It sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke: a post punk band member and a biologist get together to run a coffee shop. But it is the genesis of a new coffee spot in Galway, the harbor city on the west coast of Ireland, a city that's fast becoming synonymous with incredible food and beverage experiences, including Michelin star destinations like Aniar and Loam, plus Bib Gourmand honoree Kai. On the coffee front there is Calendar Coffee, run by Zarah Lawless and Dan Boobier, opened in early 2018. This new cafe is standing out in Galway through delicious coffee, efforts in sustainability, and a whimsical design approach.
Located in a former computer repair shop, Calendar Coffee’s name references the seasonality of their on-site roastings. A new batch comes out every Wednesday, with beans sourced from across the planet—one week might be a farm in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala, or the deep red soils of Nyeri, Kenya the next.
The duo, who met in London working side jobs in production at Workshop Coffee, combined their backgrounds in the arts and sciences for a design-minded approach to coffee. Their coffee bags anthropomorphize each bean into a cartoon with packaging designed by artist Cadi Lane. The “Santa Marta” (a washed coffee from New Oriente, Guatemala) features a hairy-legged heel-wearing bean atop an oozing coffee drip mountain. “March Flower,” from the Espirito region of southeastern Brazil, is a Red Catuai variety with notes of black currants and wine gum, which explode out of the head of the cartoon character on the bag.
Though this was Lane’s first graphic design endeavor, her body of work is focused on storytelling through production and costume design for theater. “The characters are just made up through me playing and imagining scenarios between the tasting notes. I really enjoy drawing things spilling or pouring out… Also [I] love giving limbs to pieces of fruit and making things look a bit strange and surreal,” says Lane.
Lawless and Boobier were inspired by the success of Keith Shore’s illustrations for the Mikkeller brewery packaging, and wanted to bring the same whimsy to the coffee space. “We started with some super freaky fruits and cups in drag and reined it in from there… We wanted each coffee to have its own identity and inject some fun into the sometimes quite serious world of tasting notes,” says Lawless.
Beyond attempts to make tasting notes more visual-friendly, the duo remains focused on what it means to run a new business during a climate crisis, where having a former biologist on staff becomes especially relevant. “We're acutely aware that the highest amount of carbon emissions occur in countries where coffee is consumed, not produced,” says Lawless. Their roastery, also located in Galway, is “99% zero waste,” offsetting shipping emissions through a reforestation project in County Clare, a nearby town in Ireland.
Though Lawless and Boobier’s mission is first and foremost to serve delicious coffee, they’re after more respect for the way the rest of the world views Irish food, particularly in Galway. “There are so many incredible food producers and chefs here, redefining what Irish food is,” Lawless tells me. “Give it 10 years and Galway will be the next Copenhagen!”
If that's true—and it might well be—this generation of Galwegian food and beverage heroes will need good coffee to steel them for the climb. Leading the way is a gaggle of cartoon characters, who just want coffee to have more fun.