Tag Archives: espresso

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



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.

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.

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?

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

My UKBC experiance 2010

10 Mar

So, I find myself appologising for an outage of service, again. This particular outage was in part caused by the annual distraction that is the UKBC (UK Barista Championship).

My entry this year was decided from the moment I finished my presentation at last years semi-finals. In the short few months preparing for the competition I had improved as a barista noticably and my focus and zeal for what I do had been energised beyond description. I focused from the moment I returned to be pushing myself to improve at every oppertunity and had set acheivements I wanted to accomplish in UKBC 2010.

These goals were postponed for a further 12 months after getting disqualified for going nearly 2 minutes over time. I have taken lessons from this and know where I made mistakes for next years performance. However my immediate instinct when I learned my time and realised that I had reached the end of my years competition early was that I wanted to get on stage again, feel those nerves and do the performance I wanted to jump up there and do it again.

A great frustration has been within me since this. Last year the 10 months between the 09 semis and the 2010 heats didn’t seem like such a gulf. Last year I was satisifed in my exposure and my performance. This year I’ve a list of things I wanted to do differently and things I wanted to do and failed to. Of course I have taken as much as I can from my performance score sheets but I feel a single snapshot is a poor reference to build from.

All this leads to, or stems from perhaps, the fact that a barista competition is a once a year event. A huge commendation to James and Anette at Square Mile Coffee for the monthly UBF which is a great amount of fun and a great way to get used to performing infront of people. It provides a great way to get used to pouring under pressure as it were. But there there are immutable differences and this is by no means a criticism of the UBF. They are afterall different animals.

Is there a true solution? I understand that the logistics of setting up the BC heats are huge and require a great deal of coordination between sponsers, judges, hosts, and competitors but I would like to see a ‘friendlies’ version of the competition, I.e follows the concept of the traditional competition but just done to keep baristas sharp and bring together ideas and community outside of Londons network of specialist shops/roasters/carts.

And while I’m on the subject of the concept of the competition I have a gripe with the idea of the signature drink. I do understand the reasoning behind the round. For an ‘outsider’ (which is who the BC is aimed at interesting) it is the most interesting part of the competition. But spectacle covers the fact that the best Signature beverage will rarely be as interesting as a truely amazing espresso. The competition is supposedly emulating the enviroment in a shop and thr judges are your customer… how often do you see tobacco infused cream with chocolate ganache used in a coffee shop?

Wouldn’t the third round be better used to show a different brewing method? Wouldn’t it be more interesting for, rather than the audience but the barista and judges,to have a chemex brewing or an aeropress or an EVA solo and just see what different people bring to he table to show off their coffees?

Back on topic…outside of the scope of the SCAE UK why don’t more people do barista jams or something of the ilk where people throw down skills or just hang out and play with shots or sig drinks or hell ANYTHING?!?! sorry to gesticulated with my grammer but this frustrates me no end.

In living within a reasonably close distance to London and having my own car I can go down for SqM events and atleast have contact with a UK coffee scene and the Internet allows me to chat with people on TMC and other forums. But despite this living outside London and working in a shop where the espresso is nothing I would rate (or drink) and having no local coffee shop I can visit on my day off makes it feel slightly like I am alone for the most part in my passion for coffee. This may sound like a slight digression from my post but it does have a point relating to it.

Looking at the semi finalists for the UKBC leaves a list of (by my count) 8 of the 20 semifinalists from London. This community which drives itself and pushes itself speaks for it’s strength in this statistic alone. London is a unique creature in not only it’s concentration of coffee shops but also the atmosphere and attitude, is the community a result of this? Can communities like this build up in other areas? Should I convince the wife to move to London so I can go to a coffee shop on my day off? Is there another community like this in the UK that I’m missing?

…Is anyone out there?

Decaffeinated Coffee

20 Jul

Decaffeinated Coffee;  To some, these two words shouldn’t ever be side-by-side.  Why?

Some say that the flavour isn’t as good or it defeats the point of coffee or a million other things.  Is this truly the case, or is the fact that most places serve BAD decaff the real reasoning behind this, fueling a downward spiral?

A shop owners train of thought may go “Most people don’t like Decaff coffee, so why buy a premium decaff when it won’t be bought whilst its good.” Fuelling the dislike of most coffee drinks to think that decaff coffee is of a lower quality.  I know a lot of 3rd wave bars have a second Pro-sumer grinder for the purpose of having good decaff but they’re still in a very small minority when you look at the 2nd wave bars out there.  Most use pre-omni-ground (i.e. too fine for filter too course for espresso), single serving sachets of decaff coffee and not usually a good blend.  I’ve even witnessed one making decaff with Kenco Instant Decaff Sachets alongside espresso machines.

Is the quality of decaffeinated coffee lower than its full-caff equivalent?  I think the end product is often of a lower quality but this is more due to the fact that decaf gets so little respect and is often treated like a begrudging obligation to stock rather than another part of the range.  I’ve never had the opportunity to taste an identical coffee’s in both varieties side by side, but assuming that the Swiss water method is used (Rather than the chemical method) I would imagine it takes on characteristics of a washed coffee.

Why drink decaff?  If its 10pm and you fancy a coffee, you’re not going to often be wanting to be up until 2am because of it.  Or you’ve had a lot of caffeine and want to mellow out a bit but still crave coffee.   Or you’re highly sensetive to caffeine but you like your coffee, an affliction for which any suffer gets my heartfelt sympathy.   Saying decaf coffee isn’t really coffee, rhetoric I’ve heard quite a lot, and even believed for a period, is akin to saying low-fat sausages aren’t really sausages or sugar-free cakes aren’t really cakes.

I think the fault lies with the providers not the products, decaffeinated coffee needs to be brough miles forward to be on par with its caffeinated counterparts.

N.B I know there are some coffee shops and roasteries that do make good decaff espresso, but they are not commonplace.