Friday 19 July 2019

Full of beans: meet Stephen, the world's best barista

Making the perfect espresso is an art form -- and nobody does it better than Skerries man Stephen Morrissey, writes Edel Coffey

The bean is dead (not!): Stephen Morrissey, the new World Barista Champion
The bean is dead (not!): Stephen Morrissey, the new World Barista Champion

Last month, Stephen Morrissey became the first Irish person ever to win the World Barista Championship. An enthusiastic and affable Dubliner, ask Morrissey about coffee and 10 minutes later, you'll still be hearing about bean variations, seasonal differences and how varying temperatures can affect the protein structure within milk.

When the 25-year-old from Skerries describes his winning espresso as having had a "ripe cherry on the nose, toasted nuts and a vanilla finish," the image of coffee as something that once came out of a jar seems embarrassingly archaic.

We are sitting in Avoca café in Dublin, one of the few places in the city that meets Morrissey's high standards. He has come a long way in a short time, from his days as a music student working part-time in a coffee shop to his current position as World Champion Barista. It wasn't until Morrissey started working in Bewley's that he began to view coffee as less as of a part-time job, more of a career.

"I was invited to Greece for the World Latte Art competition and met a whole bunch of baristas from America and around the world. It was sort of like, 'wow! there's a whole culture and community around it'.

"A few weeks later, I had the chance to go to Seattle, where there's a whole other culture. I was grappling to come to terms with this community of people, where everyone knew each other and everyone was just lovely. There was a sort of bohemian feel to it. It was very cool to be a barista; The Dandy Warhols were baristas."

When compared with this sort of coffee culture, Ireland -- traditionally a nation of tea-drinkers -- appears to have a long way to go. "I think Ireland's on the tail end of it," says Morrissey. "Some cultures are harder to develop over here. I don't think people wake up in the morning with the intention of drinking bad coffee, and no-one gets up with the intention 'I'm going to do my job badly today'."

Morrissey says one of the benefits of the looming credit crunch is that people will be "a bit more choosey about their coffee". But at the moment Ireland is more cafe culture than coffee culture, says Morrissey.

"There are not enough cafes that are really pushing the quality. Ireland definitely is behind, but in a certain way Ireland deserves credit because we do milk very well." Morrissey even had Avonmore milk shipped over to Denmark for the competition. (Just don't ask him about tea. "I'm terrible at teas. I like Barry's with milk," he laughs.)

One of his biggest hopes is for restaurants to start taking as much care with the coffee served at the end of their meals, as with the meals themselves.

"Restaurant coffee is one of my biggest problems. There's such potential, I'm dying for someone to ring me up and say, 'Stephen, give me a coffee programme'."

Morrissey is now based in London, where he runs the 'roastery' Square Mile Coffee with fellow coffee champions Jamie Coughlan and Annette Walter.

"I hope to introduce people to a level of coffee they haven't seen before. We're going to be sourcing the best coffees and we'll be very picky about who we sell to in that we won't allow a coffee shop to buy our coffee and then do a bad job with it. We'll reserve the right to take it away. Every time we come deliver coffee to you, we'll do audits and make sure you're doing a good job. The hope is complete brand protection; if you see the Square Mile Coffee logo, you'll know you're going to get something absolutely great."

Morrissey says he would like to come back to Ireland to set up his 'own thing', but doesn't think a cafe is viable when Irish rents are factored in. The one thing he does hope will come from his high-profile win is that Irish people will start seeing coffee-making as a career. "If me winning has changed anything, I'd like it to be baristas taking more pride in their work, seeing it as something they could do as professionals rather than a part-time job."

Where to get the best coffee in town

When it comes to coffee in his hometown, Morrissey has a few favourites. "Bewley's ( ) is still one of the best places for coffee in Dublin. It is a very big company, but they do try to get good quality all across the board and invest a huge amount in training."

Another coffee maker that gets Morrissey's seal of approval is Coffee Angel ( ), a mobile coffee shop based beside the Sean O'Casey Bridge in the IFSC.

"Coffee Angel run by Karl Purdy; he is one of the best people in the country. He's got the right attitude, open knowledge, and is a lovely guy and a good example of someone whose business actually goes up when the big chains open up because it presents a comparison."

Avoca ( ) also gets the thumbs up as a cafe with immaculately clean coffee machines, while Butler's "do a very decent job". ( )

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