Occasionally, I'll come across a faded good review clipped from a newspaper hanging on the wall of a cafe. 3FE has a shelf filled with trophies from the Irish barista championships instead. This is one of a number of signs that suggest that 3FE is not simply another cafe.
With a bright, airy and almost industrial interior, and the hum of conversation, traffic and tunes in the air, this is the most recent incarnation of 3FE. A micro roastery in a third floor apartment became a shared space in a bookstore on Middle Abbey Street, and finally a standalone cafe / retail space on Grand Canal Street. The location has changed over the last year or two, but the quality of coffee is as good as ever.
There is a good retail section, with a large selection of coffees from a number of different regions. Different brewing methods are catered for also - I saw an Aeropress and a Chemex woodneck on display. Both are good alternatives to espresso based drinks, with the Chemex using a paper filter to give a clean extraction, and the Aeropress using a partial vacuum to extract flavour.
As always, I started with a single espresso shot. An espresso shot tells me a lot about the quality of coffee in any cafe - for example, whether or not the beans are fresh. Despite its deceptively simple appearance, a good shot is the product of a number of different variables - grind size, extraction time and pressure. Getting it right is not simply a question of pushing a button and hoping for the best - so a well executed shot speaks volumes about the barista - it's the end result of hours of practice, and patience.
The espresso shot arrived with a dark red / brown crema, which I associate with freshly roasted beans. The volume was somewhere between a ristretto and an espresso - this tells me that the extraction time was correct, which gives a shot that is not too bitter (under extracted) or harsh (over extracted). There was a smooth, rich flavour which reminded me of brown sugar or licorice, with no harsh or burnt notes, and a syrupy, not astringent, mouthfeel - everything I look for in a well executed shot.
The cappuccino that I ordered paired velvety smooth microbubbles with the underlying coffee character of the shot above. The espresso is not drowned out by the steamed milk - it's still there - but it is complemented by the smoothness of the foam. The end result is a hybrid of potent espresso tempered by smoothness.
One thing that I noticed (apart from the well executed latte art) is that the barista asked if I wanted one or two espresso shots - this is a nice touch, allowing different tastes and preferences to be catered for. There is also a drip bar, for anyone who prefers pourover coffees, with three different blends (la pira, la perla and mugera) on the menu. Small details can also tell me a lot about a cafe - the weighing scale on the counter is a good example. This suggests that specific weights of ground coffee are used for each type of coffee bean - it's another indication of time and effort spent to produce quality coffee.
The staff deserve a special mention also, engaged and knowledgeable about coffee, a passion for what they do shines through. Good things happen when people follow their passion - the proof was sitting on the table in front of me, in the form of a perfect espresso shot.