Our Barista Stories series has been long in the making. Since our first visits to cafes around Europe, we have met many amazing baristas who have had a number of interesting stories to share. We love the speciality coffee community exactly for the people building it and are thrilled to introduce some of those individuals to you.
Baristas truly are the ones who contribute to the atmosphere in the cafe massively and are the key reason why we’d come back there.
Mr Gerard Martin O’Donohoe—Ger for short—is one of the baristas that many will know. The Dublin born-and-raised barista has worked in coffee for 19 years already. Today, Ger (36) lives in the Harold Cross area of Dublin and runs First Draft Coffee in Temple Bar, Dublin. As he says, it has “social, training, retail, wine bar and recruitment arms, as he gets bored very easily.”
A few questions for Ger O'Donohoe
What led you to coffee? Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?
I was managing newsagents when I left school. I came to work one day and there was a La Marzocco Linea on the counter with a note from my boss saying “we’re doing coffee now”. So I kinda had to figure it out! Drove me nuts dealing with something that smelled so amazing but tasted so bad. We made incredibly bad coffee for a long time.
The ‘decision’ to call myself a Barista wasn’t made til way later. I don't think I’d even heard the word until maybe around 2006 or so when I decided to specialise and really fell down the rabbit hole. There was a startling lack of information out there. I was really frustrated until I was introduced to competitions in ‘07 when I finally met some like-minded people who were in the same boat. Suddenly, we were ‘Baristas’ as we tried to figure it all out.
What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moment?
I consider the first few years of me making coffee a complete embarrassment! Let's just leave that there…
Well, Irish people, in general, are really funny, so there’s usually laughs to be had. One story I love is when a customer didn’t have enough change for his drink, so I took a sip, handed it back to him and charged him the amount he DID have.. I thought that was hilarious. Customer for life now, too! It is important to note, however, he was already a regular and I knew his sense of humour. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!
What would you do if you were not working in coffee?
I worked in theatre off and on for many years. My career to date is based on a coin toss. I was either going to go full time into theatre or coffee. Coffee won. But I sometimes wonder…
What is an unusual habit or hobby that you love?
Once upon a time, I was trying to be a rockstar. We got 2 albums and about 1000 gigs deep before calling it a day. So I still play the guitars quite a bit and wear spandex beneath a check shirt so I can feel like Dave Lee Roth when I’m making cappuccinos.
What are some bad recommendations you hear often in your profession?
I don’t think we should be talking about them! That just puts those bad habits in peoples heads BUT I will say, we’re getting better all the time. Focus on the positives.
What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?
Learn how to talk with people, and invest in a Puqpress.
Looking back, what one thing would you wish to know when you were starting to work as a barista?
The importance of scales, bench brushes and a decent haircut.
What qualities set a good and a great barista apart?
The ability to listen and empathise. Listening behind the bar is hugely important and it often surprises me how little it happens. It’s all part of knowing your surroundings, your customers and being able to maintain control of your space, service and workflow.
Empathy is just a positive mindset to have. We could all do with more mind you.
If you have a bad day at the cafe, what helps you to handle it and provide good customer service?
OK, I’m embarrassed to admit this but I’ve never learned to hide my bad days. It happens a lot less these days but I can’t fake it if I’m upset or pissed off. I never take it out on anyone but I can’t help but feel “I could have handled that better” sometimes. I guess I handle it with my humour, I’ve been able to laugh off the bad days mostly.
What is the one thing that you would miss the most if you could not work as a barista/in coffee anymore?
People! Talking to people specifically. I took a year off from coffee once for a year and worked in an office. I still have no idea how people do that every day. I wanted to kill myself by the end. Went back to coffee as fast as I could once I realised.
Imagine the perfect day in your city. Perhaps you have an old friend visiting. What would be top 3 to 5 activities or places you would show them?
The Fumbally, Underdog, Burdocks in that order. I’m sure there’s other stuff…
What do you consider some of the best experiences you have had in coffee so far?
There’s been so many.. Coffee service at TED in Vancouver, speaking at CoLAB in Barcelona are both big ones but opening my own space, hands down, has been the number one. I’d exhausted the bosses I could work for in Dublin.
Full Disclosure, I have a teeny weeny problem with authority figures and quite a large chip on my shoulder so having somewhere where everything is my responsibility has been incredibly humbling and peaceful in a weird way. I mean, It’s also maddening and I’m struggling like many out there, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Quick Fire Questions
Would you serve filter coffee with milk, if asked for it?