There’s a few things going on behind the counter at Went To See the Gypsy, the new café from the team behind The Gypsy in Potts Point. For starters, the espresso machine is built into the structure, rather than sitting up on top, but getting into the details with head barista Simon Gautherin opens up the future of coffee.
While the Potts Point location was more of a neighbourhood espresso bar, the new location in Alexandria occupies a former furniture display room on Mitchell Road, and the high ceilings and open plan interior allow for a transformed experience.
“The coffee bar [in Alexandria] is much bigger than the [Potts Point] kitchen and the coffee section [combined], so we're able to try different drinks and have more coffees on the menu,” noted Gautherin. Instead of having a bulky espresso machine taking up counter space and hiding the baristas’ faces away from the customers, the hip height counter has four group heads that rise out of the counter for espresso shots. Further down the grey bench there’s space for pour overs, with grinders at the rear. “We want to create a space where people can come in and learn about coffee, and we can talk about coffee,” described Gautherin.
Pull up one of the bar seats and start having a chat with the barista about your day, and they’ll fill you in on what’s flowing through the taps. At our first meeting here, Gautherin was whipping up a pour over with a V60, offering some to those who were lucky enough to be at arm’s reach.
“In a normal coffee shop, non-coffee people wouldn't hang out around the barista or hang out around the machine, but because this machine is open people are sort of curious. This is a great way to break the ice between customer and baristas.”
Listening to Gautherin casually explain what he’s up to, where the beans are from and any new brewing techniques he’s come up with has led to many customers who would normally drink their coffee with milk experimenting with black or filter coffee. Chatting away, Gautherin pulls out a couple of whiskey tumblers, ice and begins to pour an amber liquid.
“One of my favourite drinks in cafes is cascara,” pattered Gautherin. “Cascara is the skin of the envelope of the coffee berry and I decided to have this on the menu because if you go to countries like Yemen or Ethiopia, we've seen that locals don't necessarily drink their coffee — it's better value for money for them to export it — usually they drink the cascara,” highlighted Gautherin, dispelling a fleeting notion that at 10am it was one of those Mondays.
If not used to create a tea-like drink at origin, cascara is often used as fertiliser or thrown away. Recently, however, coffee traders have been able to offer growers a return on this product by selling it to cafes. On the day in question, the cascara is made from a Panama geisha bean and has a light, tangy taste to it, and Gautherin garnished the drink with a few dried coffee skins.
“People tend to forget that coffee is a fruit,” noted Gautherin. “So I wanted to showcase that fruit which is why we top the drink with a couple of peels of cascara.”
Brewing cascara is one way to show people what coffee can do, but Gautherin advocates for coffee’s fruitiness to be showcased from espresso, to filter, to the house-made syrup used to flavour Went To See The Gypsy’s affogato.
“Most of the time [coffee] reminds me of watermelon, rockmelon, sometimes stone fruits. I think we should strive for that sweet and acidic profile in a cup, and that will automatically appeal to a much broader audience.”
Seeing the shift from full cream milk to alternative milks such as soy, almond, oat or nut milk, Gautherin is confident that showcasing the less bitter flavours that can be extracted from coffee will encourage coffee drinkers to take the next step to black coffee, a trend that he is already seeing take root in Melbourne. As a barista, the challenge is to showcase the coffee in a way that is appealing for customers to experiment, and in this Gautherin is taking inspiration from other industries.
“The way we present a coffee to the customer, a lot of this time we get it wrong. When I go to a café and ask what single origins they have, sometimes I get, 'We have a Colombian or an Ethiopian.' That means absolutely nothing. It's like me saying I have a French wine or an Italian wine, that tells me nothing. At the very least we should be telling them the origin, the processing and the varietal, the same when you say this is a red wine from France and the varietal is a pinot noir. That gives you a lot of information about the body, the taste and possibly the flavour profile.”
Prior to working in coffee, Gautherin was in management consulting, and bringing the critical eye of this discipline to the café industry has awoken Gautherin to the lack of standardised barista education.
“If you want to become a chef you go to a cooking school, if you want to become an architect you study architecture, but if you want to become a barista how do you even learn about coffee? … In coffee there's no such thing as a proper, professional barista school.”
Running his own training school led Gautherin to discover that a lack of formal education hampers coffee’s ability to grow.
“It's the current industry's challenge and whoever can solve that problem will make the industry more professional will make people last longer in the industry.”
Looking to the future, Gautherin imagines that going to a café may become more akin to going to a restaurant, with professionals who know their craft serving engaged and curious customers: “there might be a stage where in big coffee shops you have a head barista or sommelier who goes around and talks about the different coffees you have on the menu.”
Until then, pull up a chair at The Gypsy and let Gautherin fill you in on where the coffee industry is headed next.