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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.

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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.

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Gyre and Gimble on Twitter @mrgyre_mrgimble

Gyre and Gimble on Facebook: Gyre and Gimble

 

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Daily Grind

14 Nov

One thing I find myself telling customers over and over again is that the best investment for their home brewing is their own grinder. I quickly add to avoid the “whirly-gig” blade grinders and spend the same on a hand powered burr grinder. Unfortunately this is usually met with little enthusiasm. And I can understand why, grinders are relatively unimpressive to a non-coffee geek. In the coffee circles the ownership of the first burr grinder is somewhat of a right of passage. It symbolises an investment in every subsequent cup of coffee, but to a non geek it symbolises a portion of the much coveted espresso machine. (Another issue I’m sure to cover in a fun little rant)

I do try to convey that grinding on demand is important because various flavour compounds evaporate from ground beans much faster than they do whole bean and try to explain the difference in grind quality that is available from a burr grinder in opposition to a blade grinder. These are the most tangible reasons to always grind on demand, but other, less visceral virtues are also borne from this small act.

Grinding at home you can realise the huge amount the tiniest grind adjustment can make, and also see how brewing a cup in a non-standard fashion can change the cup you experience. You gain a fuller understanding of the processes that happen and can find a personal preference for extraction. It also opens up the ability to try the same coffee in a variety of different brewers. Most homes have a cafetiere and a good portion have espresso machines. These are two brewers that cannot use the same coffee grind, but given the flexibility of a grinder you can see how a coffee can go from butter popcorn in a cafetiere to cola bottles and lemon drops in espresso (Square Mile’s Sweet Shop blend from this year did this exact transformation).

Anyone that knows me, knows I appreciate a beautifully pulled espresso as much as the next person, and though I have an espresso machine at home, I very rarely use it. This is for a multitude of reasons, the largest, simply being the labour in comparison to the end result. For my to pull an espresso, I have to turn the machine on, let it get hot, pull a shot or two to dial in my grinder, get the temperature down (EuroPiccolas have a habit to overheat after a couple of shots are pulled) then pull a shot for myself to drink. Then I have a shot for about 2 minutes. Then I have to clean the portafilter out empty the drip tray and knock box. In that amount of time I could have made and drank a much longer drip or aeropress cup.

There needs to be a level where we say that’s enough. I certainly wouldn’t expect every home to invest in a Refractometer, but I think a grinder is the biggest investment that should be made by anyone who classes themselves as a coffee lover. But for the general public I would say that even if not ideal, a good coffee that is bought from a good roaster then preground could be acceptable, owing to that simple matter that the grinder a supplier has available to them will almost certainly be superior in the consistency of the grind than most consumer grinders, additionally the person would have a knowledge of how to grind for different brew methods.

We also have to accept that while the consumer may appreciate these great coffees for what they are they may not have the palettes to notice the nuanced difference between a coffee ground immediately prior to brewing and one ground a few days prior, and that’s ok.  I’m not making excuses or saying we should stop trying, but as I keep seeming to say, it’s very easy to alienate the consumer to our cause if we get too dogmatic and too pushy.  Having most people brewing their own coffee everyday with good results is still a way off, lets get them driving before we ask them to race.

Experiment Time: Timered Grinders

7 Sep

I recently acquired a Viponel S15 Darkroom timer to attach to my grinder as a non-permanant timer mod.  My reasoning for this may be explained at a different point.

There has been a serious take up on the timer modded grinders both in competition use and in shops looking for consistency alongside freshness.

I became curious as to how dependable the timer mod is in terms of ground coffee ending up in the portafilter.  In order to test I measured the grind over 50 timed grinds of 2.5secs each weighed to an accuracy of 1/100th of a gram.  I used a single origin coffee of a relatively dark roast that I use for seasoning and such with an espresso grind setting and the coffee loaded into the hopper in one large portion. The use of a single origin is to negate any possibility of having a variance in the load upon the motor from different density varietals.[1]

The grinder used is a Wega 2.6k which is a rebranded Compak K6.[2]

The results were an average grind of 6.83g of coffee reaching the portafilter.  Exactly half (25) of the doses were within 1/4 gram of the average and 37 of the doses (74%) within 1/2 gram of the average.

An interesting pattern of weight distribution also occurs.  Almost uniformly a portion is above average and then below with few outliers from the pattern.

I would suspect that the main variable that is affecting the result is clumping.  I noticed during the experiment that at times there were more grounds being held at the chute rather than going into the dosing chamber.

I suspect that using a courser ground there would be a lot more consistency within the dosing and perhaps using a lighter roast of coffee may have a different result being that there would be less surface oils to adhere the coffee particles.

In the end a relatively interesting set of results.  I would be interested to conduct further experiments to see what differences may be found within different fineness settings, roasts and varietals.  Though a full range of doses extended from 5.90 grammes to 8.71 (an extreme outlier,the next largest dose being 8.10) I would suspect the consistency is much higher that of a full, calibrated dosing chamber due to weight of the coffee above it etc.  in addition to the fact that coffee in a dosing chamber is sitting going stale. In my opinion timer-dosed coffee, even with a margin of inconsistency is undoubtedly preferable in terms of the resulting cup.

If anyone has any insight into the results or would like to see my (slightly messy) spreadsheet for the verbose results then e-mail/twitter me and I’ll forward them on.

1. It should be noted that the roast looked slightly inconsistent so that may have affected the ground dose by adding load to the grinder, even if only momentarily.

2. Another point of note with the grinder is that the exit chute from the grinding chamber holds approximately 4-5g of coffee before it reaches the chamber, so there’s an amount of room for compression and clumping within the chute.  Also the dosing chamber in this grinder has a few points where coffee can remain.

Congratulations World Coffee Champions of 2010

25 Jun

Congratulations are in a HUGE order for Mr Mike Philips of Inteligensia who brought home the crown for the USA of World Barista Champion 2010. Mike is a true gentleman, master of his craft and has worked hard to achieve this feat over the course of many a WBC.

A special mention also goes out the the Guatemalan and Australian barista champions who bring home 2nd and 3rd respectively. A big congratulations to the Guatemalan entry for achieving the best rank of any producing country to date.

Colin Harmon of 3FE from Ireland scored a very respectable 4th place with a signature drink that had no ingredients other than coffee and water. Nothing I write could do any of these excellent baristas justice, so I point you toward the videos of their respective performances and encourage you to watch with rapt attention.

In the world cupping contest Ireland’s Dave Walsh placed 2nd to the Ecuadorean taster, Hector Gonzalez

In Gold Sprits we also placed a incredibly close 2nd to the Hugarian barista.

I am pleased to announce that Britain brought home 1st place in the Ibrik competition by the skills of the talented Aysin Aydogdu.

And the best nation was passed from UK to Australia who very well.

Although the UK and Ireland missed out on most of the top spots it’s reassuring to see the competitions are doing what they were designed to do which is to encourage the development and progression of speciality coffee ever further. The competitors brought so much more to the table than ever before and standards have been raised yet higher for next years competitors.

Every competitor is due a massive amount of praise ad recognition for pushing themselves further and helping the industry move towards better heights.

Roll on Bogota

Riding the Waves

10 Jun

So my previous post reminded me of a further issue with the vocabulary we use within coffee. I’m specifically referring to the term third wave, and what it means, or atleast what it means to me as it seems to be somewhat subjective.

As I understand it; Third wave refers to the antipodean style coffee shops serving espresso based drinks in a range of about 6-10fl. ounces with (ideally) a heavy focus on the quality and passionate baristas. Second wave is espresso bars serving 12-20fl. ounce drinks, most likely with a large array of syrups and a fairly dark roasted blend. And first wave are serving bulk-brewed drip coffee that sits on a burner until it’s drank or turns to treacle and is usually served with immense amounts of cream and sugar.

One of my issues with a term like third wave is that it implies a superiority to second wave coffee, and while I’d venture that it’s probably the case that at most 3rd wave shops you’ll get better coffee than at most second wave shops, a third wave shop that’s missed the point when it comes to the push on quality and passion (or simply doesn’t know better) would not be as good as a second wave style shop where the barista really cares about their craft but doesn’t know about ‘third wave’ or is constricted by an owner who is afraid of changing a working formula. So if there were a further evolution to a forth wave it would most likely overshadow the third wave.

I also find myself coming back to the problem of alienating our customers aswell as newcomers to the industry, third wave is a somewhat arcane term, being that it refers directly to the evolution of coffee shops in a way that bears no relation to the difference, it just provides a stepped, linear path and in using terms like this we create a hurdle of communication in general.

The issue of the very segmented stepping between waves I find contentious and counter-intuitive to the developmental-experimental attitude that is fostered by every good barista I can think of. There are shops through the spectrum of the third wave that are doing vastly different things, now I don’t think that we should start decimalising this terminology, as it then becomes even more confusing and alienating when we start talking about a 3.5rd wave bar and anyone who doesn’t get along with maths gets very confused.  Not to mention I’m sure there’d be shops who just want to become a 3.1415926535-rd wave shop, which is just silly.

And while on the subject; are we starting to see the emergance of the forth wave, would a venture such as Square Mile’s Penny University (only brewed coffee with no milk or sugar in the shop atall) be considered a 4th wave coffee shop? Or is it a further, or alternative evolution of third wave? Or could it be considered a careful regression to first wave with a third wave mindset?

As always, any opinions, suggestions, corrections or picking apart of my theories are welcome.

“We think in language; therefore, the quality of our thoughts is only as good as the quality of our language.” — George Carlin

Sticks & Stones

3 Jun

A term that I always want a better, or at least more concise word for when I write a post, or indeed am talking about coffee, is the term by which we refer to the segment of the coffee industry which is wholly quality focused and eternally striving to improve coffee as a whole.

Speciality coffee‘ is the typical goto phrase which is far too general and the spectrum which it could technically cover would include a large spread of poor coffee with good marketing. A food connoisseur may be considered to be interested in speciality food but that would be far too wide a gamut for a concise explanation as to what they enjoy or expect when they go to a restaurant.

I suppose the partial reason for why we always default to “speciality coffee” is to a degree at least people know what you are talking about and it’s an approachable term in that it is harder to impune much snobbery as opposed to a word like ‘connoisseur’, and to an outsider it probably seems quite accurate.

A further problem with ‘speciality’ coffee is that it has been adopted by the larger companies, whose doses and standards do not come close to meeting what I consider to be true speciality coffee.

But what are the alternatives? A few get kicked around but they don’t cut the mustard in my mind.

Third Wave‘ is a popular term but the pay off of it is that it doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense to an outsider.

Connoisseur‘ is typically construed as snobby and unapproachable, which is the exact opposite.

The best term I can think is passionate, but using the term ‘passionate coffee’ doesn’t make much sense, perhaps there’s a synonym that can be better used, but a passionate barista is at the heart of what the focus is about.

It could be said that this is merely semantics, but I think there is a larger problem in the barriers of communication that are faced by baristas when trying to connect with the clientelle is how we refer to the segment of the industry we mean in a concise way.  Speaking to the average person saying 3rd wave will lead to very little understanding which starts making the whole conversation start to become arcane and confusing to the uninitiated which, in turn can risk creating the negative view of snobbery and alienating the very peole we’re trying to reach.

Does anyone have a better term?

From the other side of the bar…

25 May

I’ve been thinking recently about how a barista may be perceived from the other side of the bar.  The role of a barista is unique in a few ways.  Unlike a bar-tender, they actually have an influence in the final product beyond presentation.  I would say it is fairer to consider a barista to be more akin to a chef than to that of a bar-tender or cashier.

I feel the perception, at least from the general public’s view-point, is that a barista is a customer service role that involves pressing a couple of extra buttons and pouring milk, so when a barista offers something different from that which the customer requests (for example, an aeropress of an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe as opposed to an Americano) there is an automatic assumption that they’re ‘upselling’ or trying to offer something with a better margin or whatever, and automatically say “No” to the offer.

This hypothesis can be backed up by the amount of people who say “No” automatically if you offer them sugar and then ask for sugar in the next beat. I’m pretty sure I could double my tips by asking if people want their change at the end of a transaction.

Is there any way to change this perception of a barista as a till operator?

I hate to point fingers but it does seem to stem from the brands, and I say this with intimate knowledge of how a brand operates and encourages it’s staff to get the highest spend per head, the onslaught of optional extras starts to sound like you’re buying a car rather than a cappuccino.

Extra syrup, crisps, biscuits, muffin, scone, cream, alloy wheels, CD changers, Parking Sensors, DVD player, extra shot  etc. with your latte today?

When a customer trusts a barista to guide them to a better experience then they may let you crack out the vac-pot but a lot of them just want what they ask for.

Which leads to a bit of traditional wisdom within retail that this breaks.  “Give the customer what they want.”  Rather than that doing this gives them something they’re likely to appreciate more but certainly not something they originally wanted.  Of course the downside to this is there are some people who will be swayed and not enjoy it, simply due to their palette not suiting the coffee or an expectation of something different (ever pick up water thinking it’s lemonade?). Then what happens? Is the trust broken? I suppose it depends on the customer.  Some will be too embarrassed to say they don’t like something if it’s served to them by someone who seems to have an authoritative knowledge and may never take that risk again.  I make a point to enquire to anyone whom I encourage to try a speciality coffee as to how they found the coffee.  And, what I believe to be important is to take on board what they tell me.  It’s very easy to discount someone not liking a coffee that you find to be particularly special as ‘not getting’ and simply ignore their critique.

A tweet from Will Corby questioned:

Would anyone say a barista tasting an espresso during trading hours, behind an espresso machine “looked unproffesional”?

To this there seems to be an industry-standard response that if anything, not tasting an espresso during trading hours would be unprofessional, this again highlights the difference between the branded shops and independent specialist shops. At the brands this can be seen as gross-misconduct and result in dismissal.  During my time at working at a branded coffee chain I had a few incidents of other managers saying that they would “have words” with me if I were on their shifts drinking a shot at the bar.  This may seem to be of little importance but I would say it is vastly important that a barista not only knows their shot is good (not simply based on pulling a shot in a certain amount of time, but the less measurable but far more important aspect of the taste) but allows the barista to speak with absolutely certainty and authority to the qualities of the coffee they’re serving.  Despite regular unofficial chastisement I would regularly taste a shot of espresso every few hours to ensure everything was working correctly.

Perhaps all this is down to interaction.  If you talk to someone who is passionate about what they do then it shows.  I gesticulate like I’m having a freaking seizure, my language and inclinations change and I think it shows I’m really nuts about what I do. I’m sure others do so in different ways but at any rate, when a customers see’s you’re passionate about what you do then, perhaps, their view of you changes.

For some people, they will never look at their barista in a different light than they will look at a checkout operator. But there is a segment of the public that love to engage with people who are passionate at what they do, and hopefully that segment will become the dominant one.  The only problem is not alienating people when they try to make that connection…but that’s for another post.