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Fuelled by coffee

In 2008, two researchers from the University of Nevada found a better use for used coffee grounds other than fertilizing plants, exfoliating skin and filling up landfills. They extracted the oil and made biofuel.

With 16 billion pounds of coffee beans being distributed around the world annually, the researchers figured 340 million gallons of biofuel could be produced from the waste.

That’s a whole lot of fuel and given that I fill up an 80L garbage bin full of used grounds weekly, maybe I should ditch my day job and go into the oil business.

Last April, agricultural engineers at the University of Missouri decided to continue on from where the researchers have left off, testing it further so it can be better recognized as a source for biofuel.

Even though more research will be done, some companies are already utilising grounds as fuel.

Canadian company, Energy Innovation Corp (EIC), have managed to get over 500 cafés in their province to agree on letting them act as trash collectors. The company will then turn used grounds into biofuel expecting it to stop 16 million kilos of it from flooding waste dumps by 2013.

According to EIC CEO, Jon Dwyer, the fuel “can be used in any diesel engine whether it’s a train, a truck, a Volkswagen Jetta or a simple generator without any modification to the engine whatsoever.”

Nestlé have also invested in café trash. The company’s Philippines factory, Cagayan de Oro, uses wasted coffee as fuel to, ironically, make NESCAFÉ instant coffee. In fact, worldwide more than 20 Nestlé factories operate with used grounds as a supplemental fuel.

A garbage bag full of used coffee grounds is incredibly heavy. I have to hoist it into the air to get it in a bin, a ritual I do twice daily. I’ve tried giving it to friends for their gardens and taken it home to rid myself of dead skin. But that barely makes a dent in the amount I go through per week.

That’s just one café on the outskirts of Melbourne which is populated with others that probably have the same garbage issues. Melbourne’s well has yet to be struck but if used grounds ever became the norm for fuel expect coffee prices to go up.

Did you say chai?

Orders for chai tea lattes spiked last week.

We usually go through a bottle of our concentrated Phoenix Organic Chai a day, yet we were averaging two by Friday’s end.

Why? I blame The Age, to be specific, the culprit was Epicure.

Waiting for my strong soy latte at my local, I grabbed the token newspaper sitting on the bar and flipped through the food section. In the middle of the publication were two pages devoted to the delights of chai.

Thinking nothing of it I went on my merry caffeinated way. Then boom, word had spread, every other Tom, Dick and Harry were ordering a ‘chai tea latte’, chai meaning tea in Hindi making for a rather redundant ordering process.

You need to drink at least three chai lattes in order to reach the same caffeinated level as a shot of espresso, a filling experience that warrants palette satisfaction yet little for a buzzing reward. When most of my customers switched to tea, I was taken aback.

As the orders grew to mass my boss shook his head in amazement and after the tenth request for a ‘soy chai latte’ I remembered the article. So I interrogated my customers.

“Did you happen to read Epicure last week” I asked Luke, a consistent soy long macchiato drinker.

“Actually yes, I did, why?” Luke said, surprised that I could speak and steam simultaneously.

“Read an article about chai?” I asked in a rather sarcastic fashion assuming he would know where I was going.

“Yeah, good article, made me want a chai.” And so were the rest of the responses I gathered from my pseudo-vox pop where no customer seemed to make a connection.

Chai, the infusion of cinnamon, ginger, star anise, pepper, cloves and cardamom, it is a delicious drink that I indulge in nightly with a  little honey and sometimes a sprinkle of cinnamon.

It has gathered a following over the years and is mostly listed to order on any Melbourne café menu. The method, however, tends to vary.

I have worked in an assortment of cafés that all seem to believe that their chai tea latte is the best chai latte in Melbourne.

I have steamed milk with fresh chai sitting at the bottom of the milk jug then strained it into a cup. I’ve used a pot with hot milk, chai leaves sitting within and condiments on the side to let customers deal with the rest of the process.

Now, I use a concentrate which keeps the flavour yet does the authenticity no justice. Our concentrate is a Western alternative, an easy way of dealing with the complexities of its flavour.

However, it is the drink of choice at the moment as it perpetuates consumer contribution, where they decide how much honey and cinnamon makes their individual beverage.

Most Melbourne cafés have seen the popularity of chai rise and have taken to out besting one another through the manner of which it’s served, some of them have got it down.

The Indian method, of which it originates, is to simmer the tea and spices in a saucepan with milk, it seems that most cafés have figured this out.

Like my customers, I go with the trend, which is steamed milk over chai tea leaves served with honey and cinnamon on the side with a straining device.

Whether or not print had anything to do with the surge of chai tea latte requests, my vox pop offered me no conclusions other than the fact that most of the chai orders were on the heels of a browse through Epicure.

Starbucks back on top?

Starbucks the coffee mogul, Starbucks the international meeting place, Starbucks the failure, now Starbucks the news distributor?

I can see the board room discussion that took place two years ago when Howard Schultz came out of retirement and re-appointed himself as CEO.

“We’re losing money and have closed hundreds of stores around the world,” Howard would have screamed across a long rectangular table.

“The internet seems to have taken off, why don’t we do something with that?” A pimply faced intern would have replied.

“I like it! To the keyboards!” Shultz would have said.

And that’s what probably happened. Since Shultz’s return, Starbucks has become the number one consumer brand on social media with over ten million friends on Facebook and nearly one million Twitter followers.

In fact, they decided to go a step further then the status update and on July 1st introduced free Wi-Fi in all of their US stores and a few in Canada.

This is not a new thing, free Wi-Fi is something people now expect from a café and most public places. The crumbled communal newspapers are being replaced by laptops and Apple gadgets.

However, it is the upcoming launch of the Starbucks Digital Network (SDN) that is changing the dynamic of the café.

Partnerships with iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! and others are enabling Starbucks to offer otherwise exclusive content free to their in store customers.

Pay walls on news sites such as The Wall Street Journal can be side stepped upon purchase of a beverage and free downloadable music will be available through their deals with iTunes.

So their stores become downloading hubs. Not being able to find a place within the specialty coffee market has forced the company to give content away for free in order to get back on top.

As they filter information in their cafés to caffeinated consumers, they will no doubt re-invigorate their brand. Sitting in a café on a laptop for hours can equate to multiple purchases as one coffee does not fulfil hunger, only a muffin could tie you over til you’ve reaped all the benefits from the SDN.

Yet the perpetuators of the second wave of coffee may now have started the fourth. This network may very well turn the social part of a café into a point for connectivity, where we all stare at our screens, silently flicking through the web giving whole new meaning to the phrase ‘having a quiet one’.

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.

A World Cup of Coffee

There’s nothing like a cold beer and an intense game of soccer to whet the fever that has swept our sport loving nation.

With about 14 pubs and bars extending their liquor licences throughout Melbourne for the World Cup, there is a push to keep this boozy match made in heaven.

But with nocturnal hours and four o’clock alarm bells, it seems unusual to accompany them with such a downer of a drink. A few venues offered coffee as a way to combat the woes that go with a red card fail.

In Williamstown, the Steam Packet Hotel gave “die-hard supporters… a breakfast roll and coffee on arrival” to the past June 14th game. Fanatics started forming a line shortly after four in the morning and owner Scott Meager thought a full stomach and some caffeine was the best way to ward off an inebriated fine.

Belle Epoque in Brisbane served an “$8 coffee and croissant deal” during the first of the Socceroos quest for cup glory testing the waters for a sobriety trend.

Also in Queensland, La Dolce Vita Caffe will be “open 24/7 during the World Cup,” serving both uppers and downers but at least advertising different options for an early morning beverage.

On an international scope, Café Gauna in Buenos Aires had a different kind of brew in mind with the irregular hours of matches. “A good old-fashioned, English style drinking session was out of the question” at 8am and espresso was a more convenient option to have on tap.

LA Weekly in Los Angeles came out with a top ten of where to drink and barrack, naming a few great coffee distributors that televise games and serve hot steaming stimulants.

Most of us are on a different time frame and work throughout the week making it hard to indulge in alcohol with every game played. Coffee seems to be a more appropriate and still social alternative than a couple debilitating beers.

And with Wimbledon overlapping the World Cup hype. Try putting down the Pimm’s for a long black with your strawberries and cream, you may actually be able to make out the athlete’s face.


“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.



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