Posts Tagged 'barista'

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.

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Indecent Espresso

Working Hard

Working Hard

A customer came in the other day demanding a latte. I was happy to make one yet his forcefulness and rapid mannerisms resembled those of a person in a hurry. He most certainly was, as he grabbed the finished product and ran out the door. I felt used, this customer came in wanting one thing, once he got it he ran away, only to be seen again when he wanted another hit.

 

Being in a rush is one thing, but jamming your demands down my throat as if I’m not fulfilling your request fast enough is another. I’m aware that I’m positioned in a give take relationship with customers, I take the money and they get a service, it’s how most businesses operate. But feeling used can sometimes manifest into a sleazy ordeal.

On that note, I came across an interesting little article the other day that reminded me of this experience, and the goods and services industry as a whole.

Basically, five baristas were charged with prostitution in the good ol’ state of Washington, US. They were apparently “charging up to $US80 ($A92) to strip down while fixing lattes and mochas.” This ‘grab-n-go’ business received numerous complaints throughout the year, yet the girls weren’t arrested, merely slapped on their latte-making wrists.

They were wearing bikinis and exchanged cash for short peep shows which on the upside boosted their male clientele. There wasn’t a brothel behind the bean, just an expensive flash, a mere give and take.

This isn’t the first controversial flesh display that has risen within the coffee community. In 2003, Playboy featured “Starbucks baristas” who “shed their aprons and everything else to make your fantasies a reality.” A business transaction at best, but I remember when this was going on, I happened to be working for Starbucks at the time, a few swarthy customers thought they were being clever asking for more service, puh-lease!

As classy as that all must sound, it seems like an exaggeration of my job along with others in hospitality. You order, we run around trying to accommodate your request in hopes that it’s satisfactory, then you leave and come back for the same service at your disposal. Yes, baristas and their service industry counterparts work hard for the money, some in less conventional ways, but it’s all the same, money in exchange for a pleasurable service, like…coffee. Just don’t expect to find the baristas in bikinis at Caffeine anytime soon, we’re a modest bunch.

Homebrewin’

Customers love asking for tips on how to make coffee at home. It is a hard question to answer, especially when milk is involved.

First, I inquire on the type of equipment they use. After the umming and ahhing, I find out a microwave has become the best way overall to realize a latte. I look them straight in the eye, to see if they’re taking the piss, then give some half-hearted generic explanation on the importance of steaming milk.

The customer leaves, head down, perhaps sad that they have to go home to their international roast and milk, two days past the use by date.

The average student cannot afford a top of the line espresso machine and I dare say neither can the average lecturer. They are astronomically priced and frankly, all the ones I have used are useless, barely commanding enough pressure to properly aerate milk.

Based on that I decided to conduct an experiment, using products you would find in an average kitchen. I always thought it was possible to make creamy milk without a steam wand, it just took a little time, patience, and a trip to supermarket.

The Tools

I used a Moka Pot to make the coffee, as it is my at home caffeinating tool. If you want some tips on making espresso, check out Tim Hayward’s In Pursuit of the God Shot, otherwise I will be focussing on frothing.

Experiment #1

I tried using a whisk first, I couldn’t move my arm fast enough to make anything other than huge milk bubbles. I used ‘the trying to make fire’ technique, don’t even bother.

Experiment #2

Experiment #2

Bubbly Froth

I thought a hand mixer would do the trick. I filled a saucepan half full of milk and placed it on the stove until it warmed up, letting my finger decide the right temperature. Do not touch the saucepan, put your finger in the milk, oh and wash your hands.

Once the milk was warm, not hot, I stuck the mixer in at the lowest speed. It was a failure and my ego was hurting. I produced crappy, bubbly milk, I felt a little humiliated, which only made me more persistent.

Experiment#3

Experiment #3

Thick and Glossy

I went to the supermarket. I needed tools, something that resembled the cylindrical glory of a steam wand and simultaneously moved the milk, creating foam.

The market had a nice little saucepan equipped with a spout. I also picked up a hand blender. It cost $25, a little pricey, but it seemed as though it would help me make sense out of all the milk I splattered on the wall.

I filled and heated the milk exactly as I had for experiment #1. First I stuck the blender down towards the bottom of the saucepan, the milk rose quickly indicating that this wasn’t the best method. So I brought the blender up towards the surface of the milk. It moved splendidly, resembling the creamy froth I get from a proper espresso machine, success, ego reinstated.

There you have it, a tip to becoming a kitchen barista. The milk wasn’t perfect, but it was as close to the thickness and glossiness that I produce on the machine used in our café. Give it a go, and ditch the microwave theory, it’s just sad.


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