One of the biggest cultural changes in N Ireland has been our attitude to what we eat and drink. Jay Rayner, the Observer’s food critic, used to be dismissive of the local offer but has recently given us a string of rave reviews. This is not about a few good restaurants, but a total change in mindset. As Jay says “Over the past three or four years, the thing that struck me is just how passionate people in Belfast are about their food.”
One area where we remain behind the curve is our appreciation of coffee. This may seem like a counter-intuitive statement, as Holywood is the coffee-shop capital of N Ireland. But how many people then go home and resort to a spoonful of supermarket instant? Yes it is quick and convenient, but it is also degraded coffee that is effectively stale.
Yet attitudes are changing fast as the “Third Wave” of coffee culture takes hold. This is a global movement to appreciate the true quality of the bean. It started in America in the late 90’s and hit London a decade later. Fast forward to 2015 and it is now stirring upon these shores.
Appreciation of coffee doesn’t have to be complicated but it does mean we demand more. For example, should we really support a system of poorly paid labourers making a low grade commodity? Or would we rather pay a bit more for quality coffee from properly resourced farms?
It means we demand fresh. Buying small batch artisanal coffee is good; buying whole beans and grinding yourself is even better. And instead of a stale spoon of instant why not try alternative brewing techniques from around the world? The mesmerising ritual of a Japanese V60; or an American Aeropress for speed. Italian stove tops are great for hot coffee; a French Press is a stylish way to serve.
Most of us can now discern our Pinot Noir from our Rioja, and few would welcome a dinner gathering that still served Blue Nun from a box. With coffee consumption it is still common to start the day or end a meal with instant. But attitudes are changing fast. Perhaps it won’t be long before we look back on those days with the same bitter distaste that we currently force ourselves to endure.