Last month I had the pleasure of being shown round Java Republic roastery. It is one of the original specialty coffee roasters in Ireland – the specialty coffee scene having only really shot up on a commercial scale in the past 10 years. They are about to celebrate their 20th birthday and, at 20 years young, it is pretty amazing to see how embedded they have become in the Irish coffee culture. Java Republic is a bit of an institution here – and beyond – with their beans being sold at 1200+ venues and an estimated 100,000 people enjoying their coffee and tea every day. Today I was going to be let into the one room where all their beans are roasted. To say I was excited/overwhelmed/nervous was an under-statement. This was big fry for the Snob.
When you approach the roastery just outside Dublin City centre, it seems like any other building in the business park in which it is situated. Grey, large and with a giant Java Republic sign on the front. When approaching, however, I started to become aware of the bustling of life and to my surprise saw that there was a thriving cafe at the front which burst out into the sunlit patio. Inside, the cafe is huge and very much makes the most of being next to the roastery – high ceilings with exposed pipes serve as a reminder that you are in a ‘working space’ where stuff is happening, and the roastery sits modestly behind a pane of glass on the far side of the room. All is exposed here (sort of like Miro cafe in Zurich but on a larger scale) and if you’re lucky enough, you might just catch Peter, the head roaster, working away.
“Our unique roastery has floor-to-ceiling glass walls so every stage of our process is visible”
Back to Basics: from pre-roasting to roasting
Before I went in, I caught up with Luis who is the coffee consultant and barista trainer here (check out his Instagram page to see beautiful coffee-related pictures). In the training room he got me up to speed with the journey of the coffee beans up to the point when they arrive at Java Republic. In the country of origin, they are picked off a tree as a cherry, then the beans are extracted and dried. This is what arrives here at Java Republic: ‘green coffee’. They pretty much look like coffee beans but paler. They are hard to the touch, don’t really smell of much (‘florally earth’ if anything), and don’t really look too appealing. And so it is the roasting process that brings out the darker colour we are used to, and with that, the flavour and softness.
When roasting, the beans go through a ‘1st crack’ and a ‘2nd crack’ – some roast it for too long after the second crack, making the coffee burnt and bitter. Java Republic tends to go for somewhere just before the 2nd crack. Some speciality roasters tend to go for even earlier – somewhere just after the 1st crack – where you will find much more complex flavours, but perhaps not so much commercial and for some, a bit too much on the palate.
The Roasting Room
Now it was time to go into the roasting room. The ‘no-go zone’ for the general public. It was like I had won a golden ticket and was stepping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
As soon as you go in, it is a sensory overload: music is blaring out to the backdrop of the clutter clatter of beans being suctioned up through various pipes; people are bustling around doing important looking things; and of course the smell of coffee permeates through everything.
The roasting process
Luis talked me through the roasting process:
-the coffee sacks are lifted up onto the scales
-after being weighed, the beans get sucked up into the roasting machine where they are roasted for around 15 minutes at a time
-the roasted beans are then dropped down into the cooler
-they are then delivered into the de-stoner which removes any remaining stones through a series of sieves
-the beans then get sucked into silos which are all separated by country of origin
-once in the silos, you can control what goes into your final blend via the computer. So, for example, Peter will tap into it saying ‘80% Peru 20% Columbian’ and the exact amount of beans will be calculated from each silo and suctioned up through the pipes into the Mixer. And, voila, you have your blend.
-the blend is sent either to the grinder or packaged up into bags ready to send to customers
*click the above to watch the video*
Talk about an efficient productivity line with no robots, and experienced human touch at every step of the way. Luis says how he is usually buzzing at 9am as each morning they brew and cup the beans that have been roasted the previous day to check for standards. Any batches that aren’t good enough are used for training (I wasn’t joking when I said they take their ecological responsibilities seriously here).
Peter: Head Roaster
I met Peter, the head roaster here. He has been working here for over a decade and is passionate about the human element of roasting coffee. He said how some companies now roast their beans sitting behind a screen pressing buttons, but he enjoys the challenge of balancing the individuality of beans with his knowledge of the machines and using both to his advantage to provide the best blend possible. I asked him what makes a good coffee roaster. He said knowledge and experience. You can see how much his care and passion affects the product that Java Republic puts out. To think his judgement for roasting coffee beans affects the mood of hundreds of thousands of people every single day…now that’s a pretty cool job.
“What makes a good roaster?” I asked Peter. “Knowledge and experience”
Peter went on to talk about the Irish coffee scene and how it is still relatively young, a decade or two behind the English coffee scene. There are about three coffee roasters who have been here since it all started, he said: Robert Roberts, Bewleys and Java Republic. The last ten years have seen more and more other roasteries and specialty coffee shops entering the market, but he said it has only been a good thing: they encourage one another to modernise and evolve. I really got the sense that the coffee scene here is at a very exciting time. To think Java Republic started only twenty years ago and is now a household name, I’m sure even more exciting things are to come for the company, and the coffee scene here in general.
And the coffee…
At the end Luis brought me back to the training room and he made me a fresh cup of coffee. It was delicious. And I bet it was all the more delicious because I knew that at every stage of the roasting process, this coffee had been carefully considered, handled with care by the experienced, lovely staff here, just behind that glass pane. Thank you Peter. You’re a damn fine roaster.
And so ended my day out at Java Republic. The thing that struck me most about the day was the contrast between the magnitude of their business and the small scale community of staff here who make it all happen. It was in the roasting room that was the true test of this: they are carrying out pretty high pressure jobs but there is always time for a joke, a smile, a wave – they obviously love what they do here, and I wonder if this knowledge made my coffee here taste even better.
Visit my Instagram page and click on the Java Republic highlight to watch the full story (including a wonderful selfie of Peter).
Java Republic: things to know
-set up in 1999, declaring the ‘Java Republic’. It was a rebellion against the state of coffee in Ireland
-carbon neutral company. Find out more about their ecological, sustainable and conscientious efforts here
–if you’re a business looking to use Java Republic coffee/tea, find out about their bespoke solutions here
-find out about their barista training – including SCA accredited courses – here
Roastery and Roastery Cafe (blog on the Roastery Cafe here):
–Address: 510 Mitchelstown Road, Northwest Business Park, Ballycoolin, Dublin 15, D15 PY8H
–Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7-4pm
City centre cafe:
–Address: 37 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2, D02 E004
–Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7-5pm
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