An Introduction To Speciality Coffee
Everyone is familiar with coffee and one in three Irish people drink at least one cup a day. It’s no surprise then that the coffee market is continuously growing. Coffee is, unfortunately, seen as a commodity and here is where the speciality coffee movement comes into play. Speciality coffee isn’t just your regular ‘Cup of Joe, it’s viewed as an artisanal product by not only the barista but the roaster and farmer. Just like wine, the terroirs of the soil and the climate of the region influence the aroma, flavour, acidity, and body of the coffee. Not to mention the various processing methods; washing, anaerobic fermentation, natural processing and more; add characteristics of their own.
There are two major categories of bean; Robusta and Arabica, and each have their own distinct characteristics. Robusta is less fussy about where it grows and the climate around it. Thus, it’s cheaper to grow, at a cost to flavour and aroma. Robusta coffee is often dark roasted to hide the foul flavours and aromas in the bean (dark roasting is also cheaper as it’s just blatant burning of the coffee bean). In fact, most commercial chains use Robusta coffee for their espresso, just how the French, Italians, and Spanish do. Speciality coffee isn’t commercial coffee. It has a significantly higher quality and is given grade 1 on the coffee grading chart. In order to qualify for grade 1, the coffee must possess at least one distinct aroma, flavour, acidic quality or body quality and the green bean must not possess any major defects.
The rules of speciality coffee and how it is graded are set out by the Speciality Coffee Association, which organises various competitions for baristas and ensures a tight relationship between a farmer, roaster, and barista. That’s what speciality coffee is about; appreciation. In order to grow the best coffee, a farmer needs to be paid fairly, supported and most importantly motivated to grow better and better plants. In a lot of cases, a roaster will import directly from a farm or farm collective (multiple farmers growing the same coffee). Speciality coffee can be appreciated just like wine, with the aromas and flavours swirling around your palette like poetry. Every speciality farmer is proud of their coffee, with all packaging from the roaster containing the region, processing method and maybe a little history about the farm. Often, beans can be traced back to the very early stages of processing. With that level of quality, care, and expertise speciality coffee will always be more expensive than your regular lower grade coffee and it wasn’t until long ago that the speciality coffee scene hit off in Ireland.
Many coffee connoisseurs, myself included, believe that it all began with Mr Karl Purdy. He set up a café in Belfast known as ‘The Ground Floor’ much to the disbelief of the banker who gave him the loan because Belfast and the Republic at that time were a tea drinking people. Following the overnight success of The Ground Floor came another café and after a wine bar in Dublin. The wine bar wasn’t very successful, and Karl suffered some financial loss. However, this is where the third wave coffee movement begins. This loss gave Karl the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and become motivated to start selling coffee in Dublin, but not just any coffee; the best of the best, Grade 1 brewed into a single cup. With this ideology, he set up a coffee cart on Howth pier on St. Patrick’s Day. This was the birth of Coffeeangel, which now spans five shops across Dublin city. Owing to the strong winds at Howth pier, the house espresso blend comprised of three speciality varietals is called Fórsa Gála (gale force wind).
Alongside Coffeeangel came others just as eager to sell the best cups of coffee, all from different roasteries and all from different farms. It’s necessary to recognise that when I say roasters, I mean micro-roasters. There’s a stark difference between the two as micro-roasters will roast only small batches of coffee beans at a time and quality test most. Among Coffeeangel there are 3fe, Shoe Lane Coffee, Network, Vice Coffee and many more now tallying at over fifteen independent speciality coffee shops in Dublin alone.
This movement says something wonderful about Ireland and its people. They can not only recognise but appreciate quality coffee. Coffee that has been made with love and care starting as a little plant somewhere in the arabica growing world and making its way through one of the many micro-roasteries who then send it to a specialised café with thousands of euro worth of 9-bar espresso machines from world famous brands and coffee grinders capable of stunning consistency, where a highly trained barista prepares it for you in less than a minute all with a smile on their face.
Speciality coffee is a community, compromised of talented and interesting individuals working hard to reduce their environmental footprint, offer equal pay, promote gender equality and protect their employees. Recently, Imbibe Coffee, a micro-roaster based in Dublin, bought an entire shipment of green coffee beans destined for Europe from a 59-member all-female co-op ‘Café Femenino’ focusing on the promotion of gender equality and food security. Not only that but 1% of Imbibe’s coffee sales go directly to Women’s Aid.
Next time you’re out in Dublin don’t just stop on the first coffee shop. Find a speciality café and appreciate a good Cup of Joe. When you’re there you can ask the barista anything you’d like to know about coffee and they’ll tell you everything with a smile on their face because us speciality baristas are proud of what we do, the coffee we serve, and the customers that support us.
By Dorian Dederko – Feature Writer