Behind the Scenes: Creating a Specialty-Coffee Map in Northern Ireland

Mitchell and Bethany McComb share their journey of creating a specialty-coffee map.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Feature photo by Berna Deniz via Pexels

We live in a technology-driven world, one of digital maps and databases that allow us to travel and find information quickly and easily. We can type the word “coffee“ into our Maps app to find the nearest coffee shop in seconds. But for those who are looking for a more unique and personal experience, nothing beats the joy of discovering specialty-coffee shops by holding an actual map in your hands. 

Designing a print specialty-coffee map to capture the essence of these places is no easy feat, so we spoke to those who have done just that: the creators behind NI Coffee Maps. I had a conversation with Mitchell and Bethany McComb, who have spent the last couple of years traveling across Northern Ireland to create a map of specialty-coffee shops. They shared their journey—from sourcing local stories to illustrating the final product—and gave us a glimpse into what it takes to turn this passion project into reality.

A wood grain table top with the dark green NI Coffee Map. The map is folded closed, with illustrated map lines in black on the green background, and a white flower above a white box outline with the word coffee in bold, an NI written above it inside the box line, and Map written below inside the box line.
The third volume of the NI Coffee Map, seen here, is soon to be released, with more to follow. Photo courtesy of Mitchell and Bethany McComb.

Exploring Specialty Coffee Through Print

I fell in love with specialty coffee in 2016, when I was living in Dublin, Ireland.  I found within the coffee community a level of curiosity and creativity that was both inspiring and humbling. On my travels around Northern Ireland, I noticed a coffee map in print in a quaint seaside town called Portrush; it was the Causeway Coast specialty-coffee map by NI Coffee Maps. 

My curiosity was piqued and my admiration doubled just by the fact that this was print media. It made me wonder why we don’t have more of these in existence. After all, they offer a unique experience to discover specialty-coffee shops through tangible media.

Two coffee maps. On the left is one for Dublin City. On its cover is an illustrated hand on a bright pink background, pointing to a spot on a blue map surface. On the right is the Causeway Coast map, which is blue and has black and white illustrations of people with tiny heads and exaggerated bodies drinking coffee out of mugs.
The author’s own specialty-coffee maps. On the right is the first volume of Causeway Coast by NI Coffee Maps, before Mitchell and Bethany took over. Photo by Vasileia Fanarioti.

That is exactly what Mitchell and Bethany did with NI Coffee Maps, which they bought in late 2021. “Since then, we have been traveling across the country, meeting coffee shop owners and exploring so many new locations that have been opening up, and sharing our recommendations on social media,” Bethany said.

Mitchell, a tall redheaded man, wears a backpack and walks down an Irish street holding a coffee to-go cup.
To design a specialty-coffee map means being on the road a lot and exploring specialty-coffee shops, as Mitchell is here. Photo courtesy of Mitchell and Bethany McComb.

From Idea to Reality

The first owners of NI Coffee Maps had managed to print a few maps, including the Causeway Coast and Belfast maps. Mitchell and Bethany wanted to continue this with their own version. “We knew we wanted to do another physical, fold-out map and are so excited to finally be only a few short weeks away from launching,“ they said.

The process of creating a specialty-coffee map is time consuming and challenging. It requires a lot of research into the local specialty-coffee scene, including thorough investigation into each shop and its owners to ensure accuracy and reliability, as well as detailed illustrative work and extensive map layout. 

Plus, print media doesn’t allow for flexibility or real-time updates. “It’s been challenging with print media, as new places are opening so regularly, but we had to set a firm cut-off date, or we’d never be able to put out a new map,“ Mitchell says. 

As for the illustration part, they got help from a friend. “Neither of us have a design background. Thankfully one of our dear friends from church, Emma, is a very skilled designer, so we got her on board to bring our vision to life—and we’re thrilled with the work she has done,“ they said.

The inside of an older NI coffee map of the Causeway Coast. It features illustrations of people, plants, animals, and vehicles along with water features and points representing the featured coffee shops.
Volume one of the Causeway Coast map by NI Coffee Maps’ previous owners. Photo by Vasileia Fanarioti.

Meeting the People Behind Specialty-Coffee Shops 

The specialty-coffee industry has opened a lot of doors for Bethany and Mitchell, from getting invited to openings and special events to connecting with staff and owners. Behind the scenes, however, is a lot of hard work that goes into making the map—from coordinating between coffee shops to keeping up with new openings and closures. I asked them what their favorite part of putting together the coffee map was.

“Getting to meet so many new people and build those connections over coffee has definitely been the highlight so far,“ they replied. “We have been so fortunate to spend a lot of time in coffee shops. … To hear some of the amazing stories of owners and how they decided to finally follow that dream of opening a coffee shop, or the origin of the shop name, for instance.“

Mitchell on the left wears a knit sweater and Bethany, with long blonde hair, wears a white turtleneck and jeans. They stand in front of a red brick wall.
Mitchell (left) is a client partner in a Fintech company and Bethany is a nurse. Photo courtesy of Mitchell and Bethany McComb.

The duo has learned a lot through the process of creating their specialty-coffee map. They recommend that anyone wishing to create a specialty-coffee map from scratch should be prepared for the challenges and embrace them. “It’s remarkably rewarding to pursue a passion project like this, and there are so many ways to be involved in the coffee community without opening a coffee shop yourself,” they commented.

Discover New Places and Support Local Business

One of the biggest lessons to come out of this process for Bethany and Mitchell was to realize the immense pressure that coffee shops are under. They point out that prices along their supply chain have risen dramatically in recent months, yet many business owners are doing what they can not to raise prices for customers.

“We would love to encourage readers to go out and support your local independent coffee shops, to speak to those in store and learn their stories—some are absolutely incredible,“ they said. “And finally, we’d also definitely recommend the Northern Ireland coffee scene. We truly believe it rivals the best in Europe, so we’d definitely encourage all of your readers to book a trip over, and of course, follow along at @nicoffeemaps.”

Bethany and Mitchell pose in front of a big tree in a park with green moss on the ground. They are pushing a black stroller.
The couple is growing their family and looks forward to more coffee adventures. Photo courtesy of Mitchell and Bethany McComb.

Taking over the reins from previous owners, Mitchell and Bethany are about to launch a fantastic resource to explore the North Ireland specialty-coffee landscape, discover new places, and support local businesses. For them, it’s a passion project and an opportunity to share their enthusiasm for specialty coffee with others. 

We wish them all the best in launching what will surely be a fantastic resource, as well as years of exploration and discovery through their specialty-coffee map. For any Northern Irish coffee lovers out there, keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming NI Coffee Map!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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