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Heimweh and Emigration

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The word ‘homesick’ has its origin in the German phrase ‘heimweh,’ which literally translates to ‘home woe.’ When the phrase was first thought up back in the 19th century, it was referring to the feeling of longing that possessed so many Swiss soldiers that were away. They became depressed and anxious at the thought of how far the mountains were from them on their current journeys. At first, it was even thought that the Swiss alone felt this internal ache, and no one else, until it was introduced to other languages.

I became a part of the Irish ‘generation emigration’ around December last year, like so many people of my generation and past. I moved to Berlin nearly a year ago. I moved in the winter right before Christmas. I had only been to the city for a mere two days before I decided to go back to Dublin and pack my bags, take a job and move over a month later. I didn’t speak a word of the German language and I had never lived outside of Ireland for more than three months. Yet, the decision was not a bad one; I’m a better, more learned person for it. Yet the rush of the move, the excitement of a new culture, searching for somewhere to live and dropping into a full time job, it took a while for any homesickness to make itself known. When I migrated here, I brought with me two large suitcases, which by the reckoning of the Ryanair scales, were about the same weight as me. I had shoved clothes and books into the monstrous bags, and stashed in among them a wood neck chemex I had swaddled in jumpers and stuffed with bubblewrap. Some early Christmas/birthday cards lined the inside of the walls of the cases themselves. These bags were heavy, and they seemed heavier when I had to drag them up all those stairs to the 5th floor of my airbnb. Few Berlin apartment buildings come lushly fit with an elevator.

In a city of one year visas and those moving for a change, I quickly found a good group of friends. They were here for jobs, they had come for relationships or even just because their other European visas were up and they still wanted to experience another world before going home. With the break from my border, I realised the world was just that much bigger and that small as well. I still ran into friends from Dublin; my hometown was only a two hour flight away and Berlin was a popular weekend spot. Acquaintances passing through, old customers who had decided to say hello on their holiday, even other barista friends sending their customers in for a bit of banter and to see how I was getting on. During my first ‘orphan Christmas’ with a group of brand new friends, I spent the evening eating a pot luck dinner in a cafe called Home, before it had even opened its doors to the neighbourhood around it.

I only experienced a bad case of ‘heimweh’ a few months into my move. I had no longing for the mountains, but I did miss the sea. I missed good fresh seafood. I missed being able to walk across the city and see several people I knew and speak the language without a struggle. I missed my family and friends, and when I got sick for a month, though I had no desire to move home, I yearned for the familiarity of some surroundings and culture. A pinnacle moment of my longing was when I was halfway through my journey to work one morning, after the Ubahn had cut services but provided buses instead (at least the transport is better here). While queuing to get on, an old man had bumped and shoved me out of the way of the bus entrance, and said nothing. In Ireland, I thought, that wouldn’t happen. In Ireland, I would at least get an apology. And I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t quite know how to say it in German. And this grumpy old man had broken the camel’s back, and I felt horribly homesick, right down to my stomach. I had a German-swiss longing to be away from these mountains that were someone else’s home. I got over it, quickly enough, realising that this grumpy old man was just that; a grumpy old man. There was plenty still good about this place I was in, I just had to give it time. I was here to learn, I was here to experience, and I guess a bit ‘heimweh’ was part of the process.

Irish people are well known around the world for emigrating, we make that apparent with our drip drop present everywhere. There’s even a scattering of Irish baristas among the Berlin specialty coffee scene. I became another one of the many Irish emigrants when I decided to make the move. It seems a part of our culture to leave for a while and maybe come back, if its three months or thirty years. But what is there even at home for me now, if not just my family and friends? I hear everyday of how expensive my home town is getting. Rent up this way, bills up that way. I could rent a pretty nice apartment, utilities and heat included in Berlin, for the price of a small room in Dublin. And many landlords in Ireland are usually not fairly renting or looking after their properties. Its not just unattractive to think how I couldn’t afford it, but scary. I fear the struggle if I desired to move back to Ireland.

And what of a career? How many paths can I take up the coffee ladder here in Berlin or any other city compared to Dublin? There’s one or two companies leading the way in the Irish capital, but they are still small in terms of other cities. It is, after all, a small city. What would I do to further my career and learn, apart from deciding to open my own shop in a place only recently starting to fill up with coffee-driven establishments. Would I even have what it takes yet to start it, let alone the money, let alone the opportunity? Or is it up to the natives and emigrants to return again and invigorate a city to boost it up? Or maybe I just can’t see the opportunities from this far away, but they seem few and far between from where I am sitting. All this is not saying that I do not love Dublin, I really do, or that it doesn’t have a good coffee community, I couldn’t recommend the city enough to those who say they would like to visit. It is teeming with amazing personalities and places, but the fear of diving back in to somewhere I feel l would spend so much time working jobs that were on a similar level to one another, would make me worried about stagnating in a career that I’ve only really just started. But then again, this could also be a problem of specialty coffee careers, how far up the ladder can you get before you’re just moving along the same rung again and again?

And whatever the city, how long can the body and mind take a barista position? Working a busy cafe, how long will your wrists and your feet hold out until you have to switch to another path in the career? How long can your passion and patience last, depending on how much you truly love the job? How far does the career go up and how quickly does the ladder rungs, as you climb, leave less space to hold on? Obviously, a love for the job can get you far, but how long and how many jobs are going? I see plenty of people chasing careers in coffee right now, taking on jobs off the bar and away from the espresso machine, still dealing with coffee in different ways, or even buying espresso machines of their own. The prospect of owning or running a shop is exciting, I love the everyday interactions on bar, but I’m not sure where that will be. And it is far from an easy task.

             The world is changing seasons, and the streets and rooms of the city are getting colder; returning to the season I first arrived to Germany in. Right now, I have no desire to leave Berlin or move back to Dublin. I’m still learning and figuring out where and how exactly I want to map out a career and my future. Home right now is in Berlin. And whenever I leave, I do get homesick for the people, the places and the culture when I’m elsewhere, for both cities, even if they’re not here or there anymore. While Berlin is home for many, its a city of people in transition. One year visas soon expire and people move on to other ventures. its a city in motion, of comers and goers, with a few staying for a good few years. I’m homesick at times at the thought of the sea, but it seems not enough yet to go seek it permanently.


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Migration and Movement.

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It has now been over a year since my last blog post. Madness. Since then, my life and location has evolved and transformed a little.

When I first began making coffee, I did not see it as a long term plan. I don’t think I thought of anything as a long term plan at the time. Everything was now, tomorrow or next week. I was in my final year of my bachelors degree after a gap year and was working in an artisan ice cream shop that had seen a good summer. Now, as the days began to slow, most of the tourists and Irish sun burns had begun to fade out. The shop floor no longer saw queues of people streaming in and out, but instead a few regulars trailing out of the rain as the evenings arrived more quickly.

I got my first taste of specialty coffee at a coffee shop called Vice Coffee inc, which was based in the middle of what was the Twisted Pepper club at the time. It was a Square Mile Guji natural Flat White. I made new friends through my part time job, and began meeting them in Vice and other cafes around the city. They were passionate people who loved good food, coffee and Dublin culture. It seemed as if everyone knew everyone within this industry. I soon began to become a frequent visitor to the Fumbally cafe. It was only around the corner from where I lived at the time. Along the huge room hung collected art work, the walls were lined with fresh fruit and vegetables every week, while people drank and ate and talked and worked. Everything was open, the chefs made breakfast and lunch right beside the coffee bar. It always felt friendly, and despite the space nearly always being busy, it was a relaxed atmosphere. I would sit for hours at the bottom of the large communal table as I worked on my dissertation. My house at the time was an old Dublin build, the walls were thin with faded red bricks and the ceilings were ridiculously high, so the rooms always felt too cold in the winter. It was also considerably more fun to write in the Fumbally than in the library. There were eggs on toast, flat whites and friends behind the bar. I probably produced a lot less writing there, but I always left feeling full and satisfied. My dissertation was eventually completed, along with earning the status as a piece of cafe furniture.

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From there, as Christmas crept closer and the days became even shorter, my interest in coffee only intensified. I was bringing ice cream to a few specialty coffee shops around town, mainly so I could sit and ask the person behind bar all my coffee questions. The shop owners and baristas always seemed comfortable and happy to answer, even if I hadn’t brought any ice cream with me. Before Christmas, I had attended a Latte art throw down at Vice and competed. I did awful, but it was fun. I met one of the baristas from a specialty cafe down near the docklands, just outside the central part of the city. A few friends encouraged me to pursue this place, a place called Third Floor Espresso. We talked it over while surrounded by the crumbling walls of a historic Georgian house, as we put together the final touches to a giant dinner they were serving. I downloaded twitter and proceeded to pester the owner, which eventually resulted in a chat in the cafe in December, which resulted in a job in January. That job was kept to the weekends while I completely my degree. Essays on Globalisation and Orientalism on the weekdays, how to tamp a perfect puck on the weekend. The mad rush of the cafe was a good counter weight to the grinding feeling of the assignments approaching. The 12,000 word dissertation. The 3 hour long exams. The continuous assessments. I have a sure feeling I was a complete mess on bar in those starting months. I know I was. I dropped plates and cups, I panicked anytime I came close to the coffee machine and I talked far too much. But I had good, passionate people around me, who were also luckily quite patient.

Since then, that weekend job folded out into a full time barista position and from there it seems, a career. I travelled to other cities, sat in foreign cafes my friends and the internet had recommended, and met other coffee people. I competed in the Irish Barista Championships. I attended Barista Camp in Italy, I travelled to Brazil and Argentina with a friend I had met and worked with behind bar. I recently had the pleasure of managing the World of Coffee Espresso Bar when it was in Dublin a few weeks ago, and got the chance to finally meet and reconnect with so many coffee people. I even moved to Germany over half a year ago in the interest of furthering my knowledge, my skills and my career. Crazy how it can all start with one flat white served to you by someone with a passion for it all.

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With the move to Berlin, I have been meeting new people and discovering new ideas, cafes and roasteries. A community of people who are all very passionate about their craft. I can not claim the move was easy at first (Berlin winters can be pretty depressing), but I feel I have plenty more things to discover. I’m not quite sure when the feeling that this was a career began, it may not even become a career, depending on what the future holds, or what it will blossom out to. I’m watching the friends I first met through coffee building their careers, opening and establishing their own businesses and traveling the world with their passion. There are still many problems within the coffee industry that have be tackled on both a personal and community level. On the questions, ideas and philosophies behind and around it, just like any industry. I want to use this blog again to address them from my own viewpoint. Yet despite the problems, I’m enjoying this career so far and really hope it continues. 

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Koppi at Vice Coffee

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Anne Lunell stands in the middle of Vice Coffee, looking at the crowd politely lining up and tasting from the cups on the bar. Deep spoons at the ready, people have been slurping and sipping for a few minutes now. A row of brightly labelled Koppi coffee bags sit neatly behind their respective brews. It’s a hot summery day outside. ‘These coffees taste different here, it’s because of your water,’ states Anne. They taste different to how they taste in Helsingborg, the location of Lunell’s roastery in Sweden. They also taste different in New York and London. Even if the roast is the same, the numbers are the same, the barista is attentive and careful, coffee will taste different because of the city it’s made in. The water it’s made from.

After the cupping, people buzz around the intimate space of Vice Coffee Inc on Middle Abbey Street. A few sit down and enjoy a Koppi signature coffee tonic, a few others sneak away to the sunshine out front and smoke a cigarette. Most people here know each other and catch up while drinking more coffee, enjoying the Tartine bread smothered in Bean and Goose rich chocolate that is being passed around. It’s a community event, a relaxed Sunday afternoon.

Everyone has been tasting and talking, before shuffling into the back room of the building to listen to a panel discussion called ‘Vice: Unfiltered’. Its the first of a series of events in the run up to WBC in Dublin next year. The panel discuss how Dublin will make the WBC feel a little different; how it won’t be the same as the years in Seattle and Rimini. A coffee-obsessed community will fly in from all over the world to Ireland to compete and showcase their talents in the field. And it’s the baristas, roasters and coffee shop owners of the fair city that will be playing host to a community that loves looking at the finest details. Do we feel we need to step up our game? Maybe. Maybe it will feel different because of the people. It will definitely taste different because of the water.

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The Exoticism of the Flat White

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In the coming year, Dublin will play host to the 2016 World Barista Championships. At the same time, more and more coffee shops are opening their doors along city centre streets and beyond. The small collection of cafés and baristas serving specialty coffee, roasted both locally and abroad, is creeping up in number. And it is great to see. People are becoming passionate about the international coffee scene, but are also trying new recipes and methods of brewing. Even those who aren’t keenly interested in making coffee are starting to notice the changing trends.

An article was recently publishing on the Irish Times website stating ‘what’s a flat white and why is it taking over coffee menus?’. I found it intriguing to see an interest in coffee peaking in the general newspapers; yet became less impressed with the tone and approach as I scrolled through it. The article attempts to explain what exactly the drink is, and it’s increasing popularity over the everyday cappuccino. The author is quite quick to use the word ‘hipster’, a popular term to throw around these days in articles about modern Dublin culture, yet it is the author’s personal interpretation and use of the word that I really didn’t enjoy. ‘Hipster’ is a buzz word. In this article, it seems to hold the author’s personalised meanings of a young person with a certain job, appearance and bike. Fine, I don’t mind that. But it feels awfully ‘them versus us’. It is as if the Irish Times assumes it is not read by anyone ‘bearded,’ working in I.T. or with an interest in fixed gear bikes. It all feels very judgemental and exclusionary. These are trends, and I felt a bit disappointed by the newspaper for producing such a presumptuous article. The author also states that the ‘cheaper’ drink is another reason that hipsters like it. But doesn’t everyone prefer paying less money for a product they enjoy?

After reading the article, it felt to me like the author had missed a golden opportunity to write about an example of transforming Dublin food and coffee trends. So what is a flat white, where does it come from and who is drinking it? The flat white hails from New Zealand (according to several sources and websites), and soon after became a staple in Australian coffee shops. This coffee seems more exotic for those in Ireland than the Italian-born cappuccino. Its new and its shiny, and you can’t get it everywhere. Thr international coffee website Sprudge recently did a poll in hopes of defining what a flat white is exactly. They did a good amount of research and posted their conclusions in a number of articles, including this post. They knew the drink was one made up of espresso and milk, with smoothly textured milk. However, the poll produced results stating that the drink itself is pretty ambiguous; such as how many shots of espresso go in, how these shots are pulled, how ‘flat’ the milk is and what the ratio of milk to coffee is.

So if flat whites are defined by the trends of a local coffee culture, what is a Dublin flat white? Dublin follows a lot of London coffee trends. My understanding of flat whites is in their comparison to more traditional espresso and milk recipes; like lattes and cappuccinos. Flat whites are a little bit flatter than lattes and a lot more flat than cappuccinos. There is only enough aerated foam in the thin, smooth milk to produce art on top of the surface. Flat whites are also usually served cooler than other drinks, and have a smaller difference in the ratios of milk to espresso. Now, despite all these presumed differences, the Irish Times author defined it herself in the end of a paragraph; ‘every coffee shop has it’s own recipe’. The flat white is definitively ambiguous because it changes from café to café. A local mythology. Yet many specialty cafés I know around Dublin make all their milky coffee drinks in the same way. A double shot of espresso mixed with ‘smooth, sexy milk’. The name you use to order your milky drink is just there for a sense of familiarity or even adventure. The term ‘flat white’ may be popular because it signals a more current understanding of coffee and it’s shifting position in the food scene. It is a possible signal that the café and their baristas are conscious about how they are pulling the espresso and steaming the milk. Cappuccinos are familiar but flat whites are new and exotic. They’re modern. But most of the time you’re still getting the same thing in the cup whatever mix of milk and espresso you ask for. A milky drink by any other name would taste just as sweet.

Is it not interesting to watch how a certain food or drink can fall in and out of fashion? How the array of ingredients on your plate is going to shift with the trends as fast as the clothes on your back? In modern society, it is all about trying new things. Even if the ingredients are familiar, its all about how you dress it together. The burrito trend moved its way over from the London and New York streets, and sudden an influx of restaurants dedicated to the cultural food began popping up on both sides of the Liffey. Its exotic, but you’re unlikely to ever get a burrito like Boojum and Pablo Picante staples like this back in Mexico City. It’s all about the local interpretation and ingredients of a dish.

So who is drinking flat whites in Dublin? ‘Hipsters’ like flat whites because, in my personal opinion, they’re delicious. I recently took my aunt out to a local Dublin cafe and she very much enjoyed her first flat white. Its exactly what she was looking for, she told me. She enjoyed the way that people in this specialty coffee shop preferred to serve milky drinks.

The most common question I get asked when working on bar by customers is what exactly is a flat white. I explain its espresso-based mixed with smooth milk, but I make it like I would make any other milk drink. if I didn’t know what a flat white was, the first person I would ask is the one who is making it for me, so I’m happy to answer. Flat whites should be accessible, just like the rest of the specialty coffee industry and it’s products. It is a drink and a profession, not a exclusionary religious order. I’m not going to laugh at someone for not knowing, especially when the industry doesn’t quite know itself. This ‘new’ drink is encouraging espresso-based drinks back into a purer form; consciously-pulled espresso and steamed milk. No hidden syrups, no chocolate on top, no giant cups. It is a small cup of milky coffee where you can taste the espresso through the milk.

The Irish Times article put so much weight into a new drink. They give it a cultural positioning in local society. They are trying to place it in an effort to understand it. But it is a drink that’s becoming more popular in everyday coffee shops, a trend that we can give Starbucks partial credit for. There was also no mention in the article of local roasters or other coffee shops. No disrespect to Nick’s Coffee and Bald Barista, but I wouldn’t refer to them as the only leading influences in the current Dublin trends. People like to try new things, certain dishes become unfashionable and culture keeps transforming and bringing new meaning to everyday products and rituals. So relax and drink your flat white or cappuccino, there’s no need to fret about it’s cultural meaning and cool factor as long as you enjoy it.


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Instacoffee Brazil

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While planning my trip to Brazil, I decided to bring both my digital camera and my phone. My digital camera was with me for certain special events or places of interest, but it was an awkward thing to lug around and not at all conspicuous. My phone was to capture the in-between moments of traveling. These moments included images of beaches, plates of local food and drink, and a few tasty coffees I sought out along the way. A few of these popped up daily on my Instagram.

In Dublin, it’s easy enough to pass by a coffee shop on the way to another destination, especially when you’re walking around crowded shopping streets. A detour of a few minutes, provided there isn’t a line, has you at your destination with a coffee in your hand. Places like Vice Coffee Inc, Brother Hubbard and Roasted Brown are only a few corners away from the grey pavement of Henry Street. During my travels, coffee detours usually took a little longer. But the coffee shops I looked for were usually destinations instead of something to drop into on the way. Once I found one São Paulo coffee shop, like Coffee Lab in Vila Madelena, I was given recommendations. A friendly barista or cafe owner, no matter the country, is destined to double as a tour guide. In the leafy and light-filled setting of Isabela Raposeria’s cafe and roastery, I enjoyed several coffees made by espresso machine, clever dripper and v60.

From Coffee Lab, I was directed on to more cafes across the city that had made a name for themselves within the local and national industry. My South American adventure was not all about coffee, so I was only able to visit a few recommendations. Beluga Cafe in Santa Cecília was one of the first cafes I found after Coffee Lab. The setting was nestled among a busier part of São Paulo, but Beluga also offered a mix of filter processes and espresso-based drinks. I should have known it was a good place when I saw the Counter Culture tasting wheel, framed and hanging in the bathroom. I enjoyed an espresso and a pretty wonderful aeropress filter, both of Brazilian origin. I learned that no foreign green beans are allowed in Brazil; so everything roasted in the country also originates from within the borders.

I got my first taste of an African (Kenyan) coffee roasted in South America when I headed down across country lines to Buenos Aires, Argentina. After a good bit of wandering down long blocks of streets, unsure if I was even going in the right direction, I found my destination. Another coffee lab. This time it was LAB Tostadores de Cafe. As a gift, I brought a light-roasted bag of peaberry (also known as moka, news to me!) from Beluga. This was quickly opened and brewed through a clever-dripper and a chemex. Excited over the menu items, I ordered a tasty flat white, highlighting how good Argentinian milk is compared to it’s Brazilian counterpart. While I sipped through several different brew methods, another barista/tourist guide pointed out highlights of the city for me on the map.

With more coffee stuffed into my luggage, I headed back to São Paulo to meet a fellow traveller and attend the first Brazilian Aeropress Championships. The Championships showed, that despite the size of the country, the Brazilian specialty coffee community was still a close-knit group of professionals. This was a more established community than the irish one, but it included a mix of baristas, roasters and farmers. These three points of the coffee’s life were more naturally interconnected here. For any of these individuals, seeing the coffee beans in another stage of the process was only an hour’s drive away.

While I did not focus my trip on coffee, I enjoyed discovering the specialty industry within another culture. I even got to stay with a wonderful barista in Recife when I first arrived. The attention to detail of brewing and customer service is obvious, even if there was a bit of language barrier at times. Looking over my instagram photos now, a lot of my daily updates were taken from the inside of a cafe. Among everything I saw on my travels, the coffee and its surrounding community was a highlight.

Coffee Lab, São Paulo.

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Suplicy, São Paulo.

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LAB, Tostadores de Cafe, Buenos Aires. instacoffee5

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Beluga Cafe, São Paulo.

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image (3) Brazilian Aeropress Championship, FAF Studios,São Paulo.instacoffee7instacoffee3

And finally, the delicious coffee booty I brought home to Ireland. instacoffee8


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A Short Intermission (That Lasted Far Too Long)

IMG_5535 I’ve been away from here for too long a time. I really didn’t mean to disappear from this site for that long! I ended up taking a short (cough) break from blogging when life events ended up getting distracting, and never quite got back into the swing of things before now. One event that ended up being very distracting was a month long visit to Brazil. Between booking flights and trying to learn terrible Portuguese, along with the bubbling mix of anxiety and excitement, I didn’t think much about ‘No Added Sugar’. I had never traveled quite so far before by myself, and although I was meeting a friend once I landed in the north, I still had to plan a lot of the journey alone. Yet despite all this planning, fatigue from too many planes and airport waiting areas got the better of me. The first mistake I made was forgetting my luggage. It enjoyed a few relaxing laps of the Recife Airport turnstile before I remembered.

I learned a lot about self-reliance during this trip, and how enjoyable it is to both travel with a friend and by yourself on a foreign continent. With a set of fresh ears and eyes, I found new music, food and community in every place I landed. At times it was a little daunting, magnified by a meager grasp of the language, but it always turned into an enjoyable and new experience. The adjust from an Irish winter to the Brazilian summer heat and humidity took a good week. My hair suffered.

Despite the country relying so heavily on it as a business, coffee was not my main focus in Brazil. I was there to travel and explore every aspect I could of the country. Which is definitely not something you can achieve in a month, if even within a year.Thanks to a fellow Brazilian barista in Ireland, I met a lot of wonderful coffee industry people in Sao Paulo (and had stayed with a great barista in Recife in the previous weeks). They were welcoming and happy to be of any help they could. The lost walks, subway rides and bus trips I took to find their coffee shops and workplaces created a unique map of the city for me. I got to see suburbs and streets I would never have found if i had stuck to the tall skylines of the tourist trail.

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Through meeting industry people in Sao Paulo (and during a quick detour south for a delicious international flat white in Buenos Aires’ Coffee Lab) I got to see specialty coffee immersed in a culture I was brand new to. I saw how a close community had established itself within the cityscape and surrounding area, and I got to see it in action when I was invited along to the first Brazilian Aeropress Championships. More on that later…

So lets establish. I’m back and I’m going to try and not disappear again from the blogging sphere. Not with so many coffee-related events and openings happening in Dublin right now and in the future.


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Has Bean, Done That

Uploading photos from a recent trip, I found a few older photos that I had forgotten about. Bright red and brown photos from a day trip over to Stafford, England to the Hasbean Roastery. An early morning flight there and a late evening flight back. I think I slept in pretty late the next day. But it was an awesome trip, one that started a few ideas. I got to see how hard everyone works at this place to keep the business going like clockwork, including jumping over big bins of green coffee.
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