Updated: Feb 27, 2020
As mentioned last week, the Cafe Corner is BACK! This week, I visited 3fe next to Grand Canal Dock. Recently, someone the r/Dublin subreddit requested coffee recommendations, and 3fe was mentioned a few times. It's not hard to see why. Just from browsing their website, it is clear that the people at 3fe take coffee seriously. Firstly, they have many guides online called 'Brew Guides' which include information on how to make a good cup of coffee at home. They also offer classes on location for home brewers and wannabe baristas. I think after all this wedding stuff is wrapped up, I will definitely give the Brew Class a try. I would love to learn more about what actually goes into a cup of coffee and what makes one better than the next (based on more than just more of my own, silly, criteria). The creator of 3fe is also a well-known barista champion. The guy even sold his car to buy an espresso set-up for his apartment in order to practice for barista competitions! The name 3fe represents his experience of having the espresso set up on the third floor of his apartment. If that isn't enough evidence for how seriously the people at 3fe take their coffee, then I don't know what is.
Before my visit to 3fe, the Independent Coffee Guide for Ireland arrived in the mail. When I flipped through it, I was surprised to see that 3fe was not listed. 3fe roast their own beans and seem to have infiltrated the coffee communities in Dublin with their product, so I am not sure how it slipped through the cracks when the guide was updated. I suppose it was up to me to see what the story was. With the Reddit recommendations and great impression from their website, I suggested to my friend Niamh that we try it out on a coffee date. Oh, and sorry for the shitty photos! I forgot to bring my camera!
3fe is located a short walk away from Grand Canal Dock. It is easily accessed from the Grand Canal Dock DART station. To get there, I took the 39 bus from UCD and walked from Fitzwilliam Street. The outside of the cafe is subdued and not flashy. It's easy to step inside. When I got there, there was a mixed crowd of people: men in suits, people studying and some tourists too. 3fe closes at 5:30 which is 30 minutes later than a lot of other coffee shops in Dublin, so it's a good one to pick for a late afternoon coffee date.
When you walk in, you notice right away that there are a lot of coffee machines (devices?) at the counter. It's almost high-tech. If you are eating or drinking in, go to the counter on the left to order. After you pay, they'll give you a giant clothespin with a number on it and you can pick a table to chill at. It's light and airy in the cafe. The natural light from the windows is lovely. There are no posh vibes to found, unlike some South Dublin independent coffee places. There are Barista and Bean Scene magazines for you to peruse should you choose to do so. The baristas seemed friendly and were happy enough to chat with customers while we were there. The atmosphere generally was simple and well-executed. The music was a little loud, but it didn't stop me and Niamh having the craic.
Now, this all sounds very nice so far, but here's the thing: no caramel lattes. I repeat, no caramel lattes. When I approached the counter to order a caramel latte, I was told: "we don't do syrups". Bring on the head spin. This really surprised me. Never in my time of coffee enjoyment in Dublin and beyond has this happened to me before. The cashier's rejection of my caramel request made my brain jump into a pool of anxiety and made me feel like some sort of peasant just for asking. It leaves me wondering, am I doing this coffee thing all wrong? Am I some sort of less-than coffee consumer for wanting a dash of caramel sweetness in my coffee? The vibe of this place is that they take coffee seriously, so does that mean my caramel lattes aren't serious enough?
Also, when I went up to order, I noticed that lattes as a whole were not listed on the menu. Now, it is completely possible that I just missed it with all the PhD nonsense swirling around my head. Regardless, this lack of lattes disturbed me at the time. It also made me anxious even just ordering one- like I was doing something wrong. When I ordered my latte I was frazzled and also forgot to ask if they had any non-dairy options, so we are really going off the rails for what is supposed to be a blog series about caramel lattes with non-dairy milk. It definitely makes for an interesting start to my "rebranding" of Cafe Corner. Overall, my ordering experience was a bit frazzling in a very short amount of time.
After getting my latte, I sat back, and relaxed and enjoyed it. Enjoying coffee at 3fe is not hard to do. While I was disappointed and anxious for a moment, the coffee brought me right back to earth. My latte was PHENOMENAL and this brings me on to my judgy scores.
TEXTURE - The texture of this standard latte was fantastic. This latte was light and had a good balance between watery and creamy. There was not a chance that the texture would make me feel bloated. It was many steps above the texture your casual at-home coffee. If all my coffees at home had this consistency, I would be delighted. This latte also did not leave any of that slick, weird feeling in your mouth after a sip. My score for texture is 4.5/5. I took .5 off of the score because personally, I like my lattes to be a tiny bit thicker. But in all seriousness, the texture was silky and smooth and awesome.
TASTE - Even without the caramel syrup, this coffee tasted AMAZING. I think this was one of the first times in my life where I took a sip of plain coffee, and could really taste different notes (?) coming through. What those notes were, I have no idea. If I hadn't been so anxious I would have asked! The taste of this brew was not overbearing and yummy as heck. The aftertaste wasn't strong at all. This coffee wouldn't leave you with any coffee breath (I think, lol sorry Niamh if that wasn't the case). My score for taste is 5/5.
FOAM - Foam ties in with texture, but it merits its own score because too little or too much foam can ruin a coffee. This latte from 3fe didn't have a big head of foam. Instead, somehow the foam was balanced throughout and not exactly sitting on the top. I actually really liked how it elevated the texture of the whole latte, and the milk was so beautifully blended into the coffee. My score for foam is 4.5/5. I took .5 off because, with less foam on the top, there was no moment for me to stir the latte and blend the foamy milk in a bit more. I like that moment of just stirring the latte and taking in the aroma. But seriously this latte was incredibly well balanced and the foam was great.
PRICE - This latte cost €3.65. This is pretty on par for a lot of coffee places around here, especially since the beans are roasted by the same company. For this, I give it a score of 3/5. It is a typical price, so an average score is warranted. Also, the latte was served in a smaller cup. I think lattes are usually served in larger portions than cappuccinos and I didn't really get that from my 3fe latte, so it wasn't the best value, but not bad either.
ATMOSPHERE - When I rebooted my Cafe Corner series, I completely forgot the importance of atmosphere and the experience when thinking of how I would judge my caramel lattes. So, I am adding to the scoring as of right now. The experience and setting in 3fe reminded me that coffee can only be as good as the atmosphere it was brewed in! I feel conflicted about 3fe. The way coffee options are presented is a bit confusing and definitely contribute to a very serious vibe in the place. I can't decide whether the abundance of coffee material scattered throughout puts me off or makes me more interested in coming back. I think I'm going to have to go back to re-evaluate how I feel about the vibe at 3fe. It's only fair to return when I'm less anxious. One thing I liked is that it definitely felt like anyone was welcome to stay and have a coffee as long as they wanted, and that is the most essential element for any independent coffee shop (after the coffee of course). My score for atmosphere and experience is 3/5 because I literally cannot decide and it seems about average for now.
Some of the things I didn't like about 3fe was the obvious caramel situation and how lattes weren't even on the listed menu (someone PLEASE CORRECT ME is I'm wrong on this). I also wasn't impressed with the options for the pastry type snacks. I didn't see even one GF option there. This sucks for someone with IBS on the FODMAP diet, (reduced wheat is required when starting this out), or any celiacs out there. Many places offer at least one little GF option so I was disappointed that there weren't any. However, the full food menu looked like it was more FODMAP friendly which is great!
Some of the things I liked about 3fe was that as they were closing, they offered leftover pastries to any remaining customers. I think this is great, not just because people get free stuff but also because it is less wasteful. Last time Niamh and I got coffee elsewhere, we noticed that at closing time, a TON of baked goods were just tossed away. Another thing I liked was when I finished my little latte and pulled some journal articles out to read before Niamh found me; I didn't get any looks from the employees implying that I'm hogging a potential table just to read and not order anything else. I felt totally welcome to get a bit of work done while waiting for a friend. Even as they were closing, there was no serious pressure to boot people out. That was done by the great gesture of giving away the leftovers which is far nicer. Lastly, I loved the presentation of the latte. The art on top was simple and elegant. Presentation isn't everything, but it sure adds a bit of fun to any coffee experience.
My total score for a 3fe Latte is 20/25, or 80%.
Overall, the experience at 3fe was interesting. Now that I've enjoyed a serious latte there, I am still curious about why this amazing coffee isn't included in the Independent Coffee Guide. I may completely disagree with the caramel syrup snobbery, but there is no denying that their coffee is incredible. I suspect this comes down to the quality of the beans that they develop themselves. No latte or cappuccino can be great if the beans suck. I just think I need to come back again to really make a decision about how I feel about the overall vibe.
Would I recommend 3fe to a friend or visitor? I would.
Anyways, catch the next Cafe Corner blog post in about a week when I stop by the new working space/cafe on Stephens Green called These Hands Coffee.
A quick update: I previously stated that 3fe was not included in the Indy Coffee Guide. However, it actually IS. It isn't one of the main places featured, but it is in another list at the very back along with several other cafes around Dublin.