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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

 

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.

Sorry.

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.

Cafe Review; Tea Monkey

6 Apr

A few weeks ago I saw a new name sign appear over a long unused unit in the Milton Keynes shopping centre. I was excited to see a branding I was unfamiliar with ‘Tea Monkey’. After a little homework I discovered they were a new brand with the Milton Keynes store being the launch pad.

Tea monkey are a new shop that is launching themselves toward the coffee shop faithful and offering a huge range of teas. From english breakfast to Oolong mystere (a delicious blooming White tea).

They are located in Midsummer Place, from the outside there is a covered seating area and stands out boldly from the bank’s which are on either side of it and the high street chain clothing stores opposite.

Upon entering you are surrounded by earthy brown, lime green walls and crisp white surfaces, which is very refreshing compared to a lot of places which try to go for the homey feel by using only warm colours and also makes the shop feel very vibrant. A truly extensive menu of tea is made less intimidating by very friendly staff who seem really passionate about their tea.  The view out through the huge glass frontage is of the rest of the shopping centre but between them is a old and majestic acorn tree which makes it seem much more picturesque.

On the three visits I’ve made so far i have tried three different teas and they are all delicious. All the tea is served in beautiful glass ‘la cafetiere’ tea pots which let you watch the tea brew and in the case of the blooming teas then it really is a treat. A very nice touch is the white and green teas are served in double walled glasses and the black teas are served in porcelain cups.

Tea at Tea Monkey
Silver Needle white tea with a Malteaser Cup cake

The other thing to check out is the cakes. All the cakes are made fresh and in house. I’ve sampled their blueberry and malteaser cupcakes aswell as the house cupcake. All were light and fluffy, the chocolate ones were balanced perfectly in flavour without being so light in flavour as to be wanting but so much as to be over powering. The butter cream on them were all different but absolutely perfect. It would be a huge shame to miss out on these.

I haven’t sampled the coffee and feel it would be unfair to judge them on it as it’s not their speciality.

A few other things to point out, the shop is very spacious and not over-furnished, a nice touch compared to some places which try to cram in as much seating as possible. The staff are friendly, helpful and seem to care about what they’re doing and check to make sure everyone is happy.  I over-heard that the weekend was very busy and the service slowed down while they found their feet but lessons were learned, after all it was their first weekend, but if you are to visit on the weekend perhaps it would be worth preparing to wait for a little while.  On the far wall are a row of iPads with internet connection which are free to use, this is a lovely touch!

All in all it’s a very refreshing shop to visit.  Gorgeous teas with beautiful cup cakes and friendly staff.  It’s very nice to have something unique in Milton Keynes Centre and gives me a reason to go there.

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!

Yeeeeeaaaaah….Sorry.

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.

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.

Finding (the) God (shot)

13 May

In my early endeavours into coffee I started joining coffee forums and occasionally reading about the concept of the ‘God Shot’; the flawless shot of espresso which is supposedly transcendant, at least if you’re going to praise it so highly as to call it a God shot it should be.[1]

I suppose what someone would classify as a God Shot would be quite subjective, as it would play perfectly to the palette of the drinker. Perhaps the cost of experiencing a huge range of coffee is that you know what an amazing acidic, sweet or earthy coffee can be like and that forms to the idea of what would be liked in an espresso.

I have drank a lot of espresso but I’ve never experienced something I would call a God Shot, I’ve had amazing shot, beautiful shots, great shots and down right undrinkable shots, but no one shot has ever stuck with me as being outstandingly impressive.

The only shot of coffee that has really stuck me, not specifically for being amazing and perfect but because it forms an important memory for me in the development of my passion for coffee and was an eye opening moment.  In 2007 I was at a training day for Welcome Break’s Coffee Primo as the brand was beginning a revamp, we were at a training and show room at La Cimbali in Coventry, I tried our coffee blend perfectly extracted from a clean, flushed and stabilised group, it was the first time I tasted another flavour in a coffee other than coffee. It wasn’t so much a God shot but a definite epiphany shot.

During the first year or so that I really started delving into speciality coffee I searched for the God shot and lamented at my failure in finding it. Over time the idea drifted from my mind.

Now I look back and rather than lamenting, I wonder if it may be a curse in disguise (or even in a demitasse) after that, would any coffee measure up, or would the God shot make every espresso after that disappointing? That concept seems direly undesirable.

I look at the concept and wonder, is a God shot real? At least insomuch as a single unimprovable and unsurpassable shot of espresso and whether it may be just a good shot that exceeded by a large factor the coffee the drinker is used to. If that is the case, then the espresso that set me on the road as a barista, and in search of it was it. I’ve had better coffees since but I wouldn’t class them as God shots. Maybe a God shot is different for everyone and mine happened to take the form of an epiphany shot [2]

I’d be very interested to hear about your experiences of a God Shot in the comments.

[1] – Perhaps this assumption is my first stumbling block

[2] – That’s right I’m coining the term

[Bonus Content]

Rejected puns from this post:

  • I’ve lost faith in God shots
  • I’m searching for God shots
  • God shots love you
  • One Nation under God Shots
  • God shots damn it
  • Praise be to God Shots