A visit to some of Cork's best cafés...

In a new series, RICHARD GORDON meets the entrepreneurs fuelling Cork people’s love of caffeine. Today we feature the owner of three cafes, Paul O’Carroll - including two in Cork city
A visit to some of Cork's best cafés...

Paul O' Carroll, outside The Bookshelf Café at The Elysian Picture: Richard Gordon

THE Bookshelf Coffee House wouldn’t look out of place in London, Paris, or New York.

The façade of the South Mall location has a timeless elegance, as does the inside, with its high ceilings and its upstairs nook. It’s a regular spot for people reading with a coffee in front of them, and some jazzy rhythms unfurling like ribbons through the ambience.

The new location at the base of The Elysian tower is a powerful image with lots of steel and glass, but still the exterior is coated with plants and the inside has its signature high ceiling with rows of artwork to peruse as you await your takeaway coffee.

I met the owner, Paul O’Carroll, for a chat about the coffee scene and his blossoming business.

When did you open your cafés?

South Mall opened in 2012, Tralee in 2016, and The Elysian in 2018.

Our South Mall location was once the Cork library, and it dates back to 1792. The entrances still bear the insignia of the library and as a result it is a protected structure.

Where did the inspiration for the design and aesthetic of the café come from?

We wanted a modern feel to the South Mall café without losing the cosy vibe where you can enjoy a coffee and a book in peace.

The Bookshelf Coffee House on the South Mall, at the old Cork Library building, which dates back to 1792. Picture: Richard Gordon
The Bookshelf Coffee House on the South Mall, at the old Cork Library building, which dates back to 1792. Picture: Richard Gordon

The design of The Bookshelf at The Elysian was based around a number of brunch spots in London.

We wanted to create a café space that was airy, elegant, and complimented the quality food and coffee we aim to serve our customers.

Can you pinpoint when/where/how you fell in love with coffee?

That’s an easy one! On a visit to New York, I wandered into a café on my first morning there; Stumptown Coffee Roasters on 29th street. It was November and FREEZING! The queue snaked out the door so naturally I joined it!

That was my first taste of speciality coffee, and I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

I went back every day while I was there.

What are the most important factors for serving quality coffee?

There’s a lot of factors that must align to serve really good coffee. The raw materials must come first so it’s a real priority to work with a roaster that is totally focused on quality and consistency.

Once you have the coffee beans, a well-trained barista is paramount. The barista must be able to identify the flavours in a coffee, much like a wine, so that he/she knows when it tastes as it should.

This involves adjusting temperatures, espresso yields, and brew times, whilst attempting to land on the perfect recipe.

The last piece of the puzzle is good equipment i.e., a grinder and espresso machine.

The Bookshelf Coffee House at The Elysian site. Picture: Richard Gordon
The Bookshelf Coffee House at The Elysian site. Picture: Richard Gordon

What espresso machine do you use?

We use a La Marzocco Linea Pb, three group, and a Victoria Arduino Gravimetric Black Eagle.

How do you choose your espresso blend and how often do you change it?

We only serve single origin coffees. That is where a collection of farmers from a particular region all send their coffee crops to the same washing/processing station. The reason we don’t offer blends is because the roaster we work with, The Barn Berlin, never blends coffees.

The farmers put so much work into growing high end speciality coffee and we want to showcase the flavours and varietals of their respective regions.

So, because of this our coffee offering changes all the time and is particularly seasonal.

Do you sell filtered coffees, and do they all taste the same?

Yes, we offer V60 hand brews as our filter option. They definitely don’t all taste the same because some are pour-overs like a V60, and some are submersions like the AeroPress and French press. Each method draws out different characteristics of a coffee like the body, acidity levels, and sweetness.

The Bookshelf Coffee House at The Elysian site. Picture: Richard Gordon
The Bookshelf Coffee House at The Elysian site. Picture: Richard Gordon

What are your three best-selling drinks?

1. Americano 2. Cappuccino 3. Flat White.

What’s the favoured drink amongst your team of baristas?

V60 or Flat White. V60 pour-overs are a very under-appreciated brewing method, mainly because they are not well known in the mainstream, but coffee enjoyed this way, with no milk or sugar, really highlights so much flavour and sweetness.

What’s an ideal barista to you?

Someone who is absolutely customer-focused and coffee-obsessed. In that order.

What’s your ideal morning café playlist to get the blood flowing and the punters happy?

We have a number of good playlists on our Spotify but one in particular I really like is El Mirador! We name all our playlists after the coffee we have on offer at the time we make it.

One final word to your customers and the people of Cork city…

“Stop and smell the coffee” is a cliché, but you really should literally stop and smell your coffee. Try a V60 in one of the really good speciality coffee shops in Cork and ask the barista how to best enjoy it, take their advice. 

Smell it, taste it, and notice how the flavours develop as the coffee cools. You won’t regret it.

The Bookshelf Coffee House can be found on South Mall and at The Elysian in Cork City (as well as Tralee).

Next week: Soma Coffee Company

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