From Caro-Kaffee to Carrow Coffee

A personal journey by Gaby and Hans Wieland

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When Gaby and I first met Andrew and Paola about a year ago and heard about their Carrow coffee we immediately thought about Caro-Kaffee and our mind was cast back to when we were children in the late 50s and early 60s in post war Germany and only allowed to drink Caro-Kaffee or “Kinderkaffee” as our parents called it. Caro-Kaffee was developed in Germany in 1954 as one of the first cereal coffees on the market. It was made from chicory root, sometimes called coffeeweed, barley, malted barley and rye.

That was a long, long time ago and long before Barleycup was manufactured in England. And it took another 10 years before we made a foray into the world of real coffee and subsequently discovered espresso, cappuccino and café au lait on our travels as students. Needless to say, Carrow coffee, roasted in Beltra in Co. Sligo is something entirely different!

Coffee culture in Ireland

But first things first. After moving to Ireland in 1985 the highlight of our yearly trip to Dublin included a visit to “landmark” Bewley’s Café in Westmoreland Street. At that time the market was largely dominated by instant coffee according to a 1985 census by the representative body for the Irish Advertising Agencies (IAPI): 
"The Irish coffee market is dominated by instant coffees which account for over 90% of total coffee purchases from retailers. Within this highly competitive mature market are two key players, Maxwell House, owned by the international Kraft, Jacobs Suchard food company, and Nescafe,
part of the multi-national Nestle company."
                                                              A freshly roasted coffee from Bewley’s in the 80s was definitely a stand out!

Sligo itself has an interesting history to tell. (Watch out for our full article researching Sligo’s Coffee culture!) Our research led us to the first Café Cairo in Castle Street in the 30s. Older Sligonians will tell you about the Coffee Bean on the Mall, the Ritz and other early front runners, but the real coffee revolution for us in Sligo began with Bar Bazar, Richard and Tamsin’s little coffee shop with books and board games, who brought us Illy coffee. And now, since early 2018 we have the first ever Sligo coffee roastery.

 Sligo’s first coffee roasters

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During a recent visit to Carrow in Beltra, named after Carrowgarry farm where they are located, we were shown the new roastery with its impressive Probat gas-heated roasting machine sitting prominently in the centre of the room, a state of the art coffee grinder and espresso machine, plus various other pieces of equipment. But like with so many artisan food businesses it’s all about the people with the entrepreneurial spirit and partners Paola and Andrew have it in abundance and a fascinating story to tell.

Andrew has a background in journalism working throughout Europe, South America and Africa for over a decade including interestingly a four-year stint covering coffee for Bloomberg News in Colombia. Paola worked as a project and communications manager in the development cooperation sector, but more importantly for the new business was born in Trieste, one of Italy’s main roasting hubs and a city where coffee aromas waft through the streets and the home of the aforementioned Illy coffee.

Their passion for coffee grew in Colombia where they lived for four years, travelling extensively throughout the countryside to visit farms and learn about coffee production and the different processing methods. And it was in the attic of their apartment in Bogota where Andrew started roasting coffee on his Huky 500. Returning to Ireland to set up their own roasting business was a logical conclusion.

A taste-bud-opening visit to Carrow

Paola and Andrew are concentrating on roasting single origin coffee beans from small-scale farmers. They do compare themselves to winemakers and speak of the terroir of their coffee depending on the soil, the country and the climate the coffee is grown in. Beans are stored green, a state in which they can be kept without loss of quality or taste for about a year.

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And like the farmer who influences the coffee’s flavour through their choice of variety, harvesting and processing methods, coffee roasters like Andrew work with temperature, airflow and drum speed to create their own signature taste.

Roasting brings out the aroma and flavour that is locked inside the green coffee beans and Andrew tells us that he prefers light-to-medium roasts to create the best flavour. Although he uses his laptop to monitor the roasting process, he still uses the trier, a small device on the roasting machine, that he pulls out for manual inspection.  He tells us that freshly roasted beans still emanate Co2 in the first 7 days, that can lead to a bitter taste and recommends using the coffee beans only a week after the roasting date. That date is in his opinion more important for the consumer than a best before date, as coffee should ideally be drunk within a few months of its roasting date.

A Cupping Session

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After a short introduction to their business and philosophy they put us to work. Paola had five little glass flasks lined up and we had to sniff and identify the scent inside. And we can tell you, it wasn’t that simple to describe what we smelled and compare them to the smells of fruit, vegetables and other foods. After much probing and debating and with a little help from Paola we finally settled on hazelnuts, peach, cucumber (that was hard!), smoke and caramel.

Homework done, we were then treated to a wonderfully exciting cupping session by Andrew. He prepared four varieties for us, which we smelled dry, then brewed and finally slurped. Yes, we had to slurp to engage the olfactory system as well as our tongue. Apart from distinguishing different aromas and flavours the reason coffee professionals do this is to check for defects, such as an overly fermented or burnt taste.

We tasted Serra do Cigano from Brazil with a nutty taste, El Pensamiento from Guatemala, which had flavours of chocolate, and Negele from Ethiopia with fruity flavours like peach. It wasn’t that easy to remember the smells of the little flask from earlier and use them to tell the flavour of the coffees we tasted, but we both liked the Serra do Cigano and the unusual but round flavour of the Ethiopian coffee. Well, we are learning and this was hopefully just the beginning of our guided coffee tasting experience.

One of the reasons to visit Carrow and talk to Paola and Andrew was to meet the makers, so we have first hand information for our food tour.

Carrow coffee is available in Sligo at The Model café, Stoked in Strandhill and on the shelves of Kate’s Kitchen or go online

One last tip for brewing your perfect cup of coffee: Use 11 g of freshly ground coffee to 200 ml of water.

Enjoy your coffee!