Given its reputation as a sociable city, a town of meetings and conversation and general human hubbub, it’s surprising that Dublin doesn’t have more good coffee shops.
In the years I’ve lived here only a handful stand out – the long-gone upstairs cafe at The Winding Stair (when it was a bookshop), an Italian place on Stephen Street where I had my first Turkish coffee, a brick-walled spot on Coppinger Row that’s now the site of an on-trend restaurant.
There’s been dozens of others, most of them forgettable – though the subterranean cavern that was The Buttery, with its muddy brew served in polystyrene, will never leave my memory.
One reason for the lack of stand-out coffee shops may be the fact that, traditionally, the city’s social exchanges have taken place in pubs. A coffee shop was a sober, more prosaic, institution.
When I first arrived in Dublin in the mid-1990s a cup of coffee meant either freeze-dried instant grains or a watered-down offering, served in a dripping-wet cup and saucer at Bewley’s. You usually went to the latter to read or chat quietly under Harry Clarke’s chapel-like windows.
The early Noughties saw a change, albeit a slow one. During these years my friend W had a regular gripe that it was impossible – with the exception of Cornucopia on Wicklow Street – to get a decent cup of coffee in the city after 6pm.
Then, with the Celtic Tiger crash, the dam broke. Lower rents in the city meant small business could gain a foothold, if they could scrape together the funds to launch. And so small coffee shops, serving quality joe, sprang up.
The result is that 2016 sipper is spoilt. Most parts of the city centre seem to have one good mainstay, accompanied by the inevitable Starbucks-Insomnia-Costa outlet.
Nowadays if I’m north of the river I hit Camerino on Capel Street (where the coffee’s only half the draw, as anyone who’s sampled the baked goods knows). On the southside it’s usually Kaph on Drury Street.
As of last weekend, there’s a new addition to the roster. The cafe at Books Upstairs on D’Olier Street is a dripping slow, calm space in the city. And the fact that it’s sited above one of Dublin’s best bookstores is a welcome bonus.
If caffeine and reading’s your thing you will lose a couple of hours in this place. Even better, they don’t offer Wi-Fi, meaning that the only sounds are pages turning, low conversation and cappuccino hiss.
Perhaps it’s not all that different to the afternoons I spent in Bewleys 20 years ago – except nowadays the coffee’s drinkable.