Having survived the recession with its tastebuds intact, the city of Dublin, Ireland is poised for a great leap forward in specialty coffee over the next few years. A bedrock has already been laid by the likes of Colin Harmon, whose 3FE cafe & roastery is the most identifiable Irish specialty coffee brand around the world, and Karl Purdy, whose Coffeeangel microchain pushes quality and volume in concert and offers one of the city’s best cafe experiences. Both men are Irish Barista Champions, an event whose place in the new Irish coffee culture runs deep.
With experience in competition on both sides of the judges’ dais you’ll find Ger O’Donohoe, part of the same generation of Irish coffee influencers whose career includes time at 3FE as well as Market Lane Coffee in Melbourne, Australia. More recently, he’s engineered the coffee program at The Fumbally, an excellent breakfast and coffee destination in Dublin 8 that’s like a microcosmic glimpse into the wider Irish progressive food & coffee scene. He’s also just recently launched First Draft Coffee, a SCAE-certified training program based in The Fumbally Stables, a “food learning space” that’s home to coffee courses, comic improv, artist residencies and even a bit of yoga (naturally).
A fine interviewee in the grand Irish tradition, Ger O’Donohoe is above all else a passionate advocate for the advancement of specialty coffee in Ireland. I spoke with him from Dublin via electronic mail.
For First Draft, something I like to do with all new businesses is ask: who is this service for? Who is your ideal user?
First Draft, specifically, is aimed at anyone interested in learning about coffee. We’re developing an education program that facilitates all levels of skill and knowledge and encourages our participants to take it as far as they can, as well as offering some of the CDS courses from SCAE. The idea of the company was to help improve the quality of baristas here in Ireland, and to have a space where we can explore, play, taste, and learn together—but then some people just want to make better brews in their kitchen, y’know? And that’s great in itself!
First Draft offers a series of training opportunities, including training and coaching for barista competitions. Talk to us about why you’re offering that, and what your experience is with this world.
I was thrown into competition in 2008 by my employer at the time (2003 Irish Champion, Billy Walsh), where I had no idea what I was doing and somehow ended up in the final with Stephen Morrissey (he won), but what I learned through that experience was monumental—particularly the feedback I received.
Since then I’ve competed a few times and shined up glasses for other champs along the way, like Colin Harmon and Pete Williams (Have I dropped enough names yet?). I’ve been a national judge for the last three years and I WILL pass for WBC judging this year (I would love to judge here in 2016!).
I believe in the competitions as a way to improve skills, get involved with your community, and to also provide very practical learning experiences, with a direct correlation to improved bar service. But there are do’s and don’ts, and sometimes newcomers can trip up on the details. Also, with standards rising every year, it’s great to have someone to bounce your ideas off of, to taste with, to get frustrated with, and, indeed, to shine your glassware. That’s where we come in.
The Fumbally Stables: describe it to us in one paragraph, and tell us of the multitudes it contains.
The Fumbally Stables is made up of three main rooms:
The Kitchen—which we use for baking, prep, fermenting, and general development for food things in the cafe, but also for workshops and small, focused trainings.
The Studio—which is not a yoga studio exclusively, but yoga happens there, as well as rehearsals, talks, and other miscellany.
The Long Room—this has three beautiful tables and can seat 40 people for dinners, meetings, conferences, and talks. This is also where the training sessions and workshops will take place with First Draft Coffee. Essentially, it’s an extension of the Fumbally that encompasses all those other aspects other than food and coffee. It’s somewhere for us to learn and to pass on that knowledge to others, and also somewhere to allow for more creative projects to happen.
Why jumble up all these different walks of life? A yoga studio, really?
Ha! Do you not see the connection in all these different walks of life? It’s just life, it’s what we do everyday and what we enjoy doing. It’s balance!
When I visited Fumbally last year, you talked to me about some of the other really interesting progressive food stuff happening across Ireland right now. Who’s inspiring your folks in the kitchen at The Fumbally?
The Kitchen are inspired by the time of year and the weather on any particular day, as much as by chefs in other restaurants, suppliers taking pride in their produce, and what nature is offering.
Definitely, everyone is pretty into fermenting and pickling right now—Katie (Sanderson) has had a big part to play in that, and she herself got a lot of inspiration from Bar Tartine in San Francisco where she spent some time last year.
In Ireland, it’s the general hum of creativity in the food world at the moment—there’s loads of pop-ups, and sideline food projects, festivals like Litfest and a new one coming up in Galway run by JP McMahon in October.
Set the scene for us a bit, tell us what The Fumbally’s neighborhood is like in Dublin.
Dublin 8 (where we are at least) was a bit neglected, a bit run down, but buzzing with an amazing creative energy. The space where the Fumbally is now was empty for eight years before [Fumbally co-founders] Aisling Rogerson and Luca D’Alfonso took it over just under three years ago. Now we can see some very positive changes in the area, with new businesses opening and new projects happening regularly. I grew up around here so I’m delighted to able to be part of such a thing for the area.
We’re not quite as gentrified as, say, Shoreditch or Williamsburg, but it really feels like there’s a lot of focus on us as of late. Rents are going up and space is in demand—the usual story.
But in the middle of all that is The Fumbally, a buzzing little hive for creative activity (all of our staff are involved somehow or other in the arts, for example)—but, at the same time, we’re very much your friendly neighbourhood cafe.
So it’s a few months from now and Stables is booked and the scene is busy. What’s happening there? Give us that snapshot.
A full-swing day in Fumbally Stables probably isn’t too far off! Let’s say it’d start in the morning with us giving a cupping course while a fermentation workshop is held in the kitchen. Transition to the afternoon, where we’d begin a home brewing class. The class has ended in the kitchen, and now food is being prepped for a small dinner (there was an intimate, 13-course Japanese dinner served to 12 of us in that kitchen already—stunning!). We finish, just in time for yoga to begin in the studio upstairs. The long room then transitions into a late night venue, where tunes or a local film puts a lovely cap on the day.
Good coffee in Dublin is clearly trending upward, but I’m wondering about the pushback: are you guys getting written off as hipsters by the local press? What has been the kind of wider mass cultural reaction to places like The Fumbally?
Have you read any reviews of The Fumbally?! We’re so hipster our falafel is made of beard!
We were lucky in The Fumbally because we were immediately busy, and our customers got it straight away. I know we’ve become synonymous with creative types (or the “H” word) because of our location and like-mindedness of our customers. Silly labels aside, things have been extraordinarily positive for us in Dublin, and it has allowed us to pursue mad ideas like opening The Stables, or 3FE to start roasting, or for Coffeeangel to expand like they have.
Generally, people are thrilled at having so much choice of great coffee in Dublin. There’ll always be pushback with anything new—however, but we’re hearing less and less negativity the better we get … funny that, eh?
There’s a lot of attention being paid to Dublin right now from certain corners of the coffee world, because the city will be hosting the 2016 World Barista Championship. Is that an arbitrary date of judgement to be working towards? Or does it feel like folks in Dublin coffee have kind of embraced it?
Naw, I think we’ve embraced it wholeheartedly! And I genuinely feel the competition being held here is as much a pat on the back to say “good job” as it is “let’s see what these guys are made of”. The last five years in Dublin have been so inspiring and exciting in coffee circles—we’ve had a lot people move abroad, get a taste for something, and bring it back home to share. So many beautiful places have opened in the last few years, AND we can get our hands on so much beautiful coffee now! Dublin can hold its own with any of the great coffee cities out there, and we really can’t wait to share that with you guys.
In saying that, it will be really interesting to hear what the wider world of coffee thinks of us!
What are some of the other up and coming Dublin coffee projects we should be on the lookout for?
I’m looking forward to more roasteries opening and more coffee! I think Roasted Brown are doing a great job and I can’t wait to see what they do next. 3FE are always up to something interesting, and obviously, I’m really excited about what lies ahead with the Stables and First Draft Coffee.
The community here is really tight and hopefully with what we have planned with First Draft, we’ll be able to contribute to that a lot more. But you’ll see for yourself in 2016 …
Jordan Michelman is a Sprudge co-founder and editor. Read more JM on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of First Draft Coffee.