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'It's far from arabica beans we were reared...'


Ireland has fallen in love with coffee

Ireland has fallen in love with coffee

Coffee and tea are battling for our favours

Coffee and tea are battling for our favours


Ireland has fallen in love with coffee

It's fair to say that coffee is on the crest of a wave in Ireland. Like it or not, coffee culture has pervaded our psyches so completely that we have totally forgotten that we are relatively new to its sophisticated charms. For an island of dedicated tea lovers we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by coffee quite profoundly.

We have fallen for its chat-up lines, been led into its high-spec penthouse apartment and climbed into its silken-sheeted bed with the moral abandon of a wanton ingénue. And ingénues we are, for a mere score and five years ago - when the rest of Europe was armpit deep in artisan beaneries, knocking back a sneaky ristretto to herald the start of each day - we were still marvelling at the introduction of the round teabag.

As a nation we are fans of mind-altering beverages, so I suppose it's only natural that coffee's stimulating way gained traction with our buzz-chasing society. But coffee was a latecomer to the table. Oh it's far from the Arabica beans we were reared.

Let's be honest here, before the Tiger years, when we used to wipe our arses with regular loo roll instead of 50 euro notes, there were two types of coffee in Ireland; Nescafé and Maxwell House. One or the other was kept in a press for when people who lived in London and had developed 'notions' came over and refused the standard offer of tea. Nescafé really went after us with the ad campaign in the 80s that featured the neighbours that fell in love after she repeatedly called into his place to borrow his jar of Gold Blend.

But the Irish, firm in the knowledge that sexual engagement was impossible without alcohol, were immune to this stroke of marketing genius, and the jars remained where they were, nestled behind the gravy granules, cosmopolitan outcasts in a parochial world.

My own coffee journey began at the start of the millennium, when the suburban bar I was working in, for the sole purpose of harvesting beer money every week, started pushing itself as a "café/bar/club" and insisted that we serve coffee that came from a chrome behemoth that I felt would have been more suitable as a mode of transport for the Thunderbirds.

"You've got to take PROYDE in making a coffee," explained the man who came round fortnightly to clean it, after he noticed my slapdash assembly of a latte for some jaded locals. I looked blankly at him, mainly because I didn't hear what he was saying as when I looked at him, his face had been replaced with the two pints of Fat Frog that would welcome me at the end of my shift in 40 minutes time. (I said it was the start of the millennium, cut me some slack on the Fat Frogs).

"Have you heard of Insomnia?" he preached, going on to extol the ethos of this Irish beanery with its utterly counter-intuitive name.

"Ethos?? Sure what does coffee have to do with ethos?" I thought to myself before dismissing yer man and returning to my alcopop-soaked daydreams.

Skip forward a few economic cycles and here we are in a world where coffee is 70pc ethos, 20pc psychological manipulation and 10pc fine roasted beans.

Insomnia is as ubiquitous as Centra and for every one of them, there's two Starbucks, the sexy mermaids winking conspiratorially at each other from across the street upon which they've been strategically placed, and high-fiving for every 10 customers who fall prey to their sticky globalised trap.

I should know, I'm one of them. My coffee tastes have evolved from your standard issue cappuccino to something that is so laden in syrup, cream and garnish that to consume it with anything other than a spoon is simply not practical. In fact, last week I had a peppermint mocha with whipped cream that I'm fairly certain was assembled by a fully trained French pâtissier. And don't get me started on frappuccinos. No, seriously don't, because I am still not entirely sure exactly what they are.

Coffee houses are emerging on the landscape of our city with the alarming regularity of blackheads on the face of a teenager ravaged by hormones and a One Direction obsession. Take two incongruous second names that have nothing to do with any of the founders, link them with an heavily designed ampersand, back that up with a mission statement littered with words like 'passion' and 'fair trade', and bob's your ethically-sourced uncle, you've got the template for a thriving coffee establishment.

If you're not being treated to some manner of philosophical manifesto while perusing the menu, then the perceived wisdom is that you're just going to be drinking liquefied tar.

Coffee beans travel first class in air-conditioned cabins, listening to whale sounds and being massaged by nubile youths to ensure they experience no stress on their journey from plant to pot.

Baristas with names like Markus and Bruno craft artwork in the foam of your steaming beverage, beautiful shapes immortalised on the virtual pages of Instagram before being brutally decimated by our artless lips.

It's not that I'm not grateful that we've moved up in the world closer to our European cousins, hankering for places to sit with our Macbooks 24/7 and drink flat whites but I fear that we're diluting our national identity. Has the Quiet Pint been replaced in our affections by the Quick Coffee?

As an aficionado of both, I feel torn. Whilst I'm as guilty as the next man of a mid-afternoon coconut latte, I also love nothing better than going into one of Dublin's many 'Pubs That Time Forgot', by myself, and sitting with one quiet drink. I'm talking about the sort of place that has career barmen, where the term 'bar food' doesn't extend past a cheese toastie, and where cocktail lists have yet to sashay with their lychees and mango puree.

You know the sort of place I mean, I won't name names because I love them all and don't want to play favourites. Have you ever ordered an Irish coffee in one of these places? There is a low hiss that emanates from the server that is inaudible to the lay ear but alerts all bar staff in the area of your status as having 'fancy tastes'.

And whose idea was it to replace pints with coffee as the Official Beverage of First Dates? In a situation that already is fraught with nerves, surely a stimulant known for its associated anxiety would be best avoided.

Perhaps I'm being overly traditional, maybe there's no reason why coffee culture and the quiet pint can't co-exist peacefully in the minds of the masses. Or can they? I can't decide, in fact I can't even relax. It must be all the coffee.

Irish Independent