In the charming seaside city of Galway, Ireland, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with the salty sea breeze, a local hero has emerged as the champion of the Irish Brewers Cup. Meet Enda Johnston, a 27-year-old coffee aficionado and co-owner of Kali Coffee Bar, whose passion for brewing and people has driven him to new heights in the specialty coffee industry.
Enda’s journey in the world of coffee began seven years ago, and since then, he has honed his craft in Dublin, Galway, and even spent a year exploring the vibrant coffee scene of Amsterdam. With a solid foundation in coffee knowledge, Enda has acquired certifications such as SCA Sensory training from Utrecht and barista training from the Dublin Barista School.
However, Enda’s true breakthrough came in 2023 when he claimed the coveted title of Irish Brewers Cup winner. Enda’s theme was accessibility, and he showed this by making high-priced coffees more accessible to café patrons and ensuring that farmers get higher income and gratitude for their incredible work.
Enda, what is your first memory of coffee?
One day, I was walking down the main thoroughfare in Galway with a friend. One of the baristas of a local coffee shop was out on the street and asked us if we wanted to come into the shop and take part in a cupping. We hadn’t a clue what it was, but we decided to give it a go and try something new.
It turned out to be a cupping led by the guys at Coffee Collective in Copenhagen. I remember tasting the coffees and noticing differences in some of them on the table and my mind flipped like 4 times! How is this possible? Coffee has different tastes? There are varieties? I must know more. And that’s how it all started.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started? What did you do before coffee?
I was studying Civil Engineering in university and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I was searching all around me for something that would interest me and then I went to the cupping, that was the hook I needed. I became super interested in coffee. I ended up working in a quarry during the week and then spent the weekends working in a cafe. I was fully committed to coffee by the end of my degree and the minute I graduated I took a full-time job in the cafe where I had that first cupping experience.
Tell us a bit about your place – Kali Coffee Bar.
Kali is a small little hideaway on the west coast of Ireland, in Galway. We are a small team of 3 that is super passionate about coffee. Our motto is coffee with intention. We don’t like to do anything just for show. Everything must have a purpose and must have a function, from the brewing all the way to the customer experience.
We want to give people a real experience of quality and make coffee as accessible to as many people as possible while also paying respects to the farmers’/pickers’ efforts and the bean itself. We want it to be inclusive and inviting for all that may be curious about coffee, this is not a place for them to fear asking a question, or dare I say it, asking for milk in their filter coffee. Educate and respect, that’s the way forward for the industry.
What kind of experience do you want your customers to have when they visit you at the cafe?
I want people to not be intimidated about coming into a specialty coffee spot. I want to create an experience that allows customers to feel welcome and comfortable to explore and try new things so they experience new flavours. I want them to learn something new about coffee with every visit they make. With every visit a customer makes to Kali I want them to get a little insight into our passion for the craft.
What is your favourite part of the day in your cafe, and why?
I have two favourite times of the day. The first is right when we open in the morning. It’s quiet before the rush and you can take the time to chat with the first customers, dial into the coffees of the day and set yourself up well for the rest of what the day brings. My other favourite time is right when we close, that’s when we get together and experiment on anything that we are curious about with brewing filters and espressos. Usually, it’s trying to debunk myths.
How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep improving your coffee-making skills?
Designating time every week to do coffee experiments as a team. We come together, ask questions about coffee and brewing and see if we can find the answers and learn more about it. This has been one of the biggest motivations for us. It’s so much fun when you learn something new, you’re so buzzed to then implement it into the normal cafe procedures and enhance the experience for customers and yourself.
You have some amazing achievements in championships. Can you tell us more about them? How do you approach the preparations for the upcoming World Brewers Cup in Athens?
Thank you! It has been one of the most rewarding and incredible experiences of my life. My approach to the Irish Brewers Championships and to the upcoming world championships in Athens is to stay true to myself. As cliche as it is.
Do things that mean more to me. I mean that for every aspect of the championships, from choosing a coffee, to brewing technique, to what I’m going to wear on the day. Be me at every step. There is no point choosing a coffee that I think will do better even if I don’t actually love the taste of it, or a brewing device that’s new and improved for the sake of something that’s new. If it doesn’t excite me, if it doesn’t mean something to me, what is the point?
The more you embody everything you do, the more it is you and is exactly what you want to do with the coffee you love, the more unique your routine is and the better chance, I believe, you have of winning. The more you stand out. Like I said above, coffee with intention. Do not do things for show. It has to mean something to you.
You had a very important message to share during your Brewers Cup open-service presentation. Can you share it with us?
My message is simple. To make coffee more accessible and more inviting to people. We need to pay more respect to the producers of the coffees we brew and we also need to pay more respect to the consumers that we serve those coffees too. I have chosen coffees, for my routine, which anyone can go online and buy from the roaster’s website.
I want my routine to be structured in a way that allows any barista to be able to replicate it right after watching it. They don’t need to buy or source coffee or equipment that will take weeks to arrive and will be outrageously expensive. Hopefully making competition, especially here in Ireland, more accessible.
What is in your opinion the most important thing to have in mind when you start to compete in coffee championships?
As I said above. Stay true to yourself and your values whether it be personal or coffee related. This will make the competition and your routine mean more to you and will be more fulfilling and will make that winning feeling a bit sweeter.
What coffee challenges are you looking forward to except the World Championship? Any new projects or collaborations?
would love to help encourage more baristas to compete in the Brewers Cup in Ireland. I want to make it more inviting and rewarding for them as I feel it will help improve the industry so much here. That’s the next challenge.
Quick Fire Questions for Enda Johnston:
Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?