Archive for the 'Experimenting' Category

From Russia with love

Sailing in from Shanghai in 1925, Ivan Repin, his wife and children disembarked the Tango Maru in Sydney to start a new life. Like many Russians in early 20th Century Australia, Repin and his family were refugees who had left as a result of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and civil war.

Repin had studied engineering in St Petersburg, but as the economic crises of the 1920’s loomed and a foreign tongue showed, it was tough for Russians to find work in their field.

After trying his hand at a few different occupations, including running his own single bus line, Repin the entrepreneur opened his first ‘coffee inn’ in 1930, shortly after he was naturalised. By 1934, he had two shops open, first on Sydney’s King Street then on Pitt.

His geographical inclination can be largely attributed to his success. As there were close to 2,000 Russians in Sydney, most of them were located within close proximity to his coffee inns, including the ethnically established club, the Russian House.

Repin employed many Russian speakers including Estonians and Ukrainians in his shops as they became a haven for misplaced office workers who could no longer afford to rent premises because of the Depression.

Opening mail, company meetings and networking were all frequent business within Repin’s inns which also included proper coffee and rich breakfast like sweet cranberry waffles and eggs on toast.

‘Repin’s coffee inns were also to some extent a home away from home for Russian speakers in Sydney, including those of the visiting Ballets Russes dancers whose first language was Russian,’ historian Michelle Potter from ANU remarks on the hospitality Repin’s business showed travelling Russian Ballerinas.

It was a completely different concept to the way coffee was viewed in the predominately tea drinking society in Sydney. Although coffee or tea was inclusive with a breakfast order at the inns, a lone cup of coffee or iced coffee was charged, an idea which spread like wildfire when Italian immigrants entered the scene in the fifties.

 But you weren’t so much paying for the fast service it was more an admittance fee for a type of European sophistication not present in the pub on the corner.

As his inns sprouted up around Sydney, Repin travelled to the United States to source out better coffee and learn from the industry abroad. Much like coffee roasters do now, when they fly to Guatemala, Kenya or Indonesia to find produce for their roasters, Repin wanted the best for his customers.

In 1948, Repin purchased a coffee roaster and sold fresh take home beans over the counter. He had become a coffee enthusiast by this point and wanted to share his passion for superior product with Australia.

Repin didn’t just give Sydney a palate workout, he introduced a venue that housed culture, like-mindedness, great coffee and a place for migrants, refugees and Australians to go to escape a tough economy and get back on their feet.

Coffee cocktails

Coconut LatteLast weekend, I got sick of coffee. Staring at the menu board I realized there really wasn’t that much on offer.

Lattes, flat whites and cappuccinos are all milk and espresso with varying levels of froth. Black coffee wasn’t calling out to me and neither were the syrups gathering dust beside the espresso machine.

So I went home, channelled Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown and made some cocktails.

Vietnamese coffee is black filtered coffee poured on top of condensed milk. It is delicious and became the inspiration for my little barista bartending adventure.

I decided to go completely against the norm and not use milk; instead I bought some coconut and thickened cream. Furthering my outside the box experience was some rum essence and dark and milk chocolate.

I came up with two recipes that are very do-able at home.

The Espresso Lover’s Hot Chocolate

1 cup thickened cream

1 tablespoon icing sugar

2 square of dark chocolate (I used Lindt)

1 square of milk chocolate (Lindt again)

1 shot of espresso

Using a hand blender I whipped together the cream and sugar and made… whipped cream.

I picked up some Five Senses beans from my local and packed a shot and let it run on top of the chocolate. Alternatively you can use a stove top, once it’s finished brewing pour it on top of the chocolate and let it sit for a minute without stirring.

Then I put the whipped cream on top. It was fantastic. So good I tinkered with the recipe again and added a little rum essence, it was rich but it was phenomenal.

Coconut Cream Latte and Mocha

1 cup of coconut cream

1 shot of espresso

2 square dark chocolate (Lindt)

Very loudly, because of the consistency of the coconut cream, I steamed the cream. To steam at home check out this little post, this will get you close to the same results of that in a coffee shop.

I poured a shot then filled up the glass with the coconut cream. It was really nutty, which complimented the coffee I was using, yet it was delicious and incredibly filling. I also added chocolate the second time round, a bit sweet for my taste but tasty nonetheless.

Confessions of a former bitchy barista

This was first published in the National Times on 6 July, 2010

I did something crazy, something so un-Melbourne, anti-social and mood altering that I am a changed barista. No, I didn’t pick up a habit; instead, I got off drugs.

With dispensaries lining each of our main drags, we are consistently putting caffeine in our systems. I indulged with an espresso eight times daily. Teetering on addiction I decided to give up coffee for seven whole days.

I went cold turkey and took away what fuels my lifestyle. This included of course coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, coke and all teas except the herbal varieties. I have been making coffee for nine years and through that time have not gone more than a day without the stimulant.

It wasn’t completely on a whim. The University of Bristol in the UK published a study earlier last month that found that we build a tolerance to caffeine by consuming it daily. Our morning shots are not waking us up; they are merely bringing us back to “normal”.

This I’ve heard countless times but never believed it to be true as I thought I was getting a buzz from my morning ritual. Yet my week without stimulation garnered a new opinion.

I got the first headache the second day in. It was probably one of the worst migraines I have ever had, only bed cured the sharp sensation pulsating behind my half-closed eyes.

Then nausea followed. I was “flu-like”, experiencing how the body reacts without using the classified drug. I was out of it and feeling terrible but at least I wasn’t irritable.

In fact, I was the complete opposite to irritable, which was second to headache on the uninspiring withdrawal symptom list. I was completely unfazed by any problem I encountered, I had adopted a new personality.

As I said, I make coffee for hundreds of people that all seem to know how to push my buttons. This has made me a moody little shot-pouring demon quite capable of throwing change back at customers after it’s been scattered on the counter. Yes, I was that kind of hospitality worker.

Yet after a few frail days and about 11 hours sleep each night, I had become so calm most customers probably thought I had jumped on the Mary Jane bandwagon.

The fog eventually lifted and I gained clarity. Being spacey probably added to my mellow demeanour but, after sleeping and drinking litres of lemongrass and ginger tea, I became productive.

The attention age has taught me how to multi-task and open endless tabs to bask in status updates and tweets. Searching the internet for crap and data is where caffeine makes its presence in the system most noticeable.

So I single-tasked. I stopped stalking Facebook “friends” while trying to conjure up witty one-liners to feed my Twitter followers. I did everything one task at a time with more focus than a one-armed calligrapher. My mind stopped jumping.

So there I was a calm, slow-talking, unstimulated being capable of holding a conversation on one topic instead of following tangent after tangent. This was me off caffeine.

I didn’t realise the effect it had had on me. It had never occurred to me that my consistent mood swings were related to the eight shots I was consuming. I was able to manage stress better and not fly off the handle when something went awry.

When day seven rolled around I was hesitant to have the first one back. I had already stood up from my chair proclaiming caffeinalism and herbal tea rehab seemed to balance me out. Yet in the name of science I got all dressed up and went to my local.

The study was correct. I went from aloof to jittery after a strong latte and for the rest of the day displayed an erratic bout of productivity. I cleaned, exercised, Googled everything and talked to everyone.

Habitual use was keeping me at a level where I didn’t feel the effects anymore. I had to get it out of my system to see what it really did. It gave me more energy than I had had for nearly a decade as my tolerance was re-configured. I have since scaled back my habit to one a day, which seems to wake me up yet maintain my new laid-back trait.

Although the eight shots were aiding my jam-packed life, I was rarely in good spirits and no one wants to get a coffee from a bitchy barista.


“I have heard this before and still don’t believe it to be true. So I am going to test it on myself, a hardcore coffee drinker.”

I got dressed up for coffee this morning. My hair was done, best boots were on and with my girlfriend in tow I went to have my very first strong soy latte.

Comments flew in early in the week letting me know the first one back would taste amazing. My local gave me one of the best coffees I have ever had and it took an intense amount of energy to not order another.

I went slow, first spoon feeding myself the froth then sipping lightly, it almost went cold. I was determined to take time with my indulgence; I didn’t want to waste it by slipping into the bad habit of chugging.

After about ten minutes, once my new ritual was completed I got the shakes. This has happened a handful of times throughout my espresso consuming life, it made me feel wired right away.

What followed was one of the most productive days I’ve had all week.

I shopped, cleaned the house, finished another assignment then went for a run. I tried to take a nap but there were so many thoughts coming in and out it was impossible to keep my eyes closed. I was so up today that that calm, unaffected person you met a few days ago seems like a blur.

I guess I am back to my multi-tasking ways as well, because I couldn’t seem to stay away from Facebook and Twitter.

Caffeine increases your serotonin levels and I felt that effect, I was generally happier once I had gotten my hit. I was dancing to music whilst I cleaned the house, nothing was a chore, I felt great.

I’m glad I re-configured my caffeine intake, because I didn’t actually know what it was doing to me. I have been proven wrong, I was just adding to my high with every sip that I took, never coming down and never going up, my ‘alertness’, I believe, was an illusion.

I won’t be drinking eight shots of espresso anymore, I am a reformed barista. Being more careful with my consumption will make me respect the bean even more and the effects it can delightfully bring.

I also have more of an appreciation for those who drink weak lattes and decaf. I sincerely apologize for rolling my eyes when you ordered; I now know how you feel.

Unstimulated Day 6

“I don’t want to become a case study in some journal of psychiatry so I’m going to get a handle on this now.”

When I study I have a ritual. Actual study gets 30 minutes followed by five minutes on Facebook then a cigarette and coffee and back to the cycle.

I studied all day without social networking, a cigarette or hot drink interruption. This is monumental.

Focussing on a single job for more than an hour is something I thought I just wasn’t capable of or a symptom of the Attention Age. But I was wrong. I think I was just too wired to keep my thoughts on one thing.

Perhaps this mellow demeanour that I have been shunning is actually beneficial. I finished my assignment so that’s a plus for no caffeine. But I got tired and wanted a nap, downside to no caffeine.

Instead of sleeping, I did some searching into this and found Swedish blogger, Henrik Edberg, had given up caffeine for 30 days (something I am not willing to do). He said “I’m less prone to procrastination. I didn’t really notice it while I was drinking coffee but my mind seemed to wander off in all kinds of ways a lot of the time.”

My now one tract mind did seem more patient while researching and I certainly felt less stress but I could’ve used an energy boost in the afternoon.

Tomorrow I am having my first coffee. Trust me though, there will only be one. If there is anything I’ve learned this week it’s that I was consuming way too much caffeine and that I now hate herbal tea.

Unstimulated Day 5

“Because we build up a tolerance by drinking it every day, we are always buzzing, never really pinging. The daily hit just keeps the headaches at bay.”

I haven’t pinged or buzzed for days now and like I mentioned my personality has become somewhat peculiar.

A University of Florida study in 2000 showed “that 50% of moderate coffee drinkers could feel increased mood changes when consuming as little as 18 mg of caffeine.” My newly altered state is neither up nor down. I am on cruise control and it is so boring.

The weekends are the only time I ever pay for coffee. Since it is so readily available while I work and free even when I’m off the clock, it became so easy to indulge almost hourly.

I was consuming roughly eight espresso shots a day and with about 100mg of caffeine in each, my levels were through the roof. I’m not even going to factor in the chocolate and cans of coke that number would really make my habit seem ridiculous.

So I guess I’m one of the 50% that experienced a mood change, although I would consider myself to be a high coffee consumer. I think I like buzzing a little more than this mellow, aloof demeanour I seem to have adopted.

Oh well, only two days left til I have my first hit of espresso. Hopefully, I won’t be too over the top afterwards.

Unstimulated Day 4

“Wish me luck, I will update every evening to let you know how many customers I screamed at and conclude with a cup of coffee next Sunday, I already can’t wait.”

The cravings began today. I thought this out loud mission would give me enough strength throughout the week so I would turn my nose up at caffeine.

Nope. All I wanted was chocolate, coke and of course a strong soy latte. Oh man I miss it, I miss it badly.

I didn’t give in; instead I had five cups of chamomile tea and about three bottles of water. Guess I thought I could just wash the cravings out of me. Nope, STILL WANT A COFFEE.

I also worked all day and it seemed as though every customer was against me. I swear each time I took an order they scattered their change all over the counter. There were so many latte spills the mop needs a holiday and when packing up the outside furniture two people just sat there, talking, unaware that we were waiting for them to close.

“Uh… hello? All the tables and chairs are gone except for yours wanna move?” I imagined saying.

“Deeply sorry about our loitering and you’re doing such a good job, here’s 50 bucks.” I imagined them saying.

But I didn’t scream, yell or articulate a smart ass comment. I was pretty patient with all of them even though I was struggling internally. Irritated? I think so, but at least it’s manageable.

Unstimulated Day 3

“I rarely press snooze on my alarm clock. I literally cannot wait to get out of bed and have my first cup of coffee for the day.”

All I have been doing for the last three days is sleeping. It’s as if I have been deprived of it for the past nine years of drinking coffee. The snooze button is my newfound friend.

I have always been one of those nutcases that could never sleep in past 7, no matter what time I fell into bed. Now I have been taking three hour naps each afternoon and it is quite the puffy-eyed struggle to pry myself up after 8 more through the night.

Apparently, this is all part of the withdrawal process as “when you stop caffeine you allow your body to catch up on its lost rest. Using caffeine to force yourself into activity is like flogging an exhausted horse.”

So, at the moment I’m a flogged horse that can’t stop yawning. I’m still a little loopy but my concentration is getting better. I did, however, get a little irritable today.

It’s been rather cold lately so I went to buy a sweater. After the third shop full of bored retail workers, I got an over the top ‘hi, how’s your day going’? This peppy little fashionista must have been full of caffeine because her eagerness was unbearable. I said ‘fine’ and kept looking.

Then came the ‘is there anything I can help you with’ same amount of pep. I shot back a sharp ‘no’ and she retreated to her til. I felt bad but couldn’t be bothered explaining my current state; I was, after all, too tired.

Unstimulated Day 2

“Due to this epiphany I have decided to take all caffeine off my menu for the next seven days. This includes of course coffee, chocolate, soda, energy drinks and all teas except the herbal varieties.”

I worked for seven hours today. I made hundreds of coffees and watched nearly every customer sip, slurp and chug their creamy, caramel colored lattes.

And you know what? It really wasn’t that bad.

I had a bit of a migraine hangover when I arrived at work. It felt like I was walking through cobwebs wherever I went, I was dizzy and everything was blurry. But by 10 am, when the Melbourne sun finally made its appearance so did my new personality.

Still haven’t seen a bitchy side to all of this, which is interesting because I tend to be a moody barista which goes by the hour yet I have been extremely laid back for the past two days. Didn’t even get mad when a customer asked me to remake her drink even though SHE didn’t say skinny. Instead I smiled and frothed away.

Making coffee didn’t make me want coffee, I had my herbal tea, but what I really wanted was chocolate. I even jumped on my iPhone to see if there was caffeine in white chocolate since I had ruled it all out just in case. There isn’t.

So I’m going to sit back with my dream bar and cheers to the end of my headache-free day.

Unstimulated Day 1

“Now I looked around and I will apparently experience headaches, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, lack of motivation, basically bitchiness which all sounds peachy.”

Peachy, why did I use that word? I am now experiencing the worst headache imaginable.

The day started out so well, I was slightly loopy but felt no pain. I had lemongrass and ginger tea as a substitute for my morning ritual and was rather optimistic until about five this afternoon. Now all lights are too bright and my roommates are trying to feed me ibuprofen, damn you caffeine.

I have however, been relatively calm throughout the whole process. No irritability or anxiety and I think the lack of motivation goes hand in hand with the migraine.

Todd, my housemate saw my face, scrunched and squinting, then happily declared that he “will never give up caffeine.” I wish I hadn’t either but hopefully I will wake up tomorrow and the pounding will have disappeared.

Wish I could write more, but the screen is beaming with so many colours my temples are pulsating. Day two here I come…



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