CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Park Coffee 2


One positive result of the months and months of Covid lockdown, at least for me, has been the fact that I’ve spent a lot more time walking in nature. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed walking, and ever since I moved to Sheffield years ago I’ve been very happy with the fact that I’m only about twenty minutes from the Rivelin Valley and the Peak District, not to mention the same distance in the other direction from the city centre.

But for several months I wasn’t going in to work (meaning physically walking or jumping on a bus as opposed to just crawling out of bed, half-dressing, and turning my computer on), So I needed a more immediate, as well as frequent, outlet for walking off my pent-up energy. And as I live just a few short minutes from Bole Hill, I had plenty of opportunities to explore every single walking path and nook and cranny of this recreational area--most which I had never realised even existed.

Properly called Bolehills Recreation Ground, this scenic park was named after the practice of smelting of lead in the open air, dating from the 12th to the late 16th centuries. A bole or bolehill consisted of a stone structure built on an exposed hillside, open on one side, within which a large fire burned, using the wind to provide a draft. These days, however, there is no evidence of smelting of any kind, as people are too busy hiking, picnicking, racing their bicycles and doing stunts on the BMX track, playing with their dogs, or simply enjoying the views across the valley to Stannington and the Peak District.

So what an ideal place for a coffee van. And I was so excited when I heard one had finally materialised: Gypsy Brew, which parks at the main entrance to the park, off Northfield Avenue behind the basketball courts. Frustratingly it’s only open on the weekends for now, but perhaps they will expand their days if things go well.

I decided to make it up there one recent Sunday for a coffee. It was already late afternoon, but I was happy to see the van was still there. I ordered a single macchiato with extra foam, and the woman asked if I wanted it with a lot of extra foam or just a little extra foam, the way she likes it. I always appreciate that attention to detail, which shows that a barista actually knows and cares about their coffee drinks. As it turned out, I estimated a bit too much foam in my sizing approximation, so my macchiato definitely had too much milk. But that was my fault; and the coffee underneath the foam was absolutely gorgeous, so these women definitely know how to make a decent shot of espresso. And, of course, with a good coffee from Smith Street Roasters, that adds up to a very enjoyable walking macchiato. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and as I strolled across the hill, taking in the view, I slowly sipped my coffee and was reminded of all the walking cappuccinos I used to consume back when I lived in Seattle. And just for variety’s sake, I did find an empty bench to sit on so that I could slowly enjoy the second half of my macchiato.

Gypsy Brew was opened by Bianca Silcock and Rhiannon Randle. They got the idea for the van during lockdown, during which time they fell in love. so this is a bit of a dream come true for them, and you can definitely feel the love. The coffee they use is from Dark Woods Coffee, the snacks and sweets are from The Suited Baker and 4eyes Patisserie, and the rubbish is recycled by a local sustainable company, with the coffee grounds donated to local allotments and farms.

Meanwhile, down the hill and a little closer to the city centre, are two connected green spaces: Crookes Valley Park and Weston Park. Covering 11.9 acres, Crookes Valley Park features a large lake which was originally one of ten reservoirs built in the late 1700s that supplied water for drinking and industry. The Crookes Valley lake is the only one remaining, and the park was built around it in the early 20th century.

Adjacent and closer to the city centre is Weston Park. Covering a little over 12 acres and located next to Sheffield University, this park, opened in 1875, is home to not only the Weston Park Museum but also statues commemorating Ebenezer Elliott, Godfrey Sykes, and the York and Lancaster Regiment of WWI. Off to the side behind the tennis courts is a wonderful lake crossed over with curved wooden bridges that always makes me think of a Japanese garden. This lake is home to all kinds of birds including coots, moorhens, mallards (which were all descended from one drake and two ducks), and at this point plenty of mongrel ducks.

I walk through both parks on my way to work. I usually linger for at least a couple of minutes at the Weston Park duck pond as my regular morning meditation before continuing with the absurdity of my so-called working days. Recently yet another coffee van has opened in the park, and the name, Chapter One, also implies new beginnings begat from lockdown. The family run “mobile coffee shop”, as they’re calling it, has been set up in a converted horse box.

It was one Sunday afternoon -- after several weeks of rushing so fast through my life that I kept finding myself too late for things -- that I was finally determined to visit Chapter One. So I practically ran down the hill, hoping to catch them still open at 3:50pm, as they close at 4:00. From a distance I saw two people packing up as if they were shutting, but when I ran up to them they assured me they were still open, although the pastries were sold out for the day. The man still inside the van made me a classic espresso macchiato, and even though I forgot to ask for extra foam, he asked if I wanted any extra. He could have just been making sure he was making an espresso macchiato correctly; but I like to think that more and more people in Sheffield are ordering macchiatos, so there are a range of preferences as to how much milk foam there should be. I mean, I dream of there being a day when I can just walk up to an espresso counter and ask simply for a macchiato, while perhaps giving a subtle hand gesture indicating a bit of extra milk, and any barista anywhere will understand me instantly. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Sadly I wasn’t that impressed by this particular macchiato, as it seemed just a bit too acrid in taste. But perhaps that was because it was the last drink of the day. So to be fair, I’ll give the place a try again, perhaps late in the morning when I’m on my way to work. But only when I have enough time, as I’ve been told there’s usually a long queue that time of day.

Chapter One is also using local products to support local businesses, and they also use two local bakeries. The coffee is Smith Street Coffee Roasters Dark Peak, and the tea is from Batch Tea Company. And along with sweet things they offer savoury pastries and quiches. They play their own playlist, featuring local musicians, from the van as well. And the entire family seemed very pleased when I mentioned that a couple of my friends (who are Pokemoning at Weston Park all the time) had told me about their coffee van.

So I’ll just have to tell more people about both Chapter One and Gypsy Brew. Having spent a decade in Seattle, I’ve always liked the idea of portable coffee venues, so every time I walk through a new park I’ll have to keep my eyes open -- which is probably a good idea anyway whenever you’re walking through a public dog-walking space.

Speaking of avoiding stepping in dog poop reminds me of an email conversation earlier this year with my Bay Area friend:

This morning over breakfast I read about a probiotic company called Seed.Com that is inviting users to upload photos of their post-breakfast stools to the site's online database. They categorise the images from Severe Constipation through Severe Diarrhoea, although I have to admit I'm really not interested in investigating the website — not to mention having detailed photos of human shit as part of my surfing history.

I've also just noticed that the Google Search page's I Feel Lucky option now spins around to give you various other options such as I Feel Hungry, I Feel Stellar, and I Feel Artistic, which all appear randomly like the fruits on a slot machine. There is also an I Feel Adventurous option which, considering websites like Seed.Com, sounds like an option I would prefer not to explore... Nor am I interested in photos of human fecal matter. Do they have an AI engine to analyze the photos? I wonder if they can handle dog poop and cat shit.

In a similar vein I was amused to learn on an NPR news quiz show about a 6th grader in Texas who focused his science project on the timeless question, "Does a cat's butt touch every surface in your house?" By marking his cats' anuses with lipstick and systematically guiding his obedient cats, then observing the lipstick prints, he concluded No. Longhair cats, as you might expect, were less likely to make direct contact. I like the idea of finding catbutt kisses around the house. This is hilarious! How about, instead of using lipstick, marking the cat anuses with some sort of special ink or fingerprinting dust, so that detailed feline anal prints will show up under UV light? I'd love to help out with that experiment, as I do have an interest in forensic sciences. I can hear it now: "According to our forensic expert, not only did they find the victim's fingerprints on the gun found near his body, but there was also evidence that a cat sat on the victim's face shortly after death. And according to the trace of anal skid marks on the left cheek, the cat was probably bathing itself vigorously."