For Laura Kelly and Enda Johnston, the recipe for opening their own coffee shop had several unexpected ingredients: a chance coffee cupping, a stint in Amsterdam, a pandemic, and a puppy. And while the usually crowded streets of Galway, Ireland, may be quiet due to the current lockdown, the daily queue outside their specialty coffee shop, Kali Coffee Bar, stretches down the street, even on rainy winter days. Situated just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean in Galway’s Salthill neighbourhood, Kali Coffee Bar opened in January 2021 and has quickly become a local favourite.
Kali’s story began in 2015, when Johnston happened upon a coffee cupping at Galway mainstay, Coffeewerk + Press.
“At the time,” Johnston recalls, “I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. I was drinking fairly dark roast, thinking it tastes bad, but I’ll battle through it so I can say I’m a coffee drinker. Then I went to the tasting, and my mind was blown.”
It didn’t take long for this newfound zeal to manifest in courses at the Dublin Barista School, barista work in Bear Market IFSC in Dublin, and practicing together on weekends on their home espresso machine. Things came full circle when, in 2018, Johnston was hired as a barista in Coffeewerk + Press, where just years ago he had been introduced to specialty coffee.
In early 2019, Kelly and Johnston moved to Amsterdam, where Kelly worked for the Coffee Virus and Johnston worked for Google, managing a coffee shop for their offices. It was in Amsterdam that the two solidified their aesthetic vision for an eventual coffee shop of their own:
“In the Netherlands,” Johnston said, “design was at the forefront. I found myself walking down the street and wanting to go in places regardless of what they were selling. We wanted something similar, a place people would want to be in, almost an oasis away from things. A little nook.”
Kali Coffee Bar’s interior combined that aesthetic goal with the owners’ mission to keep their environmental impact in mind. Johnston explained, “With everything we do, global warming awareness and eco-friendly aspects are a huge factor. So the aesthetic of the shop was to bring that in. It’s minimal, it’s clean, lots of natural light, natural colours, and vegetation.”
The shop is indeed minimal, a clean blend of fresh white walls lined with neat shelves, rustic wood seating, and a tranquil forest green behind the coffee bar that reflects the abundance of plants throughout. The simple design makes coffee the focus, which is important, considering Kelly and Johnston’s resolve to make the world of specialty coffee a comfortable place for everyone.
“At Kali, we want to make coffee more accessible to all,” Kelly said. “We want it to be an open and welcoming space for everyone who visits, whether that’s a coffee geek who could chat filters and carbon macerated processes all day or your average Joe who just wants their coffee to go. Your friendly neighbourhood spot for really good coffee.” She added that, when it is safe, they plan to host cuppings and tastings, as well as events like book clubs, art exhibits, and educational talks on coffee and climate change.
Kali Coffee Bar uses a La Marzocco Linea PB and a Mahlkön E65S grinder, as well as a Hario V60 for their filter coffee. They’ve partnered with Barna-based Calendar Coffee roasters and currently are serving Calendar’s Teamwork Espresso, a single-origin Columbian coffee grown between the Magdalena River and the Andes Mountains, but plan to change this every three to four months, and to incorporate other local roasters when they get their second grinder, a Mahlkönig EK43S.
While opening a new coffee shop during a pandemic may seem risky, Kelly and Johnston have chosen to view the positives. Current lockdown restrictions mean coffee shops are one of the few places people can visit, leading to an increased interest in specialty coffee. Plus, the additional time at home during initial months of the lockdown afforded them extra hours for construction and planning.
The name Kali Coffee Bar was inspired by a puppy Johnston adopted in 2020, who had been rescued from a puppy farm. Though she was only three months old, due to poor conditions at that farm, Kali had terminal kidney issues and, heartbreakingly, had to be put down.
“It was this experience we had with Kali that spurred us to just go for it with the café,” Kelly recalls. “She taught us to just go for it and live life to the fullest. We named the café after her, because she made such an impact on our lives in just the month we had her. We want the café to make an impact on people’s lives.”
Stepping into Kali Coffee Bar, this spirit of love and passion is evident: “It’s very personal for me, coffee,” Johnston said. “Even now, people are sad, they’re lonely, but they can come in for coffee and say hello…[Coffee] forces you to connect.”
Kelly echoed this sentiment, adding, “To actually be in Kali every day serving up espresso, it’s a dream come true.”