The Gentlemen Baristas, Union Street

Detail taken from The Gentlemen Baristas logo drawn on the wall upstairs at Union Street.The Gentlemen Baristas opened at the end of 2014 and is favoured by such luminaries as Bex (Double Skinny Macchiato) and Daniel (Cups of Coffee London). So quite why it’s taken me over two years to visit the original coffee shop on Union Street is a mystery. And, frankly, the loss is all mine. From the street, a modest multi-paned square window next to a solitary door hides an unexpectedly large and glorious interior, consisting of several interlinked spaces spread over two floors, including a sheltered roof-garden and cosy back room. I can see the appeal already.

The Gentlemen Baristas projects a fun image, reminding me of Victoriana and, more specifically, Steampunk, but not in an in-your-face sort of way. If you’re just coming for a cup of coffee, don’t let it put you off. Talking of which, while The Gentlemen Baristas may be about fun, it’s very serious when it comes to the coffee, which is private-label roasted by Wogan Coffee in Bristol under The Gentlemen Baristas brand. There are several blends and single-origins available on espresso, with more single-origins on filter (Aeropress, V60, Kalita Wave and Chemex), where they’re joined by a guest roaster, currently Liverpool’s Neighbourhood Coffee.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The Gentlemen Baritsas on Union Street, in Southwark, south of the river in London Town.
  • Shame about the No Entry sign though. Hope it doesn't apply to the coffee house!
  • I popped by twice. This was the first time, when it was very welcoming on a dark evening.
  • Whatever time you arrive, well-mannered (& corrrectly-hyphenated) coffee is always a plus!
  • The view from just inside the door. It's a lot bigger in here than it looks!
  • The view back towards the door and the round table in the window.
  • That's it for seating at the front. The counter is on the left...
  • ... while there's just enough space for a little shelf on the right.
  • However, just when you think you might have to stand... What's this beyond the counter?
  • It's a whole, extra room. Looks very cosy too!
  • There's this table just to the right of the doorway...
  • ... and this one against the right-hand wall.
  • Meanwhile, at the back, there's a bar against the wall.
  • Finally there are two more tables along the left-hand wall. A four-person one at the back...
  • ... and a two-person one by the door.
  • As if that wasn't enough, there's more! Through another door at the front, there are stairs!
  • When you get to the top, this view greets you as you look through the door.
  • Looking to the left, there's more!
  • A whole lot more in fact! The upstairs is the same size as the front part of the downstairs.
  • The upstairs widens out past the stairs. We're at the back, looking at the front, by the way.
  • The seating is dominated by a large, communal table. There are going to be changes though.
  • The view from the front. The Gentlemen Baristas has a new store, by the way.
  • This used to be a coffee school/training room, but it's moving to the new store.
  • So all this equipment will soon be gone. In the case of this lot, it's gone already.
  • Right at the front, for the moment at least, is this lovely, makeshift table.
  • Hopefully the armchair will survive, but I've been told this is becoming more dining-seating.
  • Right at the back, opposite the stairs, is the sofa we first saw. Will that survive I wonder?
  • Next to this, in the back wall, is a door, which looks out onto this, the upstairs garden.
  • It was a bit brighter when I popped back during the day!
  • It's a cosy little space back here, although this too is going to be refurbished.
  • Nice use of tea pots.
  • Back inside and I applaud the choice of reading material.
  • Talking of things on shelves, these portafilters line a shelf at the top of the stairs.
  • Why do stairs always look steeper when you are heading down them?
  • Unsurprisingly there are lots of lights, particularly downstairs. These hang over the counter.
  • Meanwhile, this is one of the ones in the cosy room at the back.
  • Obligatory bare lightbulb shot.
  • More things on shelves, this time from the back room.
  • Interesting use of the boxing at the back.
  • The Growler sounds like an excellent idea. Cuts down on packaging waste.
  • More things on shelves, this time from the main room.
  • There are various coffee-related items for sale on shelves just inside the door on the left...
  • ... which includes bags of The Gentlemen Baristas' coffee.
  • This is the view as you come in through the door: cake! And lots of it!
  • This is part of the selection from my second visit...
  • ... as is this. Such a great selection.
  • This glorious cake, meanwhile, was from my first visit.
  • More cake, in the form of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers (left) and Teacakes (right)
  • The counter, which dominates the front room, has the coffee kit on the long side.
  • The menu is on the wall behind the counter, coffee on the left, tea on the right.
  • There are more choices over here.
  • The heart of the (espresso) operation is this state-of-the-art Faema E71.
  • It has no fewer than four grinders of various shapes and sizes.
  • The grinders have useful information leaflets, while the coffee has interesting names...
  • ... which seems to be very hat orientated.
  • There are also filter choices, with more hats on show, plus a couple of guests.
  • The filter part of the operation is at the far end of the counter, where it has its own grinder.
  • On my first visit, I had the Fez, a Kenyan Peaberry single-origin, through the V60.
  • On my return I was treated to a flat white, made with a single-origin called 'The Pretender'.
  • It was very smooth and had some lovely latte art...
  • ... which survived all the way to the bottom of the cup.
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Not content with waiting for two years to visit, I then visited twice in the space of a month. The first occasion, on a rainy December evening (when The Gentlemen Baristas was ironically staffed by three excellent lady baristas), was followed by a daytime visit at the start of January. However, I was lured there under false pretences.

You see, The Gentlemen Baristas has recently opened a second branch in the Building Centre on Store Street. As a result, the training room, currently upstairs at Union Street, is moving to the new branch, leading to The Gentlemen Baristas closing over the Christmas break for a refurbishment. This, in turn, rendered my photos obsolete, necessitating a return in the New Year for a re-shoot.

Except…

NOTHING HAS CHANGED!

So I re-visited a lovely coffee shop and drank its lovely coffee for no good reason. The tragedy!

The Gentleman Baristas appears to be a pretty small spot, just a round, three-person table in the window to the right of the door, with the counter down the left-hand side of a long, thin space. However, look a little closer: there’s more to The Gentleman Baristas than meets the eye. For starters, an opening in the back wall beyond the counter leads to a cosy back room with four tables and a four-person bar against the back wall. There’s very little natural light here, but this is more than made up for by four bright light bulbs, which go well with the exposed brick walls, wooden floor and white-painted ceiling.

However, that’s not all. Two doors pierce the white-plastered wall opposite the counter. One leads, unexcitingly, to the toilet, but the first, towards the front, leads to a flight of stairs which runs up the right-hand side to the first floor. Right now, the espresso machines and grinders that equipped the training room are still there, but they’ll soon be leaving and upstairs will be recast as more of an informal dining area. Until then, there’s a large, communal table, flanked by an armchair (front) and sofa (back), with another table right at the front, where you can sit by either of two square windows and watch the world go by.

Most would be content with this, but not The Gentlemen Baristas. Oh no. There’s a glass door at the back, opening onto a secluded, sheltered roof-garden. Right now, there’s a bench running around three sides with two large, round tables, but this too is being refurbished. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go back a THIRD time.

Turning to the coffee, The Gentlemen Baristas has four options on espresso: house-blend, decaf and (usually) two single-origins, one of which is a sometimes a guest. There are four single-origins on pour-over, including a couple of guests, one of which was The Gatsby, a single-origin coffee infused with Bourbon which I tried (and loved) at the London Coffee Festival.

On my first visit, I had a V60 of The Fez (all the coffees have names, usually hat-based), which is a Kenya Peaberry. This was initially rather mellow, with fruity notes, and quite subdued for a Kenyan. However, it got fruitier as it cooled, developing a much more interesting taste profile until it was practically cold, at which point it was delicious. If I have one complaint, it was served in a large cup, so I couldn’t play with the temperatures myself. On my return, I had a very smooth flat white, made with a coffee called The Pretender (which is a bobble hat, apparently), although I failed to make a note of the coffee’s origin…

63 UNION STREET • SOUTHWARK • LONDON • SE1 1SG
www.thegentlemenbaristas.com +44 (0) 7817 350 067
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster House + Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Bar
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Cake, Sandwiches
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:30 – 17:00 Wifi Free (with login)
Sunday 10:00 – 16:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 12th December 2016, 9th January 2017

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