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Gyre & Gimble. 2 Cornwall Place, The High Street, Buckingham, MK18 1SB

16 Dec

As with all things in nature, adaptation is the key to survival. The Coffee Vagabond as shifted focus to become a barista-for-hire/training venture. In it’s place as a shop, Gimble and Gyre has apparated.


Gyre & Gimble is a joint venture between Elliot Wallis of Monkshood Coffee and myself, to create a stand-alone fixed coffee shop in North Buckinghamshire.  We opened our doors yesterday (Dec 15th 2012) upon the market town of Buckingham and went straight into full service.

We are using Jabberwocky from HasBean as our house espresso blend and be grabbing different coffees from roasteries all around the country as time goes on, for guest espressos and filter coffees.

There will be Postcard loose teas for those that prefer a lighter drink and we’re also featuring Kocoa collection’s Single Origin Hot chocolates.  In the coming weeks produce from the surrounding area will be filling our shelves, including locally pressed apple juice and freshly-baked cinnamon buns, cakes and pastries.

Away from the products, we’re also very pleased to offer a completely different decor than we’ve experienced else-where, our obsession with Victoriana and steam-punk has heavily influenced the design and ambience we’ve tried to create within the shop.

It’s still early days and there is plenty more to add to the shop as time goes on, but we’re both very excited about Gyre and Gimble and will be here for time to come.


Gyre and Gimble on Twitter @mrgyre_mrgimble

Gyre and Gimble on Facebook: Gyre and Gimble



Projects and projections

21 Sep

Yes, it’s been a while since I posted. Self employment and working with others has left me with little time to blog and a good chance to work out thoughts practically rather than theoretically.

So, status update; The Coffee Vagabond (which evolved from Peel & Peel) came to a conclusion at the Northampton location in July and will be relocating soon. But in between now and then another project is keeping my attention. Pull Brew Melt the indie Coffee, Tea and Chocolate festival is fast approaching, 29th & 30th of September.

On going work with Monkshood Coffee has been fantastic and shown repeatedly that the public, when given the option will err on the side of quality and are wanting to learn about their products. In response to this enthusiasm we’ve been show Elliot and I decided that it’s time to really make something of the wider UK coffee scene as well as bringing lovers of tea and chocolate together to make it a sensory weekend.

From the outset we were determined that this won’t be a trade show. This is a public show with free entry (donations to Coffee Kids are encouraged), our goal is spreading awareness and interest in a really accessible and fun way and while we’re at it we will be raising money for Coffee Kids.

We have a raft of different forms of entertainment and education, from talks and Q&A’s to jazz bands and cellists as well as anything impromptu that comes to mind over the weekend.

All this is happening at the Waddesdon Plant Centre which is about an hour from Brent Cross by road. Check out the website or Facebook (Day 1, Day 2) for more info.

Brief show info:

Address:The Glass House, Waddesdon Plant Centre, HP17 0JW
Times: 10:00-4:30
Entrance: Free (donations to Coffee Kids welcome)

Any questions, contact me on Twitter @awlred

The best laid plans of mice and men…

1 Jan

I know I said this last year, but I’ll say it again.  I’m gonna try and blog more in 2012.

I kept a fine roll going and made it into July but from there I did…well nothing.


I beg pardons but my last 6 months have been filled with resounding amounts of work and other hobbies coming to intercept my time.  As I alluded in my last post, I’ve started working at Peel & Peel Independent Coffee, in Northampton.  This has fulfilled one of my goals of last year but more on that in a minute. I also started working on a per diam basis for Monkshood Coffee, an independent mobile coffee company using (Working!) VW Campers and through them got to work at Download, Sonisphere and Bloodstock festivals, making top-notch coffee. This made me very happy. All the while continuing my daily job at The Courtyard Brasserie and convincing them that speciality coffee is the way to take that side of the business.

So, last year I made a set of goals for myself to achieve over the course of 12 months. They were

  1. Try as much coffee as possible – I could have tried more. C for effort
  2. Work towards my own operation or with people with a similar goal – This was perhaps my most coveted goal. In working at Peel & Peel I feel I’ve achieved this with bells on
  3. Share great coffee with more people and help educate consumers about what is possible Peel  & Peel definitely gives this an extra outlet, but Monkshood brought it to a whole new level. Metal people love their coffee
  4. Give the UKBC my all – Effort; yes. Timeliness; Not so much
  5. Visit a producing farm – A tall order to arrange but, one day…
  6. Blog more – Failed entirely.
So, with that in mind, a few new goals should be set.
  1. Blog More! – I couldn’t blog much less than I have in the past 6 months so it’d be hard to fail
  2. Try as much coffee as possible – I have 52 weeks in which to try as many coffees as I can.  I can feel a few coffee subscriptions coming on…
  3. Expand Peel & Peel toward becoming entirely self-sufficient and, with luck, work towards our own premises. (May take longer)
  4. Give one last crack at the UKBC whip.  – I feel this might be the last time I put myself through the UKBC, at least for a few years.

I’ve chosen these goals with a consideration to what their secondary effects will be.  Blogging makes me continually reassess and rethink concepts that I’ve held as fact, sometimes incorrectly. Tasting coffees expands my palette and makes me better at what I do. Expanding Peel & Peel is an expansion on my own goals in regard to running my own coffee shop. The UKBC forces me to assess myself as a barista and work on any bad habits I may have acquired.

A very Happy New Year to you all.

Good things must come to an end…

4 Jul

Back in September I broached to the owners of The Courtyard Brasserie (where I work) about doing a monthly coffee evening.  After a resoundingly positive response from the monthly speciality cafetiere project I have pioneered and run I wanted to share more specialised coffee and start discussions about coffee.  This helped me realise a few issues I raised in a blog post last summer about the community lacking outside of London, and Steve Leighton said in a follow post to ‘get off your arse and make one’ which is what I tried to do…

Of the wonderful people who attended these goals were realised. We’ve had some fantastic questions asked and it was very vindicating to have people from outside coffee to be interested in coffee in a very specialised way.  We had people discussing processes, varietals, origins, organics, biodynamics, brewing techniques and a host more topics. It’s been a truly fulfilling experience and so it’s with a heavy heart I have to put them on hiatus.

Though we had a great response from those who came, unfortunately the numbers that did attend made it an endeavour that ran at a loss and so, this coupled with a widening of other commitments and distractions has lead to this decision.  It is not one I took lightly and if I had the finances to do so I would fund it and run it entirely out of my pocket.

I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who came to the coffee evenings and supported the goals we had.  The idea is not entirely gone and I’m constantly thinking of new ways to share great coffee with people and welcome any suggestions or input.

It won’t be the last coffee event so watch this space…

The working barista conundrum…

17 Jun

OK, I don’t think this is the first time I’ve touched on this, but, currently it’s very prominent on my mind.

The coffee industry seems to be split into a slight divide of barista folk.  There’s the old school and the new school.  By this i don’t mean the 14g=2oz of espresso vs updosed ristretto pourers.  I am referring to people who dropped other careers to pursue coffee and bring better coffee to their world.  I’m thinking of the boys at Flat White, James at Dose and the team at Monmouth as the examples of this group.  The second group is the one which I fall into. We are young-ish and have worked in coffee for the majority of our working lives, and many of us aspire to open our own coffee projects in various forms and functions.  The problem arises that the start-up of a business like a coffee shop requires a fair bit of fundamentals investment and the majority of coffee jobs are relatively low paying (another post blah blah blah), in addition, you don’t simply open up and make money.  Opening a coffee shop takes a fair while to see profit in most executions for a variety of business and sociological reasons.

So as well as providing the income for a coffee shop, the business starter ought to have enough money to keep ahead of bills at home and in the business for a good few months.

Where is this to come from? Are the coffee professionals who are willing to make long-term loans to encourage the start up of new shops? Should aspiring coffee shop owners pull 80 hour weeks to attain their goal? I don’t know, I’m having a slightly ranty, emo post just for the catharsis of it. If anyone wants to invest a few grand in a coffee shop with no guarantee of return then PLEASE let me know, otherwise…any ideas?

4 Month and 5 Day Audit (Because quarterlies are so passé)

5 Apr

At the start of the year I set myself a few goals for 2011 and I felt a need to audit myself on them to see how I’m doing and where I’m falling behind.  So without much further ado (I always wanted to say that);


1) Try as much coffee as possible.

Though it’s hard to measure such a goal in real terms I’ve definitely had a good crack at this one, a few favourites for the year for me thus far are Rwanda Musasa, Peruvian Verde Cusco, Bolivia San Ignacio and Ethiopian Ogawa.  I’m looking forward to seeing a few old favourites returning in 2011 to see how they’ve changed aswell.

2) Work towards my own operation or work in/with people with a similar goal.

Currently I’m in the same position I was 3 months ago, however as I’m still presenting the cafetieres and writing tasting note sheets for them aswell as running a monthly coffee evening I feel my goals are becoming more formed, I’m learning a great deal about the palettes of other people and learning how to present things better.  I’m hopeful that these skills will pay off when I take the plunge.

3) Share great coffee with more people and continue helping to educate consumers about what is possible.

(I’m starting to realise my goals have a bit of redundancy in them.)

The combination of the coffee evenings and the monthly cafetiere is helping me attain this and a great deal of the customers are looking to learn more and engage with myself and the coffee.  When a customer nails a descriptor that I haven’t mentioned or nods toward a preference of an origin country I feel immensely proud and impressed.  Due to the positive feed back I’ve received I feel more willing to go for coffees that are a bit more ‘out there’ and I have generally been rewarded.  One thing I’ve learnt in the last few months is not to ever under-estimate your audience.

4) Give the UKBC my all.

I feel I did.   I intend to give  my UKBC 2011 experience a full write up very shortly but in the mean time I would just like to confirm I’m happy with my position and offer my congratulations to John Gordon who’s ingenuity this year left me awe-struck.

5) (Not specifically 2011 but within a longer time frame) Visit a producing farm, and possibly participate in the harvest.

Unfortunately this goal remains purely speculative for the time being but it remains one I aim to achieve.

6) Blog more!


Actually I think I’m going to reassess this goal and retcon it to ‘Blog more productively’.  I’ve got a few blog posts in the draft stages but I don’t feel they are worth submitting for a variety of reasons and I would certainly rather publish content that is productive in some manner, either in generating thought/debate or at the very least expressing myself in a concise and definite way.

Service in Coffee

19 Feb

An anonymous barista (I assume) recently posted a listing on London Coffee Jobs calling out London’s speciality coffee shop owners to pay a better wage to their baristas (It had since been removed).

Of that particular argument I will distance myself from as I don’t work in the city. But I do feel the sentiment.

The argument was put forth against that London’s baristas are, in some cases, lacking the skill of good customer service and that if wages are to rise then so too does the quality of service that is provided.

And so rises the question of what constitutes top service in a coffee shop?

I’ve spent some time mulling this as it’s something I do but have never properly analysed.

I think the problem stems, in part from the perception that a barista is a short term job or a school leavers job, which it is, at least some what. Outside of a very tight circle, a lot of baristas are indifferent about every aspect of their job and so the public expectation is lowered and people will, as a general rule do the minimum they can to get by. So enter the rock star/ hipster baristas. I really dislike using the term, so I want to clarify my meaning by saying the barista whom is driven entirely by ego and is in coffee because it’s ‘uncool’. Not all hipsters and hipster baristas and not all hipster barista are hipsters. These are the group that seem to fuel the negative stereotype and cast the industry in a poor light.

Service expectations change from location to location, in a diner type restaurant I expect friendly service perhaps a brief bit of shooting the breeze if the server isn’t busy and being made to feel very much at ease.  In a more typical restaurant the expectation is different, it’s more formal, the focus is on the food and your company.  So I think the question you have to ask is where do you place your coffee shop on that spectrum, if at all.  Again we need to remind ourselves we are our own industry and shouldn’t follow other areas of the industry blindly.

Service should never be pretentious nor rude. If a customer were to ask for vanilla syrup then the correct response is to apologise for not having what they request and politely explain the reasoning for not doing so. Scoffing should never happen, not only is it outrageously rude and arrogant, you also rob the chance of converting someone to enjoying their coffee as it’s own delicacy and most likely of a future customer, not to mention the people they may discourage from visiting you.

For people wanting to become ‘career baristas’ then they need to not only match the service expectations of do their utmost to supersede them and deliver outstanding service to stand out and make a reputation for themselves not only as being passionate about coffee but being passionate about their customers as well.  Any shop that does this earns many repeat visits from me and I recommend them to anyone who I know will be in the area.  This is how word of mouth works and it is still the most important promotional recommendation that anywhere can receive.

Coffee shops are unique in several aspects.  Baristas are often compared to sommeliers in that we are expected to have a keen palette and be able to describe the coffee in it’s flavours and also know it’s origin.  I think for the most part we do this well, but we’re also expected to create the beverage, which beyond pouring from a bottle into a glass, is not the role of a sommelier, but again I think for the most part we know what we’re doing here, but we’re also expected to perform the rest of the service transaction, serve (and perhaps cook) food, cakes etc. and process payment.

This is an almost unique situation, a chef is not judged on their service skills, and a waiter isn’t judged on their ability to cook. Baristas must take both roles and fulfil them admirably.

When trying to juggle all these elements it’s easier to drop the element you’re least passionate about when you’re in the middle of your rush but this is when it’s most important to keep all your balls in the air.  Taking the moment to break concentration just to smile and say ‘have a nice day’ can really stand you out and make it feel like you care, which at the end of the day, is the goal of the service role.