Words: Emily Mullen
Artwork: Paul Smith
I’ve just moved to Dublin 8 in the middle of a pandemic. Naturally, there is nothing else for me to do but go for walks, and eat and drink shit within my area. Join me as I exhaust the place one chip, takeaway beer, and slice of pizza at a time.
Reviewing coffee is not something I’ve done before, so I’ve opted for what any person suffering from crippling self-doubt and a paralyzing level of inertia would do and went for the wing-it approach. This approach proved to be surprisingly fruitful and the basis for my review occurred rather conveniently as I was just about to enter my first coffee shop in Dublin 8.
Repeatedly pushing the door that needs to be pulled into Container Coffee, a nice man who was holding a black Americano and a milky-looking coffee placed them down and opened the door for me, he then left the door to close behind me in a swish of exit prowess. The two drastically different coffees held in his hands made me think what a cultured man he was. Selecting those coffees clearly meant that he associated with different kinds of people – the true marker of a well-rounded human. The fact that he exited the premises with no lids on the coffee cups showed me that he was the kind of renegade that drinks their coffee black (further props). So when I realised that I had entered the premises intact I dutifully ordered a black Americano and a latte (much like the way the student in North Shore High School saw Cady Heron wearing army pants and flip flops, and then bought army pants and flip flops).
On a practical level, which occurred to me after I stood awkwardly waiting for my coffee (cheeks tingling), this order makes sense, since they are two dramatically different types of coffees at either end of the spectrum, the purified black Americano (the coffee drinker’s coffee) and my own preference; the latte (which gives a good overview of the milky coffee family). The process of trying them involved supping alternate mouthfuls from each while I dodged dog shit on the streets of Dublin 8. This testing method gave me a basic understanding of what the coffee tasted like – it also was a bribe for me to swallow a mouthful of black coffee knowing that I could dilute it with a mouthful of warm coffee-flavoured milk directly afterward.
It should be noted that I tried a lot of coffee over the space of about four days and became increasingly jangled in the process, so I wouldn’t call this an overly coherent review. I also tried these coffees on my lunch breaks. If there is an explicit reference to the coffee tasting like food – that’s why. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the byproduct of me dragging my over-caffeinated ass around Dublin 8.
I hang a right off Thomas Street’s manic footpaths onto an even more manic Meath Street. A busy street as streets in Dublin go these days, filled with a steady stream of cars, scattergun chitchatters, dogs paused on their walks, people darting in and out of doorways from the church to the chemist. Legit Coffee sits about half way down the road, built into a row of red brick buildings that were traditionally butchers and convenience stores. Inside it’s a surprisingly high ceilinged place, that never really lost the chip-board charm it had when it first opened.
The layout of the once jammed cafe has transitioned nicely into a pretty well-thought-out takeaway cafe. There is a bit of confusion around which customer can step in or out and when, but that just goes with the territory of operating a business during a level five lockdown. Legit would be considered a Dublin 8 coffee-drinkers café, probably due to the number of instruments they let the coffee drip from and their guest bean blends (which they have had to put on ice for the moment due to a drop in footfall).
They use local roasters Full Circle Coffee, who hail from down the road in Saint Kevin’s, for their beans, selecting the Columbian blend. The nice barista tells an awe-inspired me that she can tell where a coffee bean comes from just by smelling it. My mouth opens under my mask, “so, you would be able to tell if it was from Peru or South Africa just by smelling it?”. “Yes,” she says knowingly and nods. It was then that I knew I was dealing with some serious coffee people.
The coffee is interesting, it’s a pretty distinctive flavour, with hints of fruit underpinned by a slightly bitter nutty quality. There’s a lot of depth to it, with a complex bunch of flavours going on. Overall it’s a pretty punchy cup of coffee, which would definitely suit someone who looks for a multilayered taste. €5.90 will get you a small latte and a healthy-sized Americano.
Fitting into Dublin 8 by the skin of its teeth, Meet Me in the Morning (MMIM) exists on a street off Camden Street in Saint Kevin’s which moonlights as Portobello. The area feels a little removed from Dublin 8. It doesn’t even vaguely resemble it and is more like that good-looking cousin who got 625 points in the leaving cert and can’t decide between medicine or neuroscience. It just feels a bit squeaky clean and successful to be in the family. The leafy streets that lead on to South Circular Road feel like the environs of the R-trifecta (Rathgar, Rathmines, Ranelagh), there’s even a Tesla slung over the double yellow lines in front of the café, across from the Press Up HQ. Even the site nearby is nicely disguised with some Maser-esque hoardings. It’s all very pleasant – and of course, MMIM has contributed to the pleasantries. They’ve set up a little bench and a speaker sounding quasi-synth beats at a reasonable audio level. The people waiting outside are evenly spaced out, calm and happy (apart from the Tesla guy who is making manic eyes at his rear mirror, presumably looking for a showdown with the ticket inspector).
The once airy cafe has been transformed into one of the best takeaway setups I’ve seen – no inside interactions required. There’s a little hatch to the right where the barista’s disembodied hands can be seen moving coffee tops around and milk jugs from one side to the other. They intermittently pop their heads low to the counter and mouth that orders are ready, or the disembodied hands move over to the little picture window on the left and perform a bit of a puppet show behind the morning buns and cinnamon rolls. The coffee on they day I tasted was the UK-based Colonna coffee, in a Tanzanian blend. It’s a pretty fruity cup with a slightly peppery aftertaste. There’s an overwhelming taste of foliage, which sounds weird, but think fresh and organic. €6.30 will get you a small latte and a marginally larger Americano.
Plopped alongside South Circular Road, which leads onto one of Dublin’s main traffic arteries, is Storyboard. Pedestrian crossings are rare in the area, but advisable since the motorists put the foot fully down as they mill downhill from Kilmainham to Islandbridge. Storyboard feels a little removed from Clancy Quay – which inhabitants bashfully call Fancy Quay (maybe due to the yuppie Potemkin village feel of the place). Set on the bottom floor of a great modern Tetris block of a building, the café has the finish of a place recently poured. Its massive windows let you gaze in at the lucky people inside while you wait in the queue, because there’s no such thing as Storyboard without a queue. Typically a great snaking thing that licks along the side of the building.
Once you’ve stopped looking at the other customers, there’s Storyboard merch to peruse and once you get further up, there are collections of preserved things in bottles to examine. South Circular Road will entertain you too, with its endless dance of pedestrians dodging cars and cyclists zooming down the hill to Pheonix Park. When you finally get in and stop gawping at everything, the coffee is great.
They use the Colombian-focused Carrow Coffee Roasters, single-origin coffee from small-scale farmers, processed in Carrowgarry farm beside the Atlantic Ocean in County Sligo, very mystical altogether. The beans land in on the light to medium roast scale, meaning the coffee is definitely on the lighter end of things, but it’s still intricate, without the typical bitterness that usually accompanies a “complex” coffee. The coffees aren’t overly big and the staff are sound and label which coffee is which – leaving out the awkward “is that my one or your one?”. €7.00 will get you a small latte and a marginally larger americano.
Set on a corner, near where Thomas Street becomes James’s Street is Groundstate. It boasts ample road frontage along the busy street which funnels a bus lane, a Luas lane, and a cycle path into one. It’s set in a bit of a Frankenstein of a building, partially made of refurbished Guinness red bricks, pieced together with newer bricks set above the lower floor made entirely of poured concrete. Inside it’s cavernous, with towering ceilings, giving off real (hashtag) industrial vibes with exposed pipes, concrete blocks, and bulbs dangling from overhead wires. It’s definitely a look that Groundstate have leaned into, using blanched wooden furniture and shelving.
The place has been adapted pretty well to takeaway, with a maze-like entryway that tempts you into buying fresh eggs, house ferments, yoga mats, and nutbutter on your journey to the coffee station. Their signs are really large and clear which is highly appreciated by someone who is too vain to wear glasses.
They use the world roasting champion Gardelli Coffee’s Brazil blend in their cups. The coffee has a bit of a nutty taste to it – kind of like the sweets in the nice boxes of chocolate that interchange between praline and hazelnut. There’s a definite richness there alongside a high level of smoothness. €6.10 will get you a small enough-sized latte and a similarly-sized Americano.
One of three shopfronts set into the side of Mary Aitkenhead House is Coffee District. Some people might know it better as Christy’s Hospital shop that closed in 2019, or other people might have gawped out the window of the Luas at it, trying to time their glances perfectly to see some strange man (and once a woman) entering into Sweet Sensations on James’s Street. It’s a relatively new spot, installed into the pigmy premises after Christy from Christy’s Hospital shop retired. It looks a touch out of place with its clean Scandi-design and minimal decor, in the middle of James’s Street. There isn’t too much around, aside from the aforementioned adult shop, James’s Hospital, and the petrol station in Mount Brown that every taxi driver in Dublin fills up in. So those who have no want for adult pornography nor petrol may have a want for really good coffee, which Coffee District provides.
A stone’s throw from the hospital, the cafe is often filled with nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers hopping in for their mid-shift pick-me-ups. The barista tells me this could happen at any time of the day with the lunch rush at 10.30am one day 2.30pm the next.
The coffee is Full Circle (like Legit Coffee) but this time with a Brazilian roast – hot, smooth, and with a twang of chocolate. It has depth without a drop of bitterness and it’s just a straight-up good cup of coffee. €6.60 will get you a medium-sized latte and a similarly-sized Americano.
Fresh to the locale so please go easy on me, but if you have any coffee recommendations for me to try, shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org