Archive for November, 2009

Smiling for a Buck

I am a mutt. Being half Aussie half Yank means I’ve had a foot in both countries throughout my entire life. For the holidays I’m off to visit the other part of my family in sunny California. I will not be making coffee for anyone but myself for 6 weeks, a Merry Christmas to my espresso stained hands.

I’m switching gears and becoming the customer. No, I’m not going to leave trash all over the café or threaten legal action if an establishment doesn’t serve soy, I’m just going to observe and blog.

Customer service in the United States is a completely different experience. My first encounter with Australian hospitality made me so frustrated and upset I felt like a washed up celebrity demanding notoriety.

I couldn’t understand why the waiters, baristas and check out people weren’t paying me any attention. Bare minimum did not cut it for me. I was used to constant questioning on my food, drink and mood to the point of harrassment. I’m sure if I had asked to be spoon fed the request would have been met with glee.

Of course this is partly due to the 20% restaurant tip on top of the bill, the unspoken thank you for an attentive waiter. At coffee houses it was loose change or a dollar. I’ve worked in both, the money was more lucrative when food was involved and pay checks became secondary.

In order to boost the tips it is necessary to kill every customer with kindness and bend over backwards and beyond to keep the 20% thank you fee consistent. Fake smiles go hand in hand with clothing compliments. Even if you think track pants and high heeled shoes are poorly paired, grin and gush.

It wasn’t until I realized how spoilt I was from the American way that I started to gain some patience and even modify my own way of dealing with customers. By dropping the charade I began to look at customers as actual people instead of bags of money clinking to the register waiting for me to push the right buttons so cash would pour out.

I became more laid back due to my hospo experience here and learned that it wasn’t about the money it was about the people. I took to this mentality like a shot to milk (go with it) and suddenly my days were less mundane and more enjoyable. I actually cared about what the customer was getting instead of trying to make an experience better with a toothy smile.

Now I’m going back with my newfound ethics to compare, review and try not to scrutinise the old ways that now seem foreign and over the top. Sometimes I miss the tips but I don’t miss the plastic demeanour that accompanied them.

Ultimate Affogato

When the Ben & Jerry’s technicoloured Volkswagen bus pulled up to the steps of the Borchardt Library on the last day of semester, I couldn’t contain my excitement. A couple of regulars looked towards me to explain, seeing as I am familiar with the American ice cream brand and it was impossible to hide the drool streaming down my chin.

The ice cream company, originating from Vermont, is expanding to Australia. They will be selling their delicious ice cream in Deli’s starting in Sydney then moving down to Melbourne.

Once the coffee line disappeared, I rushed over hoping to be the first in line and see what they had to offer.

They gave away Chunky Monkey (banana ice cream with chocolate chunks and walnuts) and Cookie Dough (the obvious mixed with vanilla ice cream). I grabbed several, not to splurge but to make the most awesome espresso beverage known to summer, the affogato.

Traditionally vanilla ice cream and espresso are better companions, yet Cookie Dough sounded irresistible and a few customers were game enough to give it a go.

I felt like an ambassador to taste, pouring fresh espresso shots over the Cookie Dough ice cream (banana didn’t seem compatable) and watching the bitter crema mix naturally with the vanilla and doughy chunks. It was a success as I managed to get a few long black drinkers to indulge themselves.

Unfortunately we don’t have the tools to store ice cream in our little café, so if you weren’t there that day, from the bottom of my heart and my entire palate, I am truly sorry.

Nevertheless, it is an extremely easy beverage to make at home: Hot espresso (any black coffee really) over a scoop of your favourite ice cream, it’s the perfect remedy for a 40 degree day.

For more on the Vermont besties (Ben & Jerry) click on the links above and also this article in The Australian.

Another Semester Down

011The end of uni and the beginning of holidays turns my workplace into a ghost town, complete with tumbleweeds and silence. “Where is everyone” a curious customer asks as I clean every nook and cranny in the coffee shop, “not here” I say dreaming of my own holiday.

It’s incredibly boring and time moves like molasses when the students disappear and forget about the semester that has come to pass. The only leftovers are a few professors, full timers and a handful of incoming students having a sticky beak. I’d rather not work when we go from 1500 to 700 shots but then again centrelink is stingy.

I’ve finished my own semester and am always in a state of shock and disorientation when I return to the Agora, the Flinders St stairs of La Trobe University. It does however give me the time to have some deep and meaningfuls with our limited customers where I drool over the discussions of trips to Barcelona or Hawaii.

Yes, we are open even though most of our clientele are belligerently celebrating a completed semester. We tidy up during this period, re-paint, bleach tiles and bring in sniffer dogs to retrieve all the espresso we’ve missed. It makes the hours pass and the place sparkle. I think my first boss described it best: “if there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.”

Instant Health

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Most people come in for a coffee at least twice a day. The heavy users come in about four times. Either they really enjoy the ambience in our little café or they have done some reading on antioxidants.

It’s all over the news, green tea this and coffee that, stop the evil oxidation process with one delicious 8 oz beverage.  CancerAlzheimer’sdiabetes and even certain strains of influenza can apparently all be managed with coffee.

According to a 2005 study, Americans get most of their antioxidants from consuming coffee. That’s rather amazing considering fruit, beans, nuts and vegetables are so high in these free radical fighting compounds. But what kinds of coffee are they talking about? And can you just eat coffee beans and get the same effect? Well yes, it just depends on the beans.

Robusta beans are roasted longer than Arabica beans, they are bitter to taste and therefore require more attention. However, Arabica beans are the most popular amongst connoisseurs as they take longer to grow giving them a more full-bodied taste. Arabica beans are used by most coffee companies, Robusta beans, typically used in instant brands, only make up 20% of the world’s coffee.

Since the roasting process dramatically increases antioxidant activity Robusta beans have a higher quantity. It doesn’t make them taste as good as Arabica beans but they do have more cancer combating agents. They are also darker than Arabica beans making them richer in antioxidants. Both will give you a healthy fix but the beans that taste worse are actually better for you.

Think of them as the broccoli left on the side of your plate, a little salt and you’re good to go, a little milk and sugar added to the Robusta and its flavour town.

Apparently 3-4 cups of coffee will get you over the recommended antioxidant intake level for the day. I guess my addicted customers are privy to the appropriate dosage and are leading the way to beating the flu. Just remember if you like your latte sweet four cups of sugar laden milk a day may have a heavy effect on your diet, like the Americans.


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