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Struggling with Success

Gaylords

Name: Gaylord’s Caffe Espresso (aka Gaylord’s)
Location: 4150 Piedmont Avenue (@41st), Oakland, CA

Rating: 2

During the past few months, as I’ve struggled to get this blog up and running, I focused mostly on coffees and cafés of which I already thought highly, were held in particularly high regard by others, or that I though held particular promise based on the research I did of coffee in those areas. My larger guiding principle has been that I can do more good by steering people towards promising coffee than warning them away from the bad or mediocre stuff.

I’m not abandoning that principle, but I would like to expand on how I do it. My hope is to start looking more closely at coffee in particular neighborhoods closer to home. What this means in practice is my going back to places which I’ve stopped frequenting now that finding good coffee has superceded my need for a good place to study.

The trick will be to keep this endeavor from turning into a rant-fest. My hope is that I can stay focused enough to stick to coffee that has some meaningful and significant role in the communities that I find it and to cafes that still have some promise. I guess my goal for many of these reviews is more modest overall: I hope to find coffee destinations worthy of a 3-block, rather than a 3-state, detour. My first stop in adopting this approach was Gaylord’s, which fell a little short of the mark.

For those not familiar with it, Gaylord’s is located along Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue right across the street from a Starbucks. It also shares the street with a Peet’s, a couple of other independent cafes, and several up- and down-scale restaurants, all serving varying qualities of coffee. Gaylord’s occupies a beautiful corner location, enjoys lots of natural light and maintains a steady stream of customers at most times of the day. It’s so popular with the locals that it’s often hard to find more than a few seats free, even at what more typically the slow times of day.

The inside of Gaylord’s is nothing special, and if it weren’t so busy, one might find the interior a bit worn down. The walls are decorated with often unimpressive artwork and the space is filled with somewhat worn and mismatched furniture. Of course, the café has been here since 1976, impressive to say the least, and something that gives it some real street cred with the youngins on the block. There are some charming elements such as the old organ that serves as a napkin and sugar station and there’s certainly no wanting for outlets. Oh, and the pastries are pretty good too.

Unfortunately, the coffee is not particularly memorable. The macchiato I ordered was harsh and not particularly flavorful, but I found it palatable enough to keep drinking. The foam was too course and too plentiful but, otherwise, the barista pulling the shot appeared to possess some decent skill behind the bar. I think the real culprit here is the bean – Panache espresso. My suspicion is that that it’s slightly worse coffee but made slight better than the Green stuff being super-automated across the street, but I’m not quite familiar enough with Panache to say that with authority.

Gaylord’s drip comes from Equal Exchange, which for all their social responsibility has yet to wow me with a bean (although I have been pleasantly surprised with their Mind, Body and Soul blend). The saving grace at Gaylord’s is that they typically offer 3-4 different drips giving you the opportunity to opt for a lighter (usually better) rather than a darker (usually not) roast.

It gives me great pains to write this lukewarm review since Gaylord’s holds a dear place in my heart. My best friend met his now wife there when she worked as a barista – sorry guys if you’re reading this. The silver lining is that Gaylord’s has all the tools it needs to move itself forward. It has a positive reputation in the neighborhood, a strong and devoted clientele, and decently skilled baristi. It’s poised for greater things.

Unfortunately, these same features hold them back. There’s little reason for them to up the quality of the coffee since better coffee would only cost them more and lead to lower profits. Until Gaylord’s management finds a real vision or develops a strong devotion to serving quality coffee, its customers will remain the victims of their own fierce loyalty.

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2 comments to Struggling with Success

  • crackedconcrete

    Nice post. I worked at Gaylord’s in the late 90’s and could tell you stories. The coffee was awful back then.

  • I think I missed Gaylord’s in that decade, but there hasn’t been much of an improvement in the several years that I’ve known it. It’s too bad. There are just so many places like this that with just a little push in the right direction could be worthwhile destinations. Village Grounds in North Berkeley and Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph are two good examples of what Gaylord’s could be. OK cafes with high quality coffee.

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