Ireland’s only child-free coffee shop is brewing up a storm, writes
It’s a weekday morning and I’m feeling a bit like the child-hating queen in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang off to meet the Ratcatcher as I find myself in Ireland’s first adult-only coffee shop, in Birdhill, Tipperary, but within minutes, the guilt –okay I feigned it – disappears. With the easy listening music, the huge windows looking out onto stunning Mount Moylussa and Lower Lough Derg and the barristas making my coffee in front of my eyes - I’m beginning to understand child-free heaven.
As I sip my complimentary Americano and chat to Alan Andrews, owner of the Old Barracks Coffee Roasters, an Australian guy with a little girl pops his head in the door and I watch as the barrista politely tells him that it’s an adults’ only venue, but they can do coffees to go and there’s a lovely playground up the road. Without any fuss, he cheerily gets his coffee and heads out the door.
Foreigners get the whole idea of an adults’ only venue straight away but in Ireland it’s still a new concept. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky if people haven’t read the policy beforehand, but we have to stick to what we say or we’d be breaking it for everyone
Birdhill is a small, country village but the Old Barracks is easily accessible off the M7, but still, it is quite an achievement that a venue, which only opened this summer, is about to double staff and is drawing people from Clare, Limerick, all parts of Tipperary and even Dublin, but is it the coffee bringing people in or the child free venue? Alan thinks it’s probably a bit of both.
“I’ve two teens myself so I’m not anti-child but I just think adults need an environment sometimes where they can unwind and have space without distractions.” The 300-year-old converted building also hosts yoga and pilates and mindfulness classes and even offers noise cancelling ear phones for those who have problems with sensory overload. Before opening Alan ran a survey which showed people would support a child-free venue, but he says he was also prepared to take the risk as he felt passionate about creating a relaxing, alcohol-free space for adults.
We get all sorts of people here; a lot of first dates, people find they can talk easily, we also get a lot of hurlers in from Clare, Tipperary and Limerick. These guys are athletes and they’re not going to want to be drinking when they’re in training. People have their work space, home space and social space and in Ireland the social space has traditionally been the pub, but people are really ready to move away from that now
As well as a coffee shop, where you can see coffee being roasted and pick your own coffee to brew, the Old Barracks has a training dimension. Andrews set up his other business, Coffee Culture as an educational training resource in Dublin a few years ago but he’s continuing the education by bringing coffee tasting classes to Tipperary. Classes could be booked as a once-off group experience, but Alan’s also committed to bringing regular classes to customers in the New Year, and it turns out when it comes to coffee, there’s a lot to learn.
Coffee tasting is like wine, coffee can be washed, semi washed or natural, there’s different flavours depending on the farm, there’s also different intensity of flavour; rich, medium, light, he explains. In total I choose two coffees, one from either side of the coffee spectrum and notice where the taste sensations play on my mouth, and though both are nice I’m not sure I’ve hit my absolute coffee sweet spot. Alan explains most people report liking the coffee in the mid range best, and since they’ve over 20 coffees in Birdhill, and beans change with the season, there’ll be plenty of varieties to choose from for even the most devoted coffee buff.
“This is why coffee tastings are educational,” Alan explains, “just like wine people discover what they like best.” Personally I prefer my coffee in the afternoons and not mornings but I’ll be back to try a few more brews – a gang of curious mums have already told me they’re free - but I’ll also come for the peace, the spectacular views, the atmosphere and the posh adult cakes.
Before I leave though, I slyly ask Alan if he also does tea.
“Of course, Barry’s and a big range of loose teas too!” Well, this is Ireland.
Coffee shops around the country are finding angles for drawing people in. Dog friendly cafes such as Bark & Bumble in Cork, Chez le Fab in Limerick & Pupp in Dublin are growing in popularity. Honesty cafes, where the customer judges the price of food and pays afterwards come and go in Ireland. The most long-running is the Dock, Belfast.
The Middle Country Cafe, Cloughjordan, Tipperary offers scrumptious food and a craft shop. Current classes are being offered in crochet. Accents Lounge and Bewleys Cafe Theatre, Dublin both offer alternative settings for the arts.
Chocolate and coffee are a natural partnership. From Skelligs in Kerry to Ó Conaill Hot Chocolate and Coffee Shop in Cork, you can hardly move without spotting one. Butler’s have coffee and chocolate shops in Limerick, Galway, Cork and Dublin for the chocoholic, coffee fiend.