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Coffee House Lane - a tradition revived

Mark Bergin is not the first man to roast coffee in Waterford. Believe it or not, a Mr John Aikenhead operated a coffee house here in the late seventeenth century.

In those years Waterford was a bustling, thriving port, jockeying with Dublin for the top slot in Ireland. It was here, just a few yards from the quayside that Mr Aikenhead opened what was probably Ireland’s first coffee house, in a narrow street now known as Coffee House Lane.

Excerpt from
Excerpt from "Women's Petition Against Coffee" 1674

The first coffee houses in England opened in Oxford and London in the 1650s and became very popular in cities and towns all over Britain and Ireland during the next hundred years. Not everyone approved, though. In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee blamed this “newfangled, abominable, heathenish liquor called coffee” for distracting their menfolk from more, er, manly activities!  King Charles II was also becoming uneasy with the fashion, worrying that notions of revolution were being discussed in such places. More history here.

Time passed, and gradually we became a nation of tea drinkers. Not too many years ago good coffee was a rarity in Ireland.  Most homes had only Maxwell House in the press and only the better restaurants served anything like a decent cup.

But now coffee is back!  A café culture is again being cultivated and new cafes seem to spring up almost weekly. In 2013, 4,000 tonnes of coffee were consumed in Ireland. Per capita this is still well below much of Europe but the change has been startling and the trend of increasing consumption is showing no signs of abating. As people become more interested in coffee, so does the demand for a better quality product.

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Mark Bergin is an artisan coffee roaster. Each batch starts with just 15kgs of green coffee beans, blended (or not, if Single Estate Origin) by hand. The roasting time and temperature is set and the beans are released into the pre-heated roaster. After a few minutes the beans shed their outer husk with a “crack”. The resulting chaff will later be discarded. Just as the beans begin their “second crack” Mark releases them from the roaster into a cooling drum. Timing is critical. They should be roasted just enough to release the oil within them along with the rich flavours we love but not so much that the more subtle flavours of the bean are lost.

Currently the only coffee roaster in the south east, he started the enterprise 5 years ago and markets his coffee under his Ponticelli label. Now, with his skill honed, he has introduced “Coffee House Lane”, a range of whole and ground beans for the retail market.  And so, Mark has revived and commemorates an old tradition in the city.

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