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Adventures in slow-brew filter coffee and why I hate James Hoffmann

photo courtesy of David Walsh

He is undoubtedly at the forefront of everything we do and has an impressive ability to educate people without making them feel like an idiot. He constantly pushes the quality of what he produces and has a refreshingly disproportionate answers to questions ratio, despite his lofty status. But I hate him.

Every time I am 99% sure of how I would convey some thoughts effectively on any given coffee subject I am rudely interrupted by another one of his poignant blog posts explaining and informing the world of coffee on how to bypass said problem, increase coffee’s quality and consequently expand one’s learning. Any old idiot can claim he/she was thinking the same thing only hours before. I am that idiot.

Recently the Hoffmann’s first retail store Penny University, run primarily by the Talented Mr. Styles, decided to close it’s doors after a brief but amazing appearance off Shoreditch High Street. It had open just in time for the World Barista Championships and briefly wowed the international coffee community before folding up and packing away its cups and saucers.

Penny University was an incredible store, and having only 5 seats and no espresso machine, milk or sugar was an incredible way to focus all its attentions on the real star; the coffee.

We at 3FE have in our own way, tried to present filter coffee in a similar light albeit accompanied by some of the more familiar aspects of a coffee shop. One immediate similarity is both locations use of an Uber boiler and our consequent approach to choose a high quality, slow process approach to brewing filter coffee in a retail setting.

So, six months in and preempting what I expect he’ll do next, here is my own findings and opinions on slow-brew filter coffee in a retail scenario before Hoffmann does it himself. Enjoy and stick your oar in;


Customers get it. You can wax lyrical about the nuances of your high-grown Guats but stick it in a 12oz cup of steamed milk and its a hot coffee flavoured milk-shake. Don’t get me wrong, I crave milk in espresso on a daily basis, but using milk drinks to truly appreciate the nuances in different coffees is a difficult task for most baristas, let alone customers. Filter coffee is approachable and customers get it.

Side step the milk and sugar

We always suggest they try it first without milk or sugar. We do this politely and don’t get angry at them if they later decide to anyway. Be nice.


I have a real soft spot for coffee that I file as “incredible examples of normal coffees” but I would never give these to someone trying a “slow brew” for the first time. The weapon of choice is always a floral, washed Yirg, fruity natural Brazilian or a bag-o-blackcurrants Kenyan. If you want to get them on board take out the flashy ones, they’ll grow to love the sweet, reliable stall worths in time.

An infinite choice of coffees is also a paralysing thing for most customers and for me often means that I really don’t get to know coffees as much as I probably should. If you can manage it, I find it best to keep the choice to 3. Everyone wins.

Context is everything

If you feel frustrated by your customers lack of understanding of specialty coffee and wish they’d open up to the joys of filter coffee then look around you. You need to make it extremely obvious that theres something else going on here.

Customers are not ready

I actually disagree. I used to look at places like Intelligentsia Venice, Kaffeemisjonen and pretty much all of Japan and long for a consumer base that was interested in the nuances of small-lot specialty coffee. We only started doing filter coffee for the geeks that would inevitably drop by. Now its catching up on espresso, and we are by no means in a trendy part of town.

As if to further emphasise this point, as I typed the last paragraph a customer tweeted me this message

@3FE The brazilian coffee? Yup. Choice was between that and a nice Kenyan. TBH though, I think my taste runs more to the kenyans.

To my knowledge, this person is not a coffee geek and has only recently started to frequent 3FE.

Mojo Everything

Scott Rao recently said in his new book “Everything but Espresso” that Vince Fidele’s “contributions to the coffee industry have encountered much resistance from the specialty coffee establishment”. Vince created the Extract Mojo and it has turned coffee into a science for me. At first I was reluctant and in truth felt deep down that I had a wonderful gift that enabled me to create great coffee. I dont.

Vince has changed the game in terms of repeatability of quality and the inherent professionalism that we should all show as Baristas. The Mojo is not there to tell you how to brew your coffee, its there so you can tell people how you brew your coffee.

Changing your grind

We change the grind from time to time for these reasons.

30g of coffee with 500ml needs to be coarser than 15g of coffee with 250ml, if used in the same brewer. In something like a chemex, the amount of coffee in the way of the falling water has an undoubted effect on its speed of passage. Grind to suit.

Different beans grind different ways. Roast, age, density all play a part. Don’t presume you’ve got a catch-all grind setting.

Extraction trumps yield

Don’t aim to yield 500ml of coffee and be reasonably sure it will taste good. Aim to make 18-22% extraction coffee and be reasonably sure it will fill the cup.

Batch Brewers will work (ignore this one if you’re from the US/Scandinavia)

They will. They can brew great coffee and if used correctly will offer a more high-volume, high-speed location. We choose slow-brew, slow-pace filter because of the context of what we do. Both will work effectively and with tasty consequences.

Pouring Kettles are to filter what latte art is to espresso

In truth its not just kettles, but the unnecessary faff that goes with them. I speak with a lot of baristas who seem pre-occupied with the visual aspect of filter and how they approach it. I really love the feeling of meticulously puring every drop onto each ground, but do so only if you’re sure it is reasonably stable in temperature and is REALLY improving your extraction.

Your most important criteria without doubt are temperature, brewing ratios, extraction time to achieve the required TDS/Extraction Yield. Do not prioritise the visual aspect of filter coffee over any of these factors. Ever. Kettles are enormously helpful way to make excellent filter coffee, but remember where your priorities lie and use them sensibly.

We’re missing a trick

One of my goals for this year is to become a better cupper. Every time new coffees arrives we line them up and cup ’em and really try to understand the real identity of the coffee. I can’t hep but feel when I cup coffees however that we’re missing a trick when it comes to filter coffee. This may seem strange coming from someone who’s just posted a shpeel bigging up its merits, but in truth I feel that we’re 95% there.

The problem for me lies in the filtration. I still adore filter coffee but I’m yet to see a paper filter that doesn’t retain a little too much of what I want in my cup. Any metal filters I’ve used are just plain sludgey and cloth filters are just plain inconvenient. There is a next step, we just need to keep pushing on.

Its the future

They had an aeropress in Flat White. If thats not a wake-up call….


I’ve seen people brew great filter coffee in conventional batch brewers and watched it die on its face. We can give customers as much information and passion as we want and use the requisite brewing parameters but in the context of a specialty coffee shop turning and filling someones cup with a tap just isn’t going to impress a customer.

Slow-brew in high volumes may be a logistical pain but ultimately it demonstrates to the consumer that there’s been thought, effort and passion put into every cup. Don’t presume they know this, its not that obvious to someone walking in off the street.

Working bar you often catch people just watching you pull shots. Its theatrical, engaging and in a busy cafe can be somewhat hypnotic to watch a barista silently but efficiently pull shots and steam pitchers of milk. Slow brew coffee redresses the balance when it comes to theatrics and engages the customer in the process, thus encouraging them to appreciate the outcome that little bit more. Next time you’re in a shop, see how many people choose to stare at the wall rather than watch whats happening on the bar.


Drip Filter Class, Saturday 7th August

So, due to the popularity of the last one we’re doing another drip filter class this Saturday. Places are EUR20 each and you get a bag of coffee to take away with you. We’re going to kick off at noon and you can reserve a place here We’re limiting the class to 12 people so if you want to be sure of a place you know what to do.

See you soon,


Brewing Class this Saturday 17th July; Drip Filter

This Saturday sees our first ever brewing class on drip-filter coffee. As most of you know, we are huge proponants of filter coffee at 3FE and this week we’d like to give you a chance to learn how to prepare great filter coffee at home.

Filter coffee is enormously achievable, really tasty and very rewarding for coffee drinkers everywhere (and a lot cheaper and cleaner than home espresso!)

You’ll get to try 3 different coffees on the day and every participant gets to take away a bag of their favourite one.

The class costs 20EUR per person and we’re gonna kick off at Midday at 3FE. Hope to see you there!

Stepping it up

So. Competition season is over for another year and its time to get down to the every day task of dishing out coffees to the Dublin masses. 3FE has seen lots of changes in the past few weeks, some of them more dramatic than others, so I thought it was just about time that we update you on all the changes that have taken place.

Perhaps the most exciting development for us has been the installation of our very own Uber Boiler. This allows us to brew filter coffee at a level of quality and consistency that we could only dream of before. Essentially the Uber delivers water at a specified temperature, quantity and time. This allows the barista complete control over the quality of the final cup and has allowed us in turn to discover more about each of our coffees.

I believe we are only the second shop in Europe to own one of these (after our good friends at Penny University, London) and believe it or not these incredible machines are hand built, up the road in Sandyford by the excellent people at Marco. The counter has become, almost entirely by accident, more of a tasting bar than a coffee bar and its been really rewarding for us to be able to engage the customers and teach them a few tricks about brewing coffee at home.

We’ve also upped the anti with sweet treats and we’re chuffed with our new chocolate brownies made using our own coffee. These are freshly baked and exclusively made for us and are really going down, well, a treat.

The “Espresso Set” is also the latest addition to our menu. It gives you a chance to sample our espresso with and without milk and kinda looks pretty too!

Another initiative we’ve taken on is the use of stamps to help you guys develop preferences in coffee. every take away coffee will now be stamped with the name and origin of the coffee your drinking. As we increase the range of espressos on offer in the shop its nice to be able to offer customers a choice. Listening to your feedback on coffees you’ve tried will ultimately enable us to better gauge the coffees you enjoy most.

Finally, we’re pushing on with our Saturday events and Saturday 17th will see our first ever 3FE Drip Class. We’ll post more details closer to the time but the class will be an introduction to drip filter for beginners. We love filter coffee at 3FE and whether its a chemex, v60 or donut we think filter at home is a great way to get the most from your coffee. The class will focus on the basics of brewing; temperature, extraction time, brewing ratios and, of course, tasting. It will also give us a chance to show off the new Uber boiler as well as tasting a range of different coffees.

Finally I’d like to thank you all for your patience over the last few weeks as we prepared for the World Barista Championships in London. We reached the final 6 and finished 4th overall out of 60 odd countries so we were delighted, but still eager to get back behind the machines making coffee at 3FE. Hope to see you soon.


Calling Time.

I’m often asked what exactly is expected of a “World Barista Champion” and to be honest I couldn’t really explain it to most non-coffee people. Lately I’ve settled on suggesting that a WBC Champion is the person to whom the responsibility would fall should aliens invade our little floating space rock and ask for a representative to explain what this strange black liquid is.

Mike Philips is the man that we are all glad to fall in behind and push forward with the olive branch should the little green men appear. He is as skilled, passionate, hard working and inspiring barista as I’ve ever met and I think most people realised seconds into his finals routine that the title was his (probably around the bit where the guitar kicks in).

The competition from my own perspective was a relative success in that I again finished in 4th place and in doing so reached the finals of the WBC for a second successive year. I really believe that this years competition was of a ridiculously high standard, and saw incredible baristas such as Oda Misje Haug, John Gordan, Attila Molnar and Mie Nakahara fail to even make the semi final stage.

The real victory for me was seeing my idea and message validated by the judges. I understand that a signature drink composed entirely of coffee and water could very easily be interpreted as purist or unnecessarily antagonistic but seeing the judges accept the idea was really rewarding for me.

I’ve often lamented the fact that competition tends to impose a necessity for baristas to prepare coffees in a way that they disagree with but seeing the acceptance of my signature drink in London is an indication not of my craft or guile but the obvious willingness of the competition to embrace baristas ideas and perhaps move on from chocolate, cream and syrups (should the barista feel the want to do that. There’s no point replacing one coffee dogma with another).

There was an inherent risk in the drink but I’ve said all along that I didn’t have the experience or resources to win without doing something a bit risky. In fact if my score sheets were to reveal two “2’s” and two “6’s” I wouldn’t bat an eye-lid, it was that sort of drink and could be interpreted either way.

The only downside of taking this risk is that I also risked all the time, money and effort Steve Leighton has put into getting me here. My competition career would have been a flash in the pan had it not been for him and I only hope that I have managed to represent his coffee as best as I could. When I told him I was using water as my ingredients he asked only how hard I’d work at it and then never mentioned it again. His faith in me is as staggering as it is bewildering.

Anyone that has seen me since the final results has probably realised that I’m a bit down about the whole thing. This became quite apparent when coffee folk I met felt inclined to hug me rather than say something. Disappointment is a hard thing to hide I guess.

The disappointment is however a little misunderstood. I don’t in any way feel aggrieved not to have won or placed higher and I would be loathe to insult those baristas who missed out on a place by claiming that reaching the finals wasn’t reward enough for my efforts.

My disappointment stems from the simple fact that I’ve lived and breathed competition for just over 2 years now and it has been something that has occupied everything I’ve done. Once the final results were read out it dawned on me that competition was no longer a part of my life and it was time to move on and, to be honest, its quite a daunting feeling.

The feeling is something similar to what I remember when I left school and entered the big bad world, knowing it was time to stop dossing and get a dose of reality. I haven’t cried in over 9 years but once the cameras stopped flashing and the stands started coming down I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss and pretty much fell apart, but I know my decision to quit competition is the right one.

It is painfully obvious now that it is time for me to move on and begin to pay back the patience and faith a lot of people have shown in me. Its also about time that I really began to focus on my business and begin to look to the future.

The genius of WBC is a strange head-fake wherein you become so focused on the obvious things your learning; how to make coffee, learning about coffee and communicating your message, that you don’t even notice the the real lesson until you’ve learned it.

Competition has taught me, and every other competition barista, that working hard and being passionate about what you do will bring you rewards. That message is a simple one, but one we can all learn to apply to both our personal and business lives. That for me is the true benefit of competition and a lesson I will take great confidence from. Mike would be better at handling aliens anyway.


To Karl Purdy , Arthur Wynne, Paul Stack and Dave Walsh for not laughing at me when I dragged them into 3FE last Friday morning and fed them water. The latter two especially for donating their Fridays to sit around talking H2O. The electrolysis espresso is probably best forgotten though.

To Jessica McDonald and John Gordan for putting aside their own disappointment in the blink of an eye and devoting all their time and efforts into doing my dirty work for me. They are incredible coffee professionals, amazing people and a credit to the United Kingdom coffee industry. They are also coming to Dublin for many beers whether they want to or not.

To Steve Leighton, I’ve thanked him already but I can’t thank him enough.

To Yvonne and my Family for again taking time off work and incurring huge expense to come watch me make coffee. your support is incredible and I love you all dearly.

To Jackie, Joe and Damien at SCAE Ireland for all their support.

To all the customers of 3FE for coming back today even after we closed for a week ;)

To the people of the UK for always welcoming me and showing me amazing hospitality. Seeing a sea of green on Friday morning consisting of Irish support and British Converts was an amazing feeling, and one I’ll never forget.

Finally to Pete, Ger and Jordan of 3FE who I somehow managed to forget to mention on stage. They work tirelessly, always show enthusiasm and I’m proud to work the same bar as them. They will also rock competition in years to come ;)

I Heart Competition; 1-10

Picture of Chris Baca. Nicked from Liz Clayton ;)

Watching the recent Western Regional (US) Barista Championships, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of a one Mr. Chris Baca. I’ve met this guy only once but he seemed like a pretty cool guy and right now he’s kinda my hero. Baca walked up the Judges with a huge smile on his face, introduced himself and declared “I LOOOVVVE barista competitions!”

I pretty much high-fived my laptop. He couldn’t have put it any better. He then went on to drag two competition newbies on stage and made 6 of every course so they too could understand why we all love Barista competitions. Chris went on to finnish 3rd in the WRBC and later placed 2nd in the US finals in late April.

I’ve decided therefore to make a list of some of the moments that have gained noteriety and legendary status amongst Baristas. Most of these stories are probably exagerated, some probably aren’t even true, some are great moments and some we wish had never happened but these ladies and gentlemen are my all time favourite competition moments, and the reason why I too love Barista Competitions.

1. The Goat Trophy;

Barista Trophies are usually a representation of the sponsor (i.e a portafilter or a tamper) but in 2006 Klaus Thomsen of Denmark won the World Barista Championship in Bern, Switzerland, in 2006 and was awarded what is quite possibly the most bizarre trophy I’ve ever seen. A Goat. Legend has it that the organisers had forgotten to get a trophy for the winner and in a mad rush picked up the first trophy they could get their hands on. The trophy has since gone on to be auctioned every year at the Nordic BaristaCup where it pretty much fetches EUR1,000 on an annual basis.

Klaus with his Goat

2. Morrissey delivers the espresso;

So many people have talked about this moment. Its ridiculous to suggest that it single handedly delivered him the WBC title but when Stephen Morrissey turned to deliver his espresso course to the judges he did so with one saucer in one hand, and three in the other. True, you can see this in any busy cafe in the world but Morrissey had broken the formality of a WBC final with a cheeky wink to all the hardcore-multi-saucer-yielding baristas all over the world and set himself up for a famous victory in Copenhagen 2008.

3. Big names missing the cut

This is the amazing thing about barista competitions, it isn’t always the best baristas that make the cut. Luck (and bad luck) plays a huge role in events and sometimes the big names fail to get through. Its not that I like to see that happen but more something that adds to the excitement. If everything was a formality the show would be very boring. When Kyle Glanville (2008) and Carl Sara (2009) failed to make finals it caused a huge shock, but added to the drama of two really great barista competitions. No doubt this year, and years to come, will see favouries fail to make the grade but its all pat of the show and we all compete knowing nothing is guarenteed to anyone.

4. Piccolo features in Black Gold

The Film “Black Gold” is perhaps the most well known coffee documentary ever made and it chose to unfortunately pick-on one of the greatest competition baristas of all time, Sammy Piccolo. Just before he was about to take to the stage in Bern, the film makers caught Sammy at his most uptight and intense (we all are at that moment) and turned one of the coffee industry greatest ambassadors into something of an intense stampeding lunatic through the power of selective editing. I met Sammy in Atlanta last year and he is as gracious as he is funny, something Hollywood unfortunately missed.

The Mighty Mighty Sammy P

5. Mr. Coconuts;

OK, this one I may need some help with. As far as I know (and I’m open to correction on this one) a Lithuanian competitor once introduced himself as “Mr. Coconuts” and proceeded to serve his signature drink in a hollowed-out coconut shell. The ingenius part of this routine was the moment where he presented the coconuts on cylindrical stands in front of the judges. When they lifted the coconuts from their pedastals, he took away the stands and therefore ensured they drank all of its contents or suffer the consequences of trying to put down the shells on a flat table. Brilliant.

6. Gwilym goes 17 seconds over and still romps home

After his first round appearence at WBC in Atlanta, I asked a down in the mouth Gwilym how he got on. “Shit” he said. “I didn’t get to talk about the coffee. Davies went on to make the finals and again I missed his performance. Backstage after the finals I asked him again how he got on. “Shit!” he said with a huge smile on his face, “but I got to talk about the coffee”. Despite going 17 seconds over, Davies had done what he’d traveled half-way around the world to do, talk about his coffee, and went on to to claim his place as one of the most worthy and popular of all WBC Champions.

7. The Sunflower Show

Another rumour perhaps? A competitor gets his wife to dress up as a sun flower and sway side-to-side beside him as he presents his coffee. Amazing.

8. Hoffmann drops his caps;

A heavy favourite going into the 2006 UKBC  finals, James Hoffman brought his cappuccinos to the judges table and laid it on the edge. As he reached forward to present the first judge with their cappuccino the tray now holding only 3 coffees became unbalanced and proceeded to tip back ontop of Hoffmann in front of a shocked audience. Legend has it that Hoffmann was so far ahead that if he had served the half empty cups he would have won the competition. Instead he decided to go back and remake them, went over time and was disqualified. The following year he returned and won the WBC outright.

9. Paul Bassett breaks the mould;

2003 saw the first ever WBC Champ from outside Scandinavia in the form of Mr. Paul Bassett. The Scandos’ had such a strong hold on the tournament that in the first eight years of the competition only Bassett managed to take the trophy away from them. The most recent WBC in Atlanta saw the Scandinavians fail to procuce even one finalist despite having some of the best baristas and roasters in the World. Its my personal belief that it will be a long time before we see another final without a Scandinavian.

10. Israeli Footballers dream (kinda) comes true

Ok, I can see where this guy was coming from and I wrote about it here. This competitor came out on stage playing keep-em-ups with a football, dressed in a football kit and began to tell the judges that he always wanted to be a footballer. Having failed in this bid he decided instead to turn to coffee and at long last got to represent his country, albeit off the football pitch. He then volleyed the ball into the crowd and went off to pull some shots. I’d love to see photos of this one.

(p.s.  If you have any edits or additions to make just let me know and I’ll add/delete as appropriate. Next week I’ll add another 10 so let me know if you have any suggestions, especially ones with photos!!)

Coffee tasting this Saturday

After the success of our last event we are planning another cupping (coffee tasting) this Saturday at 3FE. Here’s a low down on whats gonna happen;

– 12 midday kick off

-€20 per person

-250g bag of coffee for every participant

If you want to secure a place in the event then drop into 3FE and we’ll stick your name down or just drop in Saturday morning before the crowds arrive ;)

The event is open to beginners and experts alike, hope to see you Saturday!


Take it out back…

The blank canvas at the Twisted Pepper

Way back when we decided to open 3FE we were left with a conundrum. The space in the main bar of the Twisted Pepper was the best place for a coffee bar with comfy leather sofas, a killer sound system, tables, chairs and everything you need for a great set up. Unfortunately this space was set too far back from the main street so we decided to change tack.

Essentially the lobby became the new focus for 3FE and so we set about puting a coffee shop in a space that had no services and was, essentially, a hallway.

To say I was met with a few sceptical looks was putting it mildly. Opening a cafe in a nightclub lobby was not exactly the done thing but there was something about the space and the people that ran the Twisted Pepper that made it seem like a no-brainer. One of the many DJs that had played the city-centre venue had signed the wall of fame with a phrase that became a mantra for everyone involved in the setting up of 3FE; “Fail we may, sail we must”.

So we did.

Pete and Jordan cupping in 3FE 1.0

Getting going was tough, the weeks over Christmas were as quiet as they were cold as they were demoralising but slowly the numbers started to build. It was difficult getting people into the space but one by one they started to come, and more often than not they decided to return.

We started to gain some favourable reviews like the ones here, here, here and here. There were a few dodgy ones like here (ish) and here but you’ve got to accept the good ones with the bad ones. I’m a firm believer in taking positives from a negative situation and we’ve tried to understand the bad reviews and understand why we were being perceived that way. Luckily the good ones have far outnumbered the bad ones.

Great review from The Trinity News

After building a solid base over the opening three months  we recently hosted (well the Twisted Pepper did) the Irish Barista Championships. This gave us the opportunity to try something new and so when the doors opened on the Tuesday we set rolled the shop back into the main bar and plugged in. One advantage of having a collapsible shop is that you can pretty much set it up where you like. All our counters were built on casters  as we’d always anticipated moving out back at some stage and the competitions presented us with the ideal opportunity to do that.

So we did.

Its hard to believe there was once a Barista Comp on this stage...

The feedback after our temporary move was universal. Everyone liked it, but everyone thought it was too dark and people were worried that we wouldn’t be seen by passers-by on the street. We decided to give the place a bit of a make-over, install some book shelves, brighten up the paint work, give the place a good scrub and make it a bit more day-friendly. The interesting thing about the footfall question was that we had never, and I mean never, attracted the average passer-by. The only people that ever visited 3FE were those that had read/heard about us and those who had been before. Our experience since moving out back has been as expected, those people are still coming and if anything we’re attracting more passers-by!

New Bar

So, this is now a work in progress. We are conscious of losing that intimacy that we enjoyed in the front and so have constructed our own take on the traditional snug, although in a more inclusive way so that we’re still able to chat with the regulars and coffee geeks. In saying that I think we were losing the crowd that just wants to have a coffee and be left alone, and I think the booths are ideal for that. 3FE 1.0 was a great space but if you were shy or didn’t fancy a chat you were in trouble.

The main reason for this post however is that we need your help. The coffee offering is still the same, and will improve further in the coming weeks, but we need some feedback on what you’d like to see, what you miss and what you think we could do to make 3FE 2.0 better.

Beer Tasting Event @3FE

We’ve recently started biweekly cupping events, we’re going to include brew classes soon and hopefully a lot more coffee-centric get togethers. As well as that there’s the Beatyard, a foodie-forum (more on this shortly), new craft beer offerings, jazz, clothes markets, comedy and every other random thing you can think of to compliment the Twisted Pepper.

Cupping last Saturday Morning

The point is that this is a really cool space so if you think of anything you’d like to see there’s a pretty good chance we can do it so we’re all ears. The Twisted Pepper is going to become the go-to place for weekend daytime activities and we’re really excited about being part of that and will be dropping lots of ideas their way. So drop me a line if you’ve got any ideas/feedback or you simply wanna get on the mailing list ;)


Saturday Morning Event @3FE

We’ve been going behind your back. Every Saturday morning for the last few months, we’ve been dropping the shutter and indulging in something very secret where prying eyes can’t see. We’ve been cupping.

Cupping, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, is essentially a coffee tasting where different coffees are tasted side by side with (hopefully) tasty consequences. It’s an invaluable learning exercise and a great way to expand your knowledge of coffee in a very approachable way.

Therefore, this Saturday we’re opening up the shop for cupping on Saturday morning. We’re gonna open the doors at 10.45am and close the shop for an hour between 11 and 12 and cup 8 coffees from all around the world.

It’s completely open to the public and we’ll be joined by “friend of the show” David Walsh, the current Irish Cup tasting Champion who’ll be at hand to guide everyone through the process.

We hope to do this as a public event at least every other week going forward and because it’s the first time we’re doing this it’s gonna be free of charge for anyone to join in!

So if you fancy coming along we’ll see you 10.45am on Saturday morning!


The difficult second album

Around two months ago I paid a visit to London to watch the heats of the UKBC and meet up with Steve Leighton for yet another brain-dump on our competition strategy. By this stage I had already been to Copenhagen for a weeks training with Fritz Storm and was well and truly in competition mode.

I’ve never been really able to watch competition, and true to form as James Phillips of “Dose” took to the stage I in turn became quite nauseous and worried…so I turned away. Something else was at play I felt and the following day I had a brief chat with a former competition barista about the pressures involved in retaining a title when everyone is expecting a lot from you. That expectation was something I was going to have to address.

To say I entered IBC 2010 as the favourite is not a statement based on arrogance or ego but one that I had formed from daily visits from industry people who kept reminding me so. On top of the expectation though was a feeling that I needed to repay the huge faith people had laid in me, especially Steve himself who has sacrificed so much for me this year in anticipation of this event.

He has not only been instrumental in the launching of 3FE but has also spent the past year shipping me coffee to sample, ensuring I had a steady stream of work (Thanks Joe!) and ensuring that my education as a Barista didn’t slow down after the crash course that was 2009.

So when my first round slot arrived on Wednesday all this pressure culminated into a performance that I was bitterly disappointed with. I left the stage to cheers and congratulations but I knew myself that it just wasn’t good enough.

I think at the root of the problem was that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy it. I let the pressure get to me, like I never had before, and in doing so had only increased the likelihood of what I feared the most. So I stopped.

I stopped worrying about the expectation, stopped fretting about mistakes and stopped behaving like someone with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The funny thing about competitions is that essentially you end up worrying most about the thing that you do day in and day out. I decided to just get up, make some coffee, and hopefully enjoy myself up there just like I did in Atlanta and in the RDS at IBC2009.

In the end this change in tack proved to be enough in retaining the crown of Irish Barista Champion. The sense of relief I felt as they called out my name was immense, if only for the fact that I hadn’t let Steve down for all his efforts in the past year. Last year it was euphoria, tears and screams but this year, although just as rewarding, was more a collective sigh of relief by everyone involved.

Everyone that helped me had put in such a huge effort that I felt anything short of winning would be a discredit to all their endeavours. Coupled with that was the huge pressure I put myself under to plan and achieve something that I almost accidently happened upon this time last year.

3FE is located in the front of the IBC venue (The Twisted Pepper) and as a consequence I got to see first hand all the hard work and dedication that the organisers Jackie, Damian, Joe and Julie put in. Theres also a huge team behind them involved in the running of the competition and everybody really did an amazing job and rarely receive any thanks or praise for their efforts.

My signature drink was concocted with the help of one my customers and a friend-of-a-friend, Darren Free. He donated a lot of time and energy in helping me and I’m very grateful for all his efforts. Hopefully I haven’t dissuaded him from more experiments in the lead-up to London.

My run-throughs were scrutinised continuously by team 3FE (Jordan, Ger and Pete) as well as my brother Ian who worked tirelessly to help me prepare despite knowing little to nothing about competition. 

I must also thank Paddy Sands, as well as Michael and Stephen, at Food Solutions for helping me get to grips with the competition machine (Astoria Plus4You). There help was instrumental in helping me get the most out of my coffee and being able to use the machine to its best ability.

The competition was blessed with presence of two of the UKs finest in John Gordon and Gwilym Davies who worked the 3FE bar, did some MCing and were invaluable to me over the 3 days. I can’t thank them enough for making the week such an enjoyable experience for all the competitors, the watchers and the 3FE customers.

London’s calling, we’ve got lots to work on and I’m gonna enjoy it.

-Title inspired by that wordsmith of wit, Paul Stack


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