On a recent Sunday at 11am, in the quiet upstairs of 3FE café on Grand Canal Street Lower, Jamie Griffin was ready to present.
Surrounding him was a roomful of coffee-making materials: a giant grinder, cups, bags of coffee, AeroPresses, Chemexes, and other equipment that looked like it should belong in a lab.
Here in Ireland, we still drink less coffee than our European neighbours, but Dublin’s coffee scene has been experiencing something of a boom. In fact, it’s one of the few areas unaffected by the recession, with strong growth expected to continue through 2017.
The owner of the café, Colin Harmon, invited me to come along to one of 3FE’s brew classes. I accepted, even after he warned me of the potentially expensive consequences. If you’re an instant-coffee lover, stick with it, he’d said.
“Like, people say, ‘Oh, I just get instant coffee at home and I make a cup of instant coffee and I really like that.’ And I’m like: ‘Cool. That’s really cheap, you should be happy. Don’t ever learn any more,’” he says, laughing.
He finds that after people do a home-brew class at 3FE, they come to the café more often. At least it’s cheaper than getting really into wine, though, he says.
“You can buy some of the world’s best coffees for €12 . . . If you buy one of the world’s best bottles of wine, you’d remortgage your house,” he says.
In any case, in the best boom-time tradition, I ignored him. And, as an amateur at the instant stuff, never mind the good stuff, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was in for.
Griffin has a thick but neat beard that seems to form the only mandatory part of 3FE’s staff uniform. He starts the class slowly.
Coffee is not a bean, it is a seed, he tells the class, which is only half-full. It is made up of me and three caffeine enthusiasts – Gary, Gearóid and Seán – who came to learn more about what it takes to make a good cup of coffee.
Gary Smith was slowly dragged into the world of filtered coffee after he started working in software development. This is a common occurrence, says Griffin, who had a class full of developers last week. Smith’s job had a Java coffee machine. When he couldn’t use it any more, he couldn’t go back to instant.
Griffin moves on to the difference between arabica coffee and robusta coffee. Robusta is a sturdy species that can survive anything, but has a strong taste. 3FE stock arabica for its more subtle taste.
Still sat around the table in front of the television, Griffin takes us through the seasonality of coffee in each country.
Next: the three processing methods and how they affect the taste of coffee. The wet method will produce a strong coffee, while the dry method should result in one that’s fruitier and the pulped natural process produces a slightly more acidic-tasting bean.
So now we should have a good idea of how a coffee will taste by reading the label, says Griffin.
Then it’s on to the brewing; Griffin shows us how to use a Chemex, a Kalita and an AeroPress.
To do it right at home, you’ll need a weighing scales, a timer and water just below the boiling point. The ratio for a perfect cuppa is 60 grammes of coffee for every litre of water, but something as simple as the wrong grind can throw this off completely.
Using the exact same amounts of water and beans, it is amazing how many different ways one type of coffee can taste.
The class is relaxed, with a mixture of slides and practical exercises. Griffin is also happy to answer questions.
Apparently, buying filtered water from Tesco will take your coffee-tasting experience to the next level; a home-brewing tip to mimic the café’s reverse-osmosis water-filtration system.
The brew classes, like the rest of 3FE, were the brainchild of financial-trader-turned-coffee-maestro Harmon.
The classes started in times past, when he had a humble set-up in the lobby of the Twisted Pepper on Abbey Street and about 20 customers a day.
“Coffee was kind of new to Dublin,” he says. “So I needed a way to raise awareness of why some coffees are different to others and why some coffees cost more than others.”
When he started getting into coffee, he trawled through information on the Internet, and soon only made coffee at home because none of the Dublin’s cafés measured up, he said.
On Boards.ie, he met like-minded coffee drinkers and they came together to order high-quality coffee, since it was cheaper to buy it in large amounts. He then decided to leave his job as a financial trader to pursue his love off the brown roasted stuff.
I can understand getting hooked. The three-hour class, lunch and a goody bag is €100. But those who took the class all bought more coffee equipment before leaving and are considering the even pricier barista classes.
I, on the other hand, have been left contemplating an expensive coffee habit, no longer happy with my sugary, milky, instant coffee.
After class, my first spend was €30 on an AeroPress. I should have heeded the warnings.