Archive for the 'Service' Category

Post coffee

It’s been six months. Six months since I’ve felt a jug of milk heat up in my palm, watched the espresso drip out of a porta-filter and felt sweat glide down the front of my forehead trying to get ahead of the order.

It’s been six whole months since I made coffee and I miss it dearly.

I’ve had dreams of making coffee, thought about doing a trial and daily consider asking my local barista to shove across so I could take over. Ever since I joined the race I’ve been a little down frequenting the café as a consumer, not a producer.

After I finished my post-grad I went into full time work, 9-5 at a desk. It has taken me months to get over the guilt associated with sitting down all day, something unheard of in the field of hospitality.

But throughout this whole transition from working student to clockwatcher, coffee has been constantly in my thoughts. I am obsessed with it and given the lines I see on Saturday morning throughout Melbourne, so is everybody else.

So I am changing the direction of this blog – since I now stand in a very different place in the café. As a paying customer I’m curious as to why the coffee shop is probably the most frequented place next to the office and home.

I’m embarking on a social history of coffee in Australia, following the trends, the people, the influences, growth and how a love of beans became what it is today.

Although I’m pretty sure dreaming about coffee isn’t normal, I bet those that did in the past are the ones that transformed a popular foreign plant into a staple in society.

Punching holes

I always cut off the check-out clerks from Coles before they ask the fly buys question. Between my metcards, license and debit cards there just isn’t any room for a piece of plastic that will eventually get me an ice-cream maker.

But I will always bank on a coffee card, even though I tend to feel like a cheap bastard reaping the reward.

Loyalty cards are a valuable part of marketing and ensuring customer return, but they are also about giving something back.

Our little establishment does the whole stamp card thing. Five purchases will give you five well rounded holes and then a free coffee; they are one of the most asked for items in the shop apart from coffee of course.

However, our little card has perpetuated some rather outlandish antics that have givenn rise to some new pet peeves, but also make me feel less cheap.

Here are a couple of situations I find rather intriguing when it comes to holes:

Is it this pocket? No, I’ll check the other, oops must be in my wallet, no not there, hmmm, I’ll check my pockets again. STOP. Please place you card neatly in an accessible place so I don’t have to watch you feel yourself up trying to find the damn thing!

Customers shoving themselves in the front of line after the transaction and waving their purple card like a lunatic for a hole, is annoying for all. Ok, you forgot, that’s fine but cutting is never cool, didn’t you learn anything in second grade?

Customers asking me to punch their card because they had forgotten the other day is downright wrong. Even though I always punch it, it’s really rude. It happened yesterday, the window of punch opportunity has left, let it go. Why should reward absent mindedness?

Dodgy cards are the worst because I accept them anyway. As if I’m going to say, did you punch this yourself? We have had to replaced three hole punchers since I’ve dealt with these ‘loyality’ cards, if you’re really struggling for cash, go busking, it’s far more creative than taking a pencil and shoving it through a card.

I’m not going to ask if you have your caffeine card at the end of each transaction like they do at the supermarket, so if you have one, remember it, otherwise it’s your fault not mine.

4 things you may not know about coffee

1: There are ways around high prices

I’ve seen people get rather inventive when it comes to saving money. A single shot of espresso is cheaper to buy than a latte. Usually, coffee places have a little condiments bar consisting of sugar and milk to put in tea and long blacks.

Last summer, I noticed a customer ordering a shot over ice, a common drink yet it took me a while to figure out why the complimentary milk jug was empty when he left. Then it hit, he made his own iced coffee.

We charge $3.50 for an iced coffee which is espresso shots and milk over ice; he paid $2.40 for black coffee over ice and got the milk for free. Dodgy, yes sir! But he did save over a dollar per drink.

I once pulled up a stingy student for ordering a large latte and an extra cup. If he hadn’t poured half of his latte into the requested cup then handed it to his friend in front of me, he may still be getting away with it today.

2: Skinny milk froths better than full fat milk

Coffee connoisseurs insist that the more fat in milk, the better the coffee tastes. This may be true but if you like a frothy cappuccino, skinny is the way to go.

Because skinny milk has less fat content, it froths better and looks much better when it has been properly dealt with. The froth is glossier and much thicker than full fat foam. If you can get past the slightly watered down flavor of skinny milk, give it a go next time you order a milk based coffee.

3: Are you in on the secret?

A menu board will list the most basic items offered in a café and every now and then a special. However, there are a lot of ingredients behind the counter making options outside of the menu endless.

Syrups, chocolates, teas and assorted milks can all be mixed and matched to form whatever concoction you can conjure. Trust me, I get bored behind the machine, I’ve tried it all.

The most popular under the radar order at the moment is a chai latte with a shot of espresso. Tea and coffee seems like an odd flavour combo yet the sweet taste of chai does level out the bitterness of coffee. If you’re bored of your morning latte, get creative and don’t be afraid to ask a barista for a recommendation.

4: Friends with benefits

Smile, say hi, ask questions and above all, say thank you. Manners go a long way and if there is a particular café you frequent, getting to know your barista means special treatment.

Often I will see a customer walking towards the shop, the kind that never strays from their favourite beverage and without a thought I’ll start making their drink.  A coffee ready at the counter always goes down well especially when on the go.

The key is to build a little rapport with your coffee maker, spend a little more time getting to know your caffeine administrator and we’ll spend more time making sure your coffee is fabulous and prompt!

*This post originally contained information about the price of coffee which has been taken out after concerns were raised about the accuracy of research

Tony Abbott making coffee

Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott is a day away from a Federal election, and has never done anything in half measure. Now determined to be awake and active for 36 hours straight, even he has admitted to election fatigue. Fair enough, all that hand shaking and debating would be enough to send anyone into overdrive.

Thankfully the politician seems to know how to make his own coffee. Last week while campaigning in Adelaide Abbott stopped off at Strand Cafe and Restaurant for a morning pick me up. Instead of mixing in with the seated patrons he slapped on an apron and went behind the espresso machine.

Supervising the political barista was owner Tus Papatolis whose trained eye observed that ‘Tony knew what he was doing, he knew his way around the machine’.

One mocha later and the caffeinated candidate proudly smiled and sipped his work. ‘He made a good coffee’, Papatolis remarked, ‘I’d give him a job any day’.

Did Abbott dabble in some hospitality work while studying at uni? Perhaps, but I’d bet that all that cycling and coffee drinking has made the wanna-be PM an expert.

Either way as Abbott says he has been ‘surviving on coffee and three hours sleep’ his coffee of choice , the mocha, will definitely get him through the next few hours of campaigning. The comfort of Chocolate and hit of espresso is the perfect combination for someone working as hard as him.

And if all goes pear shaped on Saturday evening, Abbott has a nice little coffee job waiting for him in Adelaide.

Check out the photos: Tony Abbott Making Coffee

Five Minutes in the Rush

It builds with the roar of the line. I’m presently minded as the coffees pile up, one after one, and the excitement of being busy takes hold.

Head down, I only look to the first few orders and their necessary additions. Always milk before espresso as the crema will disappear within a minute.

Skinny, full and soy make their appearance in the batch at hand and the customers assume their positions in front of the machine to wait for their hit.

I fill the stainless steel jug up to where the spout begins, three quarters full. When steamed, the milk will make three large cappuccinos, or one strong latte, two normal and a flat white.  I put paper cups underneath the pouring porta-filters.

Full fat milk, finished.

I bring down the espresso filled cups while starting to froth the skinny, same amount. It doesn’t take as long to steam, because the liquid is less dense from less fat. I pour the fat milk with my right hand; make drinks, whilst the left continues to foam.

Four coffees called out loud, the crowd of people shift as a few leave and some join in.

More cups going under the pourers, more getting tacked on to the end of line.  People are talking to me, I smile and nod and laugh inappropriately, while trying to fill a tiny jug of soy for the only outsider in the batch.

The skinnys are down, poured to the brim but no time for art; there’s a snake of empty cups waiting for the steam wand to turn them into something magical. I yell them out, one by one.  

The line shifts again.

And the lone soy coffee is finished with a heart, because I had an extra millisecond and my left hand was idle.

“Thank you, it looks magnificent.” The customer smiled.

I shoot back a toothless grin and everything stops as she reminds me that I’m giving someone something they’ll enjoy. The smile gets me through the next few empties.

I look back at the mass of cups and start to steam another jug of full.

Coffee Cup Filth

I was doing a round, picking up the glassware and ceramics that had been scraped down with a spoon to get every inch of the coffee I had made out. In the corner of the shop stood a lone empty, I went to pick it up and take it to be washed.

The spoon was delicately placed next to the discarded dish, but sitting next to the cup was a dirty half-eaten chicken bone.

I jumped back, overwhelmed with disgust yet somewhat curious about the wing and bean combination. Shaking my head back to the sanitizer I wanted to throw it in the trash, as if the bone had tainted the plate because some customer was too lazy to walk to the bin.

Coffee cup filth is a usual occurrence. Mostly its apple cores, wasabi, soy, and chewed gum, the chicken bones come in twice a week and they are the worst of all.

I have, however, gotten used to the cigarette butts. It’s such a regular find you’d think we were a tobacco dispensary.

I like to think of a café as a third home. After your actual abode and the office, getting a coffee is something most people do every day, usually at the same place. But that does not make me your mother and it certainly doesn’t mean you can leave crap all over the place thinking I’m going to come along to gladly demonstrate how to use the trash.

I’m lucky enough to have a workforce in place that supports my cleaning duties. The blue shirted men and women that work hard at La Trobe to ensure a clean environment do offer the alternative to walking towards a smelly bin.

Although it’s pretty sad that many of us weren’t taught that bits of paper and uneaten lunches go into one of the hundreds of trash cans situated throughout the uni.

Without me and the fleet of disposal experts, La Trobe would be a pretty dirty place. Yes, it’s my job to clean the cups, but c’mon now we don’t even serve chicken wings or apples for that matter, be a little responsible and discard your manky food scraps. Also, apply elsewhere, a little spit shine on the world is always welcome.

Suburban Café Recipe

½ cup hoarded items (if you aren’t a hoarder befriend one)

1 cup espresso machine (Suggested: Synesso)

1 cup location

Pinch of cold beverages

2 tablespoons of sweets

1 bag of quality beans (Suggested: fair-trade or organic, otherwise strike a deal with a small roaster)

3 eggs

1 signature dish


Sift location into a small community, it should look dilapidated, peeling paint is a must, next to a well populated pizzeria would be prime.  Location will look small and crumbly, sprinkle hoarded items throughout to make nostalgic. It will add a flavour that will suit a variety of customer interests. Set aside.

In a small bowl add eggs, signature dish and sweets. Sweets should look homemade and have quirky names. Eggs must be at room temperature always poached. Signature dish should be some take on pesto or fish. Whisk ingredients together until light and fluffy. Then add a pinch of cold beverages, make sure they are Phoenix Organics. Set aside.

Melt music in a saucepan over medium heat. Music will begin to turn a light brown colour which should be quite temperate to taste, not overpowering. Take off stove before it turns Pink or else you will ruin the music. Set aside to cool.

Combine location, egg and music mixtures. Use a wooden spoon and fold all sides into each other until you see a courtyard with mix-matched chairs, old alcohol bottles filled with water, staff dressed from an op-shop and chalkboards. Music should be easily audible through mixture.

Bake for twenty minutes at 180 degrees.

Let cool. Then add espresso machine and beans on top, if you used Suggested people will come.


Changing the System

“We are not Starbucks and therefore do not write names on cups.”

John Smith, the only other Barista at Caffeine is a wise man and an obvious ‘third wave’ enthusiast, but I disagree with his cup ethics.

At times I look beyond the bar and notice the massive crowd that has developed after the transaction. It can get large within seconds which used to wreak havoc on my nerves when I was a newbie.

Sometimes it seems there are hundreds of people, rotating as each coffee goes out, all the while keeping their eyes locked on the machine.

Mostly customers keep to themselves yet every now and then they approach the bar, look at my hands and try to stare down their coffee.

I rarely acknowledge their presence but I do agree with their intention.

Last week we averaged out our drop count and figured we made 2.4 drinks every minute for nine hours (and no, I’m not counting the first year’s hot chocolates). There aren’t too many variations on our menu so it can be a confusing ordeal trying to figure out if that latte, is your latte. Most people take out of order.

Look, it’s more frustrating for me to be honest. I don ’t want to remake something nor do I want to bump up a full fat latte when I have just steamed a full jug of skinny, it disrupts the flow.

Not only that but I am never making the drink at hand. I am always preparing for the next eight because like most things, if you don’t plan ahead everything could go pear shaped.

Yet some form of personalized cup identification would be easier than relying on “people to take responsibility with their place in line,” as John Smith always says.

Thankfully our customers evolve and have informally adopted a first-name- initial system where I am more than happy to sneak out a ‘J latte’ than put something up for grabs.

As hard as I’ve tried to change the system on my own, it was overall consensus that has slowly made a ten-year old operation better.

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.

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.”



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