DublinTown Meets 9th Degree Coffee Roasters
We talked all things specialty coffee with James McCormack, Director of Dublin Barista School and new brand 9th Degree Coffee Roasters.
What’s the history behind your business?
In 2009 I started a company called Good Mood Food, an office catering business. As someone who never made a sandwich in his life, I started making 100’s of sandwiches every day. I eventually outgrew the business and I had to find my own premises and that’s how I got on to coffee in 2010.
The coffee side of things was really unknown to me. All of a sudden I met these guys on a Wednesday and then I was running the business on the following Monday (located on Leeson Street). I drank coffee, but I didn’t know how to make coffee. I had to rely on the existing staff which lead to me going to London to get training. I found it really interesting and became to realise that no one in Dublin was really do any training. Then after a year of making coffee and slowly getting better we decided to put on a course.
We built a basic website for Dublin Barista School, created the company and went from there. We were running one course, once a month and then it kept booking up. We now have over 30 courses on offer.
How did you move into coffee roasting?
In 2013, after a busy year making coffee and running courses, we moved to South Anne Street (Dublin Barista School) and in 2016 we started roasting our own coffee. We wanted to control the coffee chain a bit more. It enables us to change the profiles of certain coffee based on feedback from our customers.
In the beginning, we very much got our customers involved and asked them what they wanted. They helped build our coffee house profile. It was really important to find out what they liked to taste rather than us telling them. We’re also able to keep our coffee fresh and don’t use coffee any more than a week old. All these things go towards the quality which is the direction where the specialty coffee industry is moving.
If you compared our Coffee Roaster to a wine expert, he would be a Master Sommelier. He’s called a Q Grader in the coffee industry and there’s only 200 in the world.
Tell us more about 9th Degree Coffee Roasters.
We wanted to expand our business. We’re obviously known as Dublin Barista School but last year we decided we wanted to have our own coffee brand and that’s why we bought a roaster. We wanted to build a niche coffee business as a tentacle to Dublin Barista School and we also wanted to sell online. We have our 9thdegree.ie subscription service where our roasted coffee can be sent out to your house but we also sell it in our shop.
9th Degree is a reference to the line that runs through Ethiopia and Ethiopia is the birth place of coffee. It connects to me as Ethiopia was the first time I tasted a specialty coffee and it really changed my mindset towards it. I also have a love of maps and Africa. The number nine is also related to the nine stages of coffee roasting. That’s our brand story.
Describe your new location on Westmoreland Street.
The location is great as Westmoreland Street is a hugely busy street. Also the Luas is going to be right outside our door so that was a big draw.
We ultimately want 9th Degree to be the place to go to for coffee.
The style inside the coffee shop is probably one you won’t find in any other cafe. The wallpaper has been painted black, the ceiling tiles have been painted black – the guy who designed it is very in to the medieval kind of look. For us we feel it works for this place. It gives it a bit of character. All the furniture has been purchased individually, giving an antique feel. There’s a lot of seating for customers.
What makes your business unique?
In the beginning I wanted to do everything, make every type of sandwich for every person. That just doesn’t work. Our focus is the coffee, one product which we wanted to become experts in and we now consider ourselves experts. Secondly, we study psychology to learn about interacting with our customers positively on a personal level as well as giving the coffee experience.
We have 5 different types of coffee behind our counter which you can try. We offer tasting sets, different methods of making the coffee. I’m all about the theatrics of coffee and love providing a different experience. We’re seeing people coming into us more and more on first dates rather than heading to the pub!
The quality of the staff also makes us unique.
I’ve spent a lot of years getting the best people in Europe to work in our shop.
In the beginning we started off with three staff and now we have 15. Our staff consider coffee to be their career and many of them are champion Barista’s.
What do you think about the coffee culture in Dublin?
I’ve been in the coffee industry since 2010 and part of the business for me is learning what’s going on in my city. The industry has been divided i.e. commercial coffee which is a mass market product and specialty coffee which is made in small batches and is now the fastest growing market in the last five or six years.
In 2010 there may have been one or two specialty coffee shops in Dublin but now there is over 70.
That figure alone tells you a lot about the culture. The likes of Starbucks created the cafe culture, and that’s not going to go anywhere. I teach a business course so I have to tell people both sides of the story.
I go over to London at least once a year. They have a very progressive coffee market but last June was the first time I went there and thought I didn’t have a coffee in London that was better than Dublin. I actually think Dublin has taken over London in a lot of respects.
Dublin has one of the best coffee cultures now, probably the best in Europe.
World of Coffee coming to Dublin last year came at the perfect time for this.
What is your perfect day in DublinTown?
In our area of Dublin Barista School we are quite lucky. My wife Linda works in the business with me and we’re mainly based on South Anne Street. We’ve started going to Catch 22 quite a lot as a treat. They’ve done really well with their concept and have a cool fit out. The food is very reasonably priced and the quality is great. We also have Bunsen a few doors down, supposedly the best burger in Dublin City Centre.
We also go to the number one pub in Dublin, Keogh’s, quite a bit with our staff – that is when I’m not driving! Lemon & Duke is right around the corner as well and is quite the hot spot. I also know the guys in Zozimus so sometimes pop up there for a cocktail.
We never have to walk too far to find something good. On one street alone we have a lot of options. Even walking across to the northside, we used to go to M&L Chinese a lot. I love all the Asian places around Parnell street.