Interiors speak. We have a rough idea of what specialty coffee cafes are supposed to look like to make sure one knows it is a specialty cafe. But they can also be more personal. They can take us back to different times in our lives—memories of former homes, former lives, and former selves—while offering a warm nostalgia. Cafes can be those spaces we use to connect with other people and to catch a break for ourselves, without having to be the latest co-working spaces or culinary destinations in their own right. This vision into the past is central to 3fe’s latest outpost, Daniel, in Dublin, Ireland.
3fe’s Daniel, on the corner of Daniel Street, is a personal expression of founder Colin Harmon’s childhood. With a father who worked construction and traveled around Ireland on weekends, often with his kids, Harmon saw a lot of spaces that became comfort stations—homes away from homes. “My childhood is stopping in places like Claire and Mitchelstown in County Cork, and Horse and Jockey in County Tipperrary, and stopping in random pubs and having a cheese toastie and a can of Cidona. I said to my sister ‘wait till you see this place. It's basically our childhood mashed into this little building.’”
3fe, founded in 2009, is one of Ireland’s premier specialty coffee brands. Harmon started his journey from his apartment (which was on the 3rd floor of his flat’s building), today boasting has two additional locations in Dublin City besides Daniel—though they share very little in common. Its flagship cafe is on Grand Canal Street on the eastern side of the city while 3fe's more central but southward Sussex street location is more a shop for coffee than a coffee shop. More floor space is given to espresso machines, accessories, and filter brewing equipment than there are to places to sit (but you can get espresso-based drinks to go). But at Daniel, it's another story. The choice of interiors here relies on the heavy use of a wood with a reddish hue and farmhouse chairs and church benches, giving the whole place a warmth that is pubby and relaxing, yet still brightened by natural light.
So where does Daniel fit between these two extremes of coffee retail concepts? “The model is completely different because it doesn't have a queue out the door and [people in] suits going to work,” says Harmon. “It becomes a hub to sit down and have coffee and meet a friend. Because the rent isn't super high and there's just two staff, we can do that.” Harmon tells Sprudge. “Grand Canal Street is different. We used to have free WiFi there and we had to take it down because people were using it as an office. I don't mind people coming in for an hour or so and banging away some emails. That's cool, I do that too, but people would come and sit in there for nine hours. When you’re in hospitality, it's a hard thing to ask people to not come.”
Central to all the spaces is 3fe's own roasted coffee. I was served a Red Catuai variety washed Cerro Azul from Honduras, which can be paired with croissants and cinnamon rolls made by local bakery Bread Nation. On the weekends, the cafe sells whole bread loaves. Chocolates, too, are for sale by Nobó. For the canine customers, there is an under-the-counter stash of dog treats. When I visited, there was no Cidona—but there are indeed cheese toasties made to order. Choose from ham and cheese, cheese with mustard and red onion marmalade, or the Black and Blue. The filling is blue cheese with red onion marmalade and Whole Hoggs black pudding (an Irish breakfast staple of sausage made from oatmeal and pigs' blood.) This particular toasty was smooth, creamy, rich and mildly spicy.
Harmon hopes that Daniel can expand the visual vocabulary of what a specialty cafe can look like. As specialty coffee grows evermore around the world, it’s going to take a personal and local touch to make a cafe really stand out. Or perhaps it's about putting specialty coffee into places that evoke something older, culturally deeper than the slick minimalistic chilliness of today's design trends. Dublin's new Daniel feels completely different, and in today's incredibly competitive global coffee scene for which Harmon & Co. are so closely watched, this is perhaps the highest compliment.
Sebastian Stephenson (@sebeys) is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared previously in Monocle. This is Sebastian Stephenson's first feature for Sprudge Media Network.