Coffee and interview with The Gentlemen Baristas
Opening in 2014 on Union Street, just North of Borough Market, Henry Ayers and Edward Parkes of The Gentlemen Baristas clearly struck a chord, soon attracting large numbers of customers and regulars. Their clientele is one of the most diverse in London: locals, office workers, small animals, passers-by, market shoppers, even the odd coffee nerd. We caught up with the Henry and Ed to find out their secret.
LBC: So how did you two meet?
Henry: At a training session I was running at the London Coffee Festival. Out of work actor Ed agreed to help as he needed money although I’m pretty sure I never paid him. We bonded over our love of coffee and desire to set something independent up: something that was unique. A year later the consultancy side was born and then we needed to find a home!
LBC: Gentlemen Baristas quickly became very popular with large numbers of regulars? How did you do this?
The GBs: By being nice! We were determined that when people came in they would have not only had the best coffee in the area, but also the warmest welcome. We opened on a shoe-string budget and people really bought in to what we were trying to do: a couple of honest chaps trying to do something positive. We still have regulars that came in on day one; they've joined us on this crazy journey.
LBC: Why Union Street? How did you know? A lot of us were wondering when that gap would be plugged?
The GBs: We'd been looking for quite a while, wanting somewhere that could house a shop, a consultancy, a school and a roastery. Number 63 it just felt right. The clincher was finding out that in the seventeenth century this address was in fact a coffee house! Not many people can say they opened a coffee house in a building whose address actually is registered as 'The Coffee House'!
LBC: And how do you fit into the local community?
The GBs: We were welcomed with open arms and get on so well with everyone from the Menier theatre to Eric the Cobbler (seriously, if you need your sorting go and see him on Redcross Way!). We work closely with Bankside Open Spaces Trust and donate our coffee grounds for their green spaces. We're just about to set up a training scheme with local charity SE1 United, where we'll try and teach people of all ages about coffee and being a barista. We'll then try and help them seek employment in the coffee industry if they wish.
LBC: Tell us about your training centre.
The GBs: We opened the school about six months ago. Both of us come from a training background which we enjoyed and so we were really keen to have a place to research, experiment and perhaps pass on a bit of knowledge and enthusiasm for the industry.
(If you're interested in sessions email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more!)
LBC: Oh! And your coffee tricycle?
The GBs: The Coffee Tricycle! What fun! We build it from scratch Heath Robinson style for outside events and recently used it for a three month pop up on Blackfriars Bridge. Look out for a new location soon!
LBC: You always seem to have the widest choice of espressos available - how do you fit the espresso to the customer?
The GBs: We wanted to cater for everybody that steps through the door. So the idea was to offer two roasts from either end of the spectrum to cater for the majority of customers tastes: the Top Hat, currently a single origin from Nicaragua - quite citrussy with botanical notes; and Deerstalker: usually a Brazilian or Sumatran with ample dark chocolate to please the masses!Then we added guest espressos and finally The Pretender, our Swiss water decaffeinated organic Brazilian roast, which in every blind taste session foxes all gathered.
LBC: Tell me about Dumo (Dumo Mathema, currently head roaster for Department of Coffee and Social Affairs).
The GBs: Dumo is a genius full stop: the unofficial third GB. Our guest espressos often come from him. Dumo understands coffee like no one else we've ever met or worked with; he's a kindred spirit in his search for the very best coffee and for pushing it as far as it'll go. When everyone else was getting bright lemony acidity from the Rocko Mountain last year, Dumo was getting strawberry Turkish delight!
LBC: And Wogan Coffee?
Ed: Wogan were established in 1974, the same year as Monmouth. They are based in Bristol where Henry is from. They have been incredibly supportive. From the early days of cupping with them, these true coffee gents allowed us to have huge input into our roast profiles! We’re now delighted to be working milk from The Estate Dairy too.
LBC: How did you find baristas, Matilda and Anthony who both seem to embody the spirit of The GBs?
The GBs: We would not be where we are now without Anthony and Matilda and their hard work since day one. We couldn't really afford both of them but took a gamble and have never looked back. It's always been a case of them working with rather than for us: that's important as their opinion matters.We wanted not only expert baristas but baristas that would stamp their own image and personality.
LBC: Anything else you’d like to say?
GBs: What we noticed from day one was that so many of our customers want to know more about the coffee, from source to brewing and we are more than happy to share that information with them. We are in the service industry, hospitality is key and so many, too many establishments let the customers down on this simple rule. A smile and a thank you costs nothing, yet can really make the difference to someone's day.
Why not pop along to The Coffee House, 63 Union Street, Southwark, SE1 1SG and say ‘Good day Sir (or Madam) to The Gentlemen Baristas? See what all the fuss is about.