Tag Archives: Coffee Shops

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



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.

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.

Brew-bituary: Penny University

23 Jul

Fore-word: I know I may seem slightly odd to post an obituary prior to the closure, but this post is also in part to encourage anyone who has not yet been, to visit Penny University and experience it before it is gone.

In May, Square Mile Coffee opened its very first retail space project dubbed ‘Penny University’. Partially in order to shake things up in the espresso-centric world of coffee in Central London.  The elegantly simple bar featured a state-of-the-art Uber Boiler from Marco and its sister-project Uber Grinder.  Beyond that there was nothing you couldn’t expect to see in any coffee enthusiasts kitchen.

For various reasons, Square Mile have announced that Penny University shall be shutting its doors for the final time on July 30th.

By deliberately omitting the espresso bar concept; the shop has been able to brew coffee in the same manner you may at home, showcasing Square Mile’s coffees and the elegant, quiet simplicity of a manual drip or a syphon brewer.

Penny University's Menu

Incase anyone hasn’t had the opportunity to sample some of the best brewed coffee in London a quick run-down.  Penny University features three individual coffees from Square Mile’s range and three brewing methods, a Hario v60 (Paper-filtered pour-over), a Hario Woodneck (Cloth-filtered manual pour-over) and a Hario TCA-2 syphon (Paper-filtered Vacuum/Syphon brewer) which are also available as a tasting flight with some exquisite chocolates.

Coffee at Penny University

The bar has been manned primarily by the charming and incredibly knowledgable Tim Williams and Tobias Cockerill with a few guests at various stages.  They’ve worked tirelessly to bring the best coffee to the fore and the role of a brewing barista seems so much more intense than one working with espresso, especially given the level of scrutiny they preside over every drink they make and the level of questions coming from almost every guest within the shop.

I had the pleasure of drinking coffee at Penny University three times during its installation and were it more feasible I would have frequented a lot more often. In fact, had it been feasible I would have worked there for free!

If you’re in London during the next week I would beseech you to pop by Penny University and give  yourself the treat of an excellent coffee. You will not regret your visit!

Square Mile at Penny University

Incase anyone hasn’t yet had the oppertunity to sample some of the best brewed coffee in London a quick run-down.  Penny University features three individual coffees from Square Mile’s range and three brewing methods, a Hario v60 (Paper-filtered pour-over), a Hario Woodneck (Cloth-filtered manual pour-over) and a Hario TCA-2 syphon (Paper-filtered Vacuum/Syphon brewer) which are also available as a tasting flight with some exquisite chocolates.

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

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.

Brewing Methods and the Public

30 Jul

As some who know me are aware, I’ve been planning to start my own coffee shop for a while now, although its still very preliminary in idea its progress, one thing I’ve though about alot is offering different brewing methods.

Note: This most likely is going to end up slightly more business focused than my usual posts, sorry if it comes off a bit corporate…

If you were to walk into any coffee shop right now, you will likely find an espresso machine, or a drip brewer.

These are not the only methods of brewing coffee, merely the most convenient.  And while I love a good espresso or a good brewed coffee, I would love to see more options. Why not crack out the french press (one of my personal favourites for brewing coffee).  If you’ve got 4 people coming in for a meeting, offer them a press pot, sit them down and make it up for them.  Then replace it for them for a small fee, and again, and again, until their meeting is over.  Rather than a capp, 2 lattes and an americano, you’ve got a delicious cup of coffee in front of them in 4 minutes while you can serve someone else and its easy to give them a couple of pots.

Or why not have a vacpot on the end of the bar, not only is it good coffee, but it looks brilliant and will draw people in to look at it.  I know these methods aren’t as clean or as much fun as a barista, but they offer a greater range of choice and show a higher level of understanding of the coffee. I’m not saying every coffee shop should have a vacpot, but one or two would be nice and create a real unique selling point.

French press also gives consumers who find espresso to be intimidating a much gentler learning curve, its a nice step between their comfortable instant and fresh coffee.  You also get a nice after-sale potential with people who want to buy their own press for the house, and then want to buy coffee to go in it on a regular basis…

Espresso is often put on a pedestal as the most artisan brewing method, and I understand why.  There are so many factors to go wrong and it takes some skill to actually make a good shot of coffee, but could the same not be said of making a good french press?  If you under-dose, add water too hot, let it steep for too long, stir it too much, don’t crack the top etc.  does it not create an inferior cup?  Sure a bad espresso will scream at you and a great one will almost give you a cuddle but a bad press-pot is very unpleasant and a great one does draw your attention, all be it slightly less intensely.

Also, it creates a new point of contact with the public about coffee.  Someone who is drawn by spectacle may see a vacpot brewing and be drawn in, the old bloke who just wants a coffee-coffee can get his little pot and enjoy it without feeling like he’s being looked down upon by the barista …Oh coffee snobbery, perceived or held….another topic I feel…will pop in for his small cup of coffee and truly appreciate it. And the people who like their lattes and cappuccinos can still get them.

Obviously there are certain levels of added difficulty from these ideas, another grinder for the press-pot or one that can switch quickly between two grind levels…(Vario?)  more training for staff, more cost of equipment outlay, people demanding different brewing methods at once, coffees that don’t work in certain methods, but I feel the positives would outweigh them hugely and in the long term create a much stronger coffee industry.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, if any coffee shops near you, or your shop use other brewing methods and how successful the different methods are sales wise.