee movement, a man who, only since September 2015, has been perfecting the roast of his coffees at a site in Delgany, near Greystones, County Wicklow. His obsessive quest for quality found new focus when he met Fabio Fareiera (Notes Coffee) on a roasting course in London in 2013; the pair were roasting batches of coffee fortnightly, which Brown would ship back to Dublin, supplying his own shop as well as select outlets. Roasted Brown’s little concession at the Filmbase cultural centre in Temple Bar, which Brown opened in 2012, is a sleek, minimal space –concrete floors, spotless white tiles – in which you can get only a ‘black’ or ‘white’ espresso- based drink, tea, hot chocolate or their daily filter coffee. There’s granola (for breakfast) and three excellent sandwich options, plus a soup of the day. Opt for the excellent-value Soup & Sambo combination (€6.50) for lunch alongside your coffee.
Now that Brown is confident in the quality and consistency of the product he’s roasting,
The Fumbally is a bit off the beaten track, at the base of an unprepossessing block of flats on the corner of Fumbally Lane and New St South – the main road south out of the city. Inside it’s an altogether different story, an Aladdin’s cave of sorts: industrial space, open kitchen, mish-mash furniture, art, ambitious cooking and brilliant coffee (from 3fe). Put simply, this café is one of the city’s shining stars – so hip it’s more Brooklyn than Baile Átha Cliath. There are fabulous dishes offering generous portions of seasonal produce, mixed up with Mediterranean influences and Irish traditions – like slow-cooked, spiced beef cheek with colcannon and salads you could term Ottolenghi 2.0. In handsome scrawl on a blackboard in the centre of the room is a quote from Don Quixote: “All sorrows are less with bread.” It’s as much in keeping with the cool, book-ey crowd as it is with the very apparent degree of importance the operators place on food. Much of the produce – arranged in abundance across big countertops – is organic, all drinks are produced in-house and they’ve recently started fermenting their own vinegars from leftover juicing pulp. This is the kind of exercise in self-sufficiency that positions The Fumbally at the vanguard of the Dublin food movement.
It’s here at Simon’s Place that you remember what ordering a hot drink was like before being faced with choices and phrases like ‘single-origin’, ‘natural processing’ and ‘drip filter’. The lingua franca here is ‘tea and coffee’. This is what the locals rightly call a traditional Dublin caf: an amber-lit haunt, bustling, writerly and warm –just on the edge of the George’s Street Arcade. Simon’s is nearly 20 years old but the arcade is said to be one of Europe’s oldest shopping centre, dating back to 1882. Punters come and go all day long, queuing out the door at lunchtime for the ‘doorstep’ salad sandwiches or soups. But it’s from right down the street – and indeed throughout the arcade itself – that the sweet-spicy smell of Simon’s famous cinnamon buns fills the air and draws the crowds. The red and gold, oddly haunting signage and green awnings are unmistakably Simon’s, while inside – a location for the film Once – it’s like a notice board for the cultural goings-on in Dublin – posters advertising gigs, talks, shows and other events cover the walls.