Something big has been brewing in Ireland for a while now. While once seen as ‘for hipsters, by hipsters’, over the past decade coffee culture has filtered down from specialty to mainstream. Now, we are a nation of coffee connoisseurs, as likely to congregate in one of the many independent, specialist coffee shops as we are the pub, fluent in flat whites and fresh-roasted beans.
2016 is set to be biggest year for coffee in Ireland yet. In January, independent cafes were celebrated during Cork Coffee Weekend, and in February Dublin will host the World Barista Championships and the World Brewers Cup. To get the inside track, we asked the experts from top coffee shops and blogs, regional roasters and a champion barista to predict the the future of coffee.
‘Speciality coffee’ is a term we will see on cafe chalkboards more and more in 2016 says Luigi Fanzini, head roaster at Baobab micro roastery in Celbridge, County Kildare, “there is recognition from the coffee community that speciality graded coffee is far better in quality and far more complex in its character than commercial coffees”.
Though the experts were keen to point out that many are still confused about what the term ‘speciality coffee’ actually means. Australian Brock Lewin of Cork based coffee roasters Badger & Dodo explains,
“the term refers to coffee which has been assessed by a qualified Q grader, think of a wine sommelier but for coffee, as achieving more than 80 points out of 100.”
Alan Andrews of Coffee Culture, a consultancy service which provides barista training to coffee houses and restaurants, says that many consumers think that coffee served with latte art equals speciality, “that is not always the case. The actual amount of speciality coffee sold worldwide is only 5% of coffee sales”. “So a roaster may be a ‘micro roaster’, and they may be ‘hand crafting’ their coffee as well, but they may not be using speciality graded coffee and may be using a lower graded commercial coffees”, asserts Luigi.
Barista Daniel Horbat, who won Irish cup tasters championship in 2015, couldn’t help but spill over with enthusiasm for his favourite speciality coffee ‘Geisha’, grown in the foothills of the Baru Volcano, Panama, “participation in the annual auction at the farm is required in order to collect a sack of this valuable and limited coffee, many small-time rosters share several sacks between them. For me is the best coffee because of the intense jasmine aroma and smooth acidity with notes of mango, papaya and mandarin”.
Brock predicts that support will continue for local coffee roasters as people appreciate the perks, “people are becoming more aware that local coffee is more fresh, is more likely to be blended for local taste profiles and helps the Irish economy”. Anna, from blog Dublin Drinks Coffee, says that local ’boutique’ roasteries are a big part of the evolving coffee culture,
“we don’t just have a cuppa, we experience it. Coffee houses act as social hubs, culture centres, and fun spots. We know our baristas, we are familiar with local bakes.”
The rise in local roasteries opening will continue into 2016 says Luigi, “we’ve seen a growing interest in individuals who themselves have spotted the trend but have no history with coffee and wish to participate and start their own roastery”. Since Baobab opened in October 2014 he says they have had over 5 different groups of people approach them for advice on how to get started in the industry.
There is increased recognition that baristas are central to the beverage-making process, now considered more mixologists than servers. “Finally, people are starting to see that the skill of a barista can really make a difference to the coffee”, says Brock. Luigi points out that Ireland is producing some fantastically talented baristas, “we’re seeing more and more barista champions coming out of Ireland. The barista is becoming, and is already, more of a career rather than a part time job. In many cases they’re becoming a celebrity in the coffee community and I see this trend continuing”.
Great beans are the essence of a great cup of coffee, and great beans should be fresh beans. Though there is a huge increase in local roasters not everyone lives within close proximity to one, and even if you do, there might be other roasters you want to try out. For that, there are coffee subscriptions. “This Christmas we saw a 100% rise in the amount bought as Christmas gifts”, Brock says. Subscription services vary, you can choose coffees from one single roaster or roasters from across the globe, and Offaly company Blooming Brew deliver coffee from a different Irish roaster each month. Alan says this suits the budding coffee connoisseur,
“consumers are promiscuous by their nature, the more they learn the more they want to try. Subscriptions are a great idea to take the hassle out of buying.”
Anna says that it goes beyond parcels with coffee blends, “beautiful packages, personalized notes add, mini ‘bios’ of coffee beans and coffee plantations. But also possible exclusive events offered only to members such as workshops, cuppings and demos”.
Infused or ‘pitched’ cold coffee drinks are more than cool in America, where no new coffee shop opens without draft and nitro coffee on offer. Draft coffee comes straight from the tap, whereas ‘nitro’ is coffee infused with nitrogen, which creates a cascading Guinness-like effect. Though Brock maintains this trend won’t settle in Ireland, “I think that last Summer was the season for it and I think it has run it’s course”. Luigi agrees, “purely because people who follow the speciality market tend to enjoy the coffee in its raw form of brewing. Pure, clean, geeky coffee, untainted by draft or nitro brewing”.
The future of coffee depends on it’s sustainability, and due to the threat of coffee rust disease, a plant fungus that has damaged millions of coffee trees around the world, coffee is increasingly becoming a precious commodity. Luigi explains that sustainability was a big part of their decision to work with speciality coffee, “very nature of how speciality coffees are grown means that they tend not to be massive mono-culture farms and do incorporate better, more eco-friendly, sustainable farming practices”.
“What’s amazing about coffee is the complete sustainability circle”, says Alan who has noticed a drive to tackle the waste produced during the coffee-harvesting process. “Pulp from the skins is macerated and used as fertilizer, the parchment or silver skin from the green beans is used to heat ‘guardiolas (air dryers) on some farms and the used coffee puck itself can be used as fertilizer or fuel”. Luigi has noticed smaller speciality farms recycling the thick husk of the coffee fruit in order to make ‘Cascara’ tea too. Anna also points to the uptake of with Marley Coffee’s EcoCup, the first easy-to-use recyclable single serve, as another good example of a more environmentally conscious industry.
Coffee nerds may have noticed devices like Chemex, V60, AeroPress popping up on cafe counters, allowing coffee shops to produce coffees in more specific ways. Though our experts have noticed a big increase in consumers investing in quality equipment and beans too. Luigi says,
“Home brewing has always been present in Ireland. But it’s made a massive turn from dropping a spoon full of instant coffee into some hot water. People are now buying better and better coffee and are investing their time and money. They’re getting geeky about their coffee”.
For Alan, the most fundamental technique for home-brewers is to measure, “the general rule of thumb for brewing is to use 60g of coffee per litre of water. Once you start there you can use any piece of kit to brew”. Understandably, Daniel, who is taking part in the Irish AeroPress Championship on April 14th, champions the AeroPress for home brewing, “it’s a space saving and inexpensive method for making strong coffee, primarily when traveling”.
Toting our home brews in more sophisticated travel mugs, such as the double shot French press travel mug, is another trend Anna has noticed, “do we need it? Probably not. Still, it’s cool to consider that”.
Consumers and professionals alike are thirstier than ever to learn more about coffee, says Tom Stafford of Dublin city centre coffee bar Vice Coffee Inc, “heaps of coffee training schools have popped up around Dublin city in the last 18 months, with people interested in everything from home brewing basics to latte art courses”. Vice picked up on this trend launching their Tasting Table in late 2015, where their baristas guide participants through five specially created courses, explaining flavour profiles, origin details and brew methods for each coffee. Alan says training like this allows consumers to appreciate coffee as an artisanal foodstuff,
“treat coffee in the same way you would buy wine. Get to know regions, countries, flavour profiles and how geographic location affects the body and mouthfeel.”
Industry as a whole has started to pay attention to water as an overlooked ingredient in coffee, after all coffee is around 15% of the beverage; water is 85%. The argument is if you really care about the quality of your coffee, then you’ll be passionate about the water that’s used to brew it too. Good cafes now house sophisticated water filters which Brock says extract coffee better into water, “it’s not about what it takes out, but what it leaves in there”. Dublin Cafe 3fe caused a storm in a coffee cup in late 2015 when it launched a ‘water tasting menu’, aimed at getting people to think about how water quality affects their coffee brew. For €3.50, water tasters can have four shots of water, with all proceeds donated to Wells for Zoe, an Irish charity enabling people in Africa to access clean water.
Looking into 2016 and beyond, Alan predicts coffee-centric food venues will appear, “we have had the influx of grab and go coffee, next will be really quality coffee-centric offering with great full meals. There is nowhere really doing this”. Removing coffee shop counter clutter, Alan suggests we will begin to see undercounter espresso machines,
“forget the stereotypical visual of a €10,000 machine on the counter, new concepts in equipment gets rid of this eyesore. All of the equipment is built to fit under the counter to increase the clean line look. I wonder who will be the first in Ireland to delivery coffee in this style.”
With the spotlight on Irish coffee this year, Ireland’s top class cafes, unique local roasters and champion baristas will make more of a even more splash in the coffee world in 2016.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.