Coffee Query: Julie Murray, Gather & Gather
Julie Murray has been in coffee for 20 years. From starting in Bewley's at a time when latte art was a new concept, to judging some of the first barista competitions, to recently roasting for Cloud Picker and developing the coffee programs within Gather & Gather - Julie has been one of the founders of speciality coffee in Ireland.
Brimming with knowledge, history, & a generous helping of stories, she's incredible to work with, & Dublin is lucky to have her!
What got you into coffee and what’s kept you in coffee?
There was an opening for a job at Bewley’s and it said “Customer Trainer” - I don’t even think the word ‘barista’ was on the ad - y’know, it wasn’t a word that was used in the early days - barista wasn’t a known word. Tampers weren’t even a thing! So, I went to talk to them, and I ended up getting a job there as their barista trainer, and it was great, and I loved it! I couldn’t drive, actually, so it was a big learning curve there as well when they gave me the company car that I couldn’t drive! Crazy time learning to drive in the city centre!
In Bewley’s they were just after having David Schomer over - he had just been a few months before I started, and he had shown them latte art. So, latte art was new to me - this was in ’99, or toward the end of ’98 - but we were up in their training room, and Bewley’s at the time was based in Townsend St., in city centre, before they moved to where they are now - it was a much smaller roastery, employing approx. 60 people - it was cool! I locked myself in a room for a day to learn latte art - there was no video or anything, there was just the book, and I was just making coffee until I “got it” - and I think my level of skill with it has remained the same since - I was never good with latte art! [laughs]
The industry has evolved so much since then, gosh, everything was so different to what is is now - and it really wasn’t that long ago, but I loved it - I started training, and I just love working with people. I love that lightbulb moment with somebody when they “get it” - what you’re trying to teach.
Bewley’s was great for sending us on courses, and sending us to conventions and seminars - I was at the first barista championships down in Monte Carlo in 2000, which was hilarious. I mean, the cappuccinos were being served with chocolate sauce on top, and chocolate powder and patterns! It was mad, I think there were about 16 competitors. Ireland had this guy, Luis [Criado], who was Spanish, and we were like, “He makes good coffee, let’s send him.” I don’t remember where he placed, but it was amazing!
And then, the next one I went to was Oslo, 2002, when I judged for the first time, and that was much better. It’s so funny - looking at where Ireland is with coffee culture right now, compared to where we’ve come from. We have come such a long way, and I get a kick out of young Baristas saying things like, "Oh yeah 5 years ago you couldn’t get a good coffee in Ireland," – it's all relative, isn’t it? But Oslo was great - there was a barista who rocked up - an Australian barista, I think, a girl - and for her signature drink she put in a slice of venison into the bottom of the cup, espresso on top of it, steamed her milk with kangaroo stock, and sprinkled juniper berries on the top! Served it to them, all drinking it with straight faces. Very different.
Thinking about it, I don’t have a religion. Coffee is my church, and all the people in it. That sounds quite naff, but you know what I mean..!
And Ger, actually - I trained Ger years ago. Ger used to work in a place, Bon Espresso, that sold Bewley’s coffee, and he was just such a.. such a jumped-up pup! He was so full of attitude - I would just come and in and we would bounce off each other. He was just so funny.
What have been your favourite coffees, both in filter and as espresso?
Ever-ever? Very recently, I was given what’d be called a ‘god shot’ - my first would’ve been years and years ago, on my first Seattle WBC trip in 2005, in Cafe Vita, that was just gorgeous. I have no memory of what it was, but it was markedly a moment that was just, “Ahhhh!”
But the recent one was from The Happy Pear! It was from The Barn in Berlin, a Kenyan. And it was competition standard, for sure. I don’t know what way the lads pulled it, but it was just unbelievable.
And filter? Whatever way Ariosa did their Ethopian Rocko Mountain coffee - it was just gorgeous. Really lovely. Michael’s done a great job on the roaster - he’s just very open and welcoming; a good supplier!
What’s your home coffee setup?
My grinder, this is dinosaur-esque, but I have a KitchenAid Pro Line grinder! I’ve had it for years, and I’m on my second/third set of blades on it, and I love it! We mainly use an Aeropress at home, but I have a Chemex as well, for when we have a few more people. I have a siphon as well, which came with the flame heater - which was rubbish, but I recently borrowed a halogen heater, and I LOVE that. But I’d only have coffee at home at the weekends!
Where do you want Dublin/Ireland’s coffee culture to develop next?
I would like to see more roasters talking to each other! They’re working very much on their own - and I’m coming from a roaster’s perspective as well, where you have to protect your own business and your own path - but really, I want to see roasters talking and uniting the way baristas have. Baristas are very much more open, there’s a lovely community, a lovely culture, and everybody is learning fast. I don’t think that there’s enough communication there among roasters in Ireland, and there is a need, and there is a want there - so for them to have some kind of platform to fill that gap would be good.
It’d be for the betterment of coffee in Ireland - to learn and share. You could still keep the secrets about your blend and your profile or whatever you want, y’know what I mean?
Also, a green broker in Ireland would be great! Roasters here would all benefit from that as well.
Who’s someone you admire in coffee?
Oh god, how far do I go back? Stephen Morrissey when he was a young lad - we would’ve talked a lot about coffee, and he was really curious and always full of questions, so I would teach him as much as I knew up until a point where he went beyond me as I started having babies! My brain turned to porridge and I paused my quest for knowledge about coffee, and he’d be ringing me to fire off these questions that I had no answers to, and I’d have to say, “Oh Stephen, you know what, you’re gonna have to ring somebody else, ‘cause I just don’t know!”
But I remember realising that he was really going to go far - he was a great musician in college, good pianist, and he struggled, “Do I stick with music or do I stick with coffee? What do I do?” And he went with coffee, so that was interesting to see that, fair play to him, before he moved to the States to work for Intelligensia. Hats off to him - and then winning in 2008 as well - he’s brilliant; a great guy.
I suppose my long time coffee person who would regularly talk coffee and discuss all things coffee and our bits of gossip with would be Jackie Malone. She’s always there to give advice, & I love her to bits!
And y’know, years ago, Patrick Bewley used to rock into the training room with his Melitta one-cup brewer and his little filter paper, and we’d be looking at him going, “Look at yer man; look at him making coffee!” And here it is now - it’s a thing!
Oh, there’s so many people, for so many reasons. In terms of judging, Tone Elin Liavaag - she developed the judging format for WBC - she was great to be around!
Also Joel at Espresso Project - he challenges all the rules, and he does things very, very differently - he’s amazing. And he’s also responsible for a big part of the coffee community out in Celbridge, and is really generous with his time and knowledge. He took a filter for the Aeropress, put it into a VST basket, & dropped the pressure way down and ran a shot for a minute, & it was delicious..! Crazy stuff.
Ian Kelly is amazing as well - possibly the best engineer out there that I’ve ever worked with.
Gosh, you have me talking in a time warp - there are so many great coffee moments. Like, imagine how it was trying to convince someone that they have to have a tamper, and for them to not just throw it in the bin as we try to convince them not to just push the coffee against the grinder? And cleaning the machine - I’ve dropped screens where there’s been mould behind them! Shocking shit. We got a service call once from a pub in town over the holiday weekend where someone had thrown in loads of chocolate buttons into the hopper - someone had thought they were coffee beans - and the grinder heated, melted the chocolate..mad stuff! Mice in the back of coffee machines - it was such a different world.
There are so many people though - there would be a list of about 30 people who deserve a shout out..!
What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in your field?
Just remember that nothing is set in stone, I suppose. Always keep an open mind - because what we know about practice and procedures now has completely changed from years ago. Listen. Ultimately, taste - now, there are more geeks involved, but their heads aren’t up, and the customer is a bit lost - there are places where the machines and the recipes are bang-on, but they don’t make enough eye contact! And really, just remember the customer, and you see that with some people at a competition level as well!
Like, if I’m training, I don’t even go near weighing scales in the first session. Because if somebody’s raw, really raw, you gotta get them to move first. And if you start hitting them with figures, then I don’t feel they’ll conquer their fear of a hot steamy machine..! It’s great that there’s new stuff out there, but just, y’know, lift your chin up!
For somebody just coming into the industry, they have to learn the basic customer service part first, before even talking about coffee.
What are you drinking now?
I’ve got a Colombian from Huila, and it’s lovely! Climpson & Sons.