Three coffee shops in County Kerry’s largest town
After Starbucks made its Dublin debut in November 2005, Fast Company ran an essay exploring what it dubbed the “The Starbucks Effect,” looking not at the impact of the coffee but the symbolism of the opening and the brand’s implications for business and efficiency: “It is the hallmark of our global economy—the continuous emergence of new competitors with superior business models that force us to reconsider the viability of what we’ve always done. And it will only grow more intense.”
Well, since then Starbucks has certainly established its footprint in Ireland, seemingly with 80 locations across the country. But so too has the quantity and quality of the country’s independent roasters and coffeeshops. Last year, I picked up a copy of the Ireland Independent Coffee Guide, while sipping a flat white at one Dublin exemplar, Clement & Pekoe (50 S. William St.).
It’s a well-organized, hefty yet accessible guide to the well-burgeoned coffee scene. The use of “independent” refers to the coffeeshops themselves, without any trace of affiliation with the newspaper. (The immediate consequence of this purchase was a traffic-heavy detour through Celbridge, Kildare to sample a taste of Baobab Coffee Roasters.) But when I flipped through the recommendations for County Kerry, where we were destined, the book listed only a single option: the Bean in Dingle, an ideal spot but an hour-and-a-half drive from our place in Listowel.
So it has been a bit of a personal pleasure over the past year to uncover a few great options in Kerry’s county town, Tralee, that deserve inclusion in any such guide.
Unexpectedly tucked in to the Manor West retail park / shopping complex, I only found The Bookshelf due to a sign out front while we were shopping for a high-chair at Mothercare. At that point, I hadn’t had a good cup of coffee in days (oh, the horror!) and made an entrance after wrapping up our errands, stepping in the door at 5:01 p.m. The coffee shop had closed a minute earlier, but the baristas refused to send me out without making me a flat white (accompanied by a chocolate chip cookie) for takeaway. They’ve been in my good graces ever since.
The original Cork location is indeed included in the Ireland Independent Coffee Guide, and the Bookshelf has become something of a mini-chain with a second location having opened in Cork City as well as the Tralee branch. They stock beans from The Barn Coffee Roasters in Berlin, their baristas seem well trained, and their food menu is absolutely divine. Also, we’ve never once stepped foot in the space without meeting another young family with a baby.
Say what you will about millennial affections for avocado, but smash one on a toasted slab of Bácús Bhréanainn brown sourdough, and you can’t go wrong. Spread a touch of fresh butter over their raspberry and white chocolate scones, and you might melt. And Eliza goes giddy for the porridge with fresh berries, banana, granola, and almond butter dappling its oats. The Bookshelf has become a family favorite of ours, and it remains, by far, Eliza’s top pick.
I first learned of Ugly Mug from another parent at The Bookshelf who suggested the coffee was well worth a visit and the owners were more than deserving of support. They opened the shop over a year ago now, having moved back to Ireland after five years in New Zealand. When I finally stopped in after a slow line at the adjacent post office, Ugly Mug featured Badger & Dodo beans, and I somehow, and quite sadly, escaped without caving in for any of the baked goods tantalizing on the counter. They also offer plenty of affordable sandwiches, including vegetarian and vegan options. There’s a tucked away space in the back that’s a cozy respite. So far, I’ve only been able to stop in once for a quick takeaway cup, but it really was perfectly done and I’ll be looking forward to making plenty more visits while in town in the future.
The coffee shops of Tralee have a recurring pattern of being good spots for food too, and in our experience the Roast House hasn’t let us down. The owners roast their beans on-site, and if I remember a conversation last year correctly, I believe one of the co-owners fell in love with coffee in Boston and San Francisco before returning home to Kerry. A massive space, with typically strong wifi, it’s also located on the central Denny Street, so it’s most proximate to parking and ideal as a central meeting place.
All those years ago, after Fast Company’s take on the arrival of Starbucks in Ireland, I wrote a letter to the editor: “As the attitudes and approaches to business, social, and community life diffuse from the modernized, European- and globally focused, competitive environment of Dublin (and to a lesser degree, other Irish cities) into the rest of the countryside, it will be a true test whether the Starbucks effect, if not a global imperative, becomes an Irish imperative.”
Well, a little more than a decade later, it’s remarkable to chart how the global journeys of Irish emigrants who’ve returned home and Irish residents who’ve traveled abroad have inspired many of the coffee choices across the country, with their mark thankfully also made in Tralee. And if you’re looking for a local Starbucks, you’ll still have to drive about an hour and a half to Limerick.