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Slinging the shots – babies, beans and business

I am officially on maternity leave from the cafe. So far, this hasn’t really made much of a difference!

I ‘gracefully’ retired from actually being a barista a few weeks before New Daughter was born, mainly because I physically couldn’t stand behind the bar for long any more, and suddenly realised that everything useful was on the bottom shelf in there! I have a renewed appreciation for how physically demanding the workload of a barista is.

This is how I expected my perfect, peaceful, instagrammable maternity leave to look:

matleave

NB: That is not my child, and those are not my legs.

This is the reality:
matleave2Aah… the joys of entrepreneurship. Even if I am not actually pulling espresso shots, there are always at least a dozen emails waiting for me, or the website needs updating, or Facebook needs to take its daily slice of my soul, or its time for pay roll…Daughterling will gradually learn to fall asleep to the sound of me typing over her head, I’m sure.

I am not really complaining; I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. We opened Doctor Coffee’s Cafe #1 when our first daughter was just 5 months old; she grew up in a coffee shop, and if anything, it has only served to make her exceedingly sociable and confident. No one can ever accuse her of being the shy, clingy type of child and I do think being in a cafe environment with lots of strangers admiring her when she was tiny may have had a lot to do with it. Being self-employed like this and having the freedom to take my baby to work with me allows me all sorts of benefits which few parents with conventional jobs can afford.

Recently, Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) announced that she would be taking just two weeks off to give birth to her twin girls. (see the article, here) Of course this caused uproar – that’s a terrible role-model for other women etc, it gives out the message that work is more important than her family.. yada yada yada. Mayer is a multimillionaire, so of course she can afford to pay someone to look after newborns for her. And the very fact that she is, and remains a millionaire CEO is because presumably she works her arse off and probably can’t engineer a way to take any longer away from work anyway. Going back to work in an office – sitting behind a desk in fact, is not too strenuous on a post-partum body either. She is in a position to make that work, but she is NOT in the same position most women find themselves in and therefore shouldn’t be treated as a role model.

In some ways, I consider myself luckier than Marissa Mayer.  In my own way, I am a COO of a company too – chief operations officer rather than chief executive officer, (though I’d never use that title at the moment and expect to be taken seriously!) and I’m a proud Mum to an adorable newborn baby girl. Whereas I am envious of Mayer’s success and certainly of her millions, I NEVER have to sit in an office any more, never have to wear a power suit, I have caffeine on tap to cope with 4am feeds, and most importantly I get to run my business AND take care of my wonderful girls at the same time, and really, I can’t ask for any more than that.

theia

BabyCoffee comes to work with me in her sling (which I actually bought while at the coffee conference in Guatemala). Slings are so useful – I can carry her hands free and make lattes at the same time!

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Pedalling Coffee Since 2014

Happy New Year Coffee Lovers!!

My new year’s resolution (pledged, 25th Jan… yeah, yeah…don’t judge me!) is to keep up with this blog a lot more this year. Last year was hectic and relatively uncoffee-filled, which was a sad state of affairs. It has been ten whole months since I last worked in a coffee shop, 8 months since I had my little PhD graduation ceremony, and over a year since my book came out. Unsurprisingly, this has meant fewer coffee related activities to write about on here!

Currently, I am existing as the inverse of most social science graduates – instead of being vastly over-qualified but having to work in a coffee shop through lack of jobs in their field of study, I am highly qualified to work in coffee shops, yet I have to work an entry level job in something completely unrelated to my field. It boils down to money. You cannot work in a coffee shop and pay for child care, it just doesn’t make sense. Sadly, that seems to be true the world over!

All this is about to change though, for me at least. I haven’t suddenly been able to make a living from coffee again, and I’m not about to give up the day job. But I have been dreaming up a coffee side project, and I am extremely excited about it!

What do you get if you give a coffee geek a tricycle?

wheeliefulllogoThe plan, in simple terms, is this:

Build a coffee cart on a trailer, attach it to my trike, and serve coffee outdoors in downtown Regina, on the Farmers’ Market and at all the manymany festivals here over the summer.

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Technical plans. Proof again that I really can’t draw.

 

I am hoping this can be fitted around my work: the market is on weekends, and the festivals tend to coincide with public holidays anyway. Given recent Extreme Temperatures, suddenly my warm office looks much more inviting than standing out in the park on a bike over the winter too!

I am applying for the appropriate licenses and permits for street vending at the moment, but assuming all goes well, I intend to position myself on Victoria plaza and Scarth Street, the pedestrian area where nearly all downtown office workers have to pass through to get to the Hill Towers, SGI, Government offices or the large banks, and also access to the Cornwall shopping mall, providing a steady stream of passersby.

Of course, there are other coffee shops downtown, but as yet, nothing outdoor or mobile. As I have found through being a downtown office worker for the past few months, it is virtually impossible to dash out and get NICE coffee from one of these coffee shops in your 20 minute coffee break from work – queues and barista-ing takes way too long unless you happen to work next door. Our office block is just that bit too far away. But if there was a coffee trike parked outside it…..

Recent, sad developments in the coffee world on my doorstep (better explained on my other blog) led to a long and involved conversation on Twitter, bemoaning the lack of good, convenient coffee downtown. When I ventured the idea of Wheelie Good Coffee on there, my twitter stream went completely mad and I got put in Twitter jail for the first time ever! (That is, it blocks you temporarily for sending over 100 tweets in an hour – I wish I’d got a screen shot!). There are a lot of local folk who would be very supportive of this venture I think.

It will take a while to get organised, but the market doesn’t go back outdoors until May, so May seems a reasonable start date to aim for. Until then, it’s permit applications, business plans, a mentorship with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (a wonderful organisation that includes me both as being an honourary Canadian, AND still “youth” – which made me feel great!), helping my lovely Carl actually build the thing, coffee blend designing… oh, and the day job.

Here’s Twyla the Trike – the engine of my new business!

DSCF4822

WATCH THIS SPACE!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Enter the Hipster Barista

“Why did the hipster barista burn his mouth on coffee?”

“Because he drank it before it was cool!”

Sorry.

This article caught my attention recently:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/20/1701-people-apply-for-eight-barista-jobs?CMP=twt_gu

Just over 1700 people applied for 3 full time and 5 part time positions at Costa Coffee?

That is both terrifying and really depressing. (For Canadian readers, Costa Coffee is a UK based chain, like Second Cup, only owned by a brewery).

The article suggests that the job vacancies were so popular because being a Barista is now cool and fashionable. Beware the rise of the Hipster Barista! I disagree though. I think this is just demonstrative of the utter desperation of the rising number of unemployed and underemployed young people in the UK. Apparently Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Wankers and Penpushers Work and Pensions was asked to comment on this, and the smug prick said the applicants should “learn from the experience” – what, of filling out a one page job standardised application form with tick boxes? Or the experience of being repeated rejected for unskilled minimum wage jobs? A good friend messaged me today to apologise and confess that he’d applied for a job at Starbucks, even though he hates the coffee, hates company after their tax dodging and knows how unethical they are – but he has no choice. Frankly, that situation is sickening.

Again, this has nothing to do with the desire to become a Hipster Barista.  I do not doubt for a second that some, (like me) genuinely want to work in coffee shops, but if you are serious about coffee, then you are highly unlikely to aim for the chains. Working in a chain coffee shop is not glamorous – this article, and the hipster wannabes seem to forget that the job also entails dealing with occasional rude, fussy, ignorant customers, washing up, cleaning toilets, mopping floors and often as not, burning yourself on the panini press, all for little more than minimum wage. (Not to say these things don’t get done in an independent places too, just that it is somehow more demeaning when you’re working for a faceless corporation!!). When times are tough though, working in a chain coffee shop is probably the least horrible of the very few horrible options.

I’m not entirely sure why the coffee world is already so entwined with hipsterdom. I suppose it’s an opportunity to get very geeky and knowledgeable and dare I say it, snobbish about a commodity that is taken for granted by “normal” people. Spending all day in coffee shops is a very middle class luxury (having time to waste as well as the money!) and coffee shops, particularly independent ones, are still considered more sophisticated than pubs.  And given the most of the world is going broke right now, coffee remains a cheaper thing to get ‘gourmet’ about: the hipster barista is a more economical version of the wine snob, whiskey connoisseur or the posh foodie!

I have met numerous candidates for the designation of Hipster Barista, but some aspects of the stereotype are worryingly close to home!! I don’t wear fake plastic glasses or skinny jeans but I do wear the scarf (see below), I don’t drag my hair into a bun on top of my head, but I do have coffee-related tattoos. I am very much a carnivore and wouldn’t even consider veganism and I don’t smoke, but I do get very annoyed with people asking for “just a coffee” or “no-foam cappuccinos”. I don’t understand, let alone use Instagram, yet I do tweet photos of any latte art I create that looks more technical than Abstract Blobbage. Finally, I get enraged by the total lack of graduate jobs that leads to the situation described above, yet I have three, totally non-vocational social science degrees!

Here’s the original Hipster Barista meme doing the rounds of the interwebz:

Despairs of annoying internet memes...Reposts.

Despairs of annoying internet memes…
Reposts.

(Actually, I have it on relatively good authority that the bloke in this photo, Dustin Mattson of Octane Coffee, is entirely un-hipsterish. So this is used for illustration purposes only – you get the general idea!)

Pff… well if you can’t beat them, join them! (Just remember what I said about cleaning toilets). I wish everyone in desperate need of a job the best of luck with barista applications. Here’s my version – aged without instagram, so obviously I’m “taking bad photos before it was cool!”

860554_219822191491641_1293080921_o(1)

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Skill recognition on CBC!

Are we too obsessed with coffee?

Very interesting piece on CBC radio this morning: a coffee novice and sceptic attends Camp Pull-A-Shot and realises coffee is the most complicated drink we consume.

Pulling the perfect espresso, drawing attractive latte art, the intricacies of roasting or subtleties of cupping aren’t for everybody, but it is great to hear a balanced piece explaining the complexities of the industry, and why you can actually attend a two day course on how to make coffee, in the mainstream media. Being a barista is a very skilled job, but those skills aren’t recognised often enough outside the industry.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Happy Baristas

Or,

What makes a coffee shop, part 2.

 

In the last ten years, I’ve worked in seven different cafe/bar/restaurant/coffee shop type places, both independent and at branches of the big chains – everything from Caffe Nero, to my own coffee shop and previously, my little coffee van in the UK, to the most recent move to this vegetarian restaurant/coffee house here in Saskatchewan. I’ve also spent a lot of time, and an eye-watering amount of money, hanging around in coffee shops all over the world. I think this has given me a fairly good idea of what makes a good one!

I posted previously asking my loyal follower(s) to say what makes a place worth visiting to them. After good coffee, most answers seemed to revolve around the idea of “comfort” – ie: “no metal chairs!!” “big squashy sofas” and “free wifi”. I agree. To me, what makes a good coffee shop is as much about atmosphere and environment, as it is about the coffee. I’ve worked in, and spent time in places where the coffee is not that great. but everyone in there were so friendly and fun that attendance was habit forming. Conversely, I’ve visited places (typically, in the posh parts of London but also significantly in Darlington and one here in Regina) where the coffee itself was exceptional and expertly crafted, but the places themselves felt at best sterile and at worst, pretentious and actively hostile.

Coffee can be sold by image. Some places are just Fashionable: if you can make the coffee look pretty, and if you are in the right location (for example, in the city centre where people with a lot of money reside or work) and build up a popular brand image, then people will pay for it regardless of whether or not the coffee itself is any good. The same is true of ethical branding – serve fair trade/organic/bird friendly/rainforest alliance/ 30% raw/gluten-free/anti-oxident-packed GRIT in recycled cups with 10% going to charity in a ‘social enterprise’ café and position yourself in the midst of the hipster part of town, and that burnt grit could make your fortune.

I am not trying to say that all coffee shop customers are gullible fools – they are not, and consumers are getting more and more demanding of higher quality coffee, hence the increasing preference for independent places over the chains in the UK. Happily, people are starting to appreciate what they are drinking more, and becoming more discerning. My point is really that it is not just the coffee that makes a good coffee shop. People visit for other reasons.

In my experience, creating the right atmosphere is heavily based on personality – that of the staff and of the business owners/designers. Friendly, chatty, informal people who don’t treat customers like they are just walking ATMs. The chain coffee shops attempt to artificially create this atmosphere by effectively scripting their staff, and designing the branches so that baristas can never actually sit down visibly, so that we constantly looked busy and active but never relaxed! Unsurprisingly, this approach usually failed, and gave rise to the chain store baristas being called “robots” “button monkeys” or “drones in green aprons”! (all real quotes from my customer focus groups).

Baristas have to enjoy what they are doing to be good at their job, and should be given the opportunity to showcase their creativity and individuality – coffee and creativity always go hand in hand! A huge amount of Coffee Shop Success is based on personality; particularly in small businesses, it is as much about selling your personality as it is selling coffee. Community is also important, as an article in our local paper showed the other day:

Fully 71 per cent like to support owners who live in their community, and 68 per cent like the personalized service from small businesses.

That’s no surprise to Craigen, who said people note her firm’s visibility in community events and tell her, “we’re going to support you because you support us.”

“People like businesses that participate in the community, their ‘nearness’ and the fact that they get to know the owners,” agrees RBC’s Mike Michell

Read more: http://www.leaderpost.com/business/Consumers+loyal+local+businesses/7041277/story.html#ixzz22v6Ya4kn”

So there you have it: good coffee shops need good coffee, great, personable, happy staff, a sense of community and big squashy sofas. You heard it here first!

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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What makes a good coffee shop?

My wonderful husband gave me an Idea this morning when we were chatting online. This Idea is growing and evolving already.

Also, my friend pointed this out to me: http://www.thegridto.com/life/food-drink/playful-grounds/

But first, a little research. Please help me out here and answer me this:
What, in your opinion/experience as a customer makes a good coffee shop?

 

I’ve posted the same question on google+ and twitter, and here are some of the responses so far:

Aside from the obvious, (good coffee) lots of nice sofas, always dissapointed when I can’t get a comfy seat,friendly staff too 🙂

clean, free wi-fi, good food and coffee and open early in the morning

aside from good, straughtforward coffee… Comfy armchairs. Newspapers. Nice cake.

open way freaking late. like 2am or 24 hours. There have been a few coffee shops locally that tried to do this. I liked having somewhere to go and get feen’d up and hack on stuff in the wee hours. Baristas that know a good mix when they taste it, and can reliably reproduce a tasty treat. I like it when baristas have a drink that’s distinctly their own. Obviously, I prefer they not be the type that’d correct someone who asks for a “medium” latte.

Comfortable and clean. Non-wobbly tables and non-scrapey chairs. Not echoey. I hate having to hear scraping chairs and wobbling tables banging about or loud people from the front of the shop as though they were right beside me. NO METAL CHAIRS! They’re not comfortable to sit in, clang, and are bloody cold in winter.

More to come I hope! Please feel free to add your comments below too! all appreciated.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Wipe your knob!!!!!

Oh wow, I think this is the longest its ever been between posts on here!!

Very sorry, dear reader(s). Well, I finally made it, I am in Regina, Canada, and now gainfully employed as Head Barista and front of house manager at 13th Avenue Coffee House. Most of these adventures are detailed over at my The Regina Monologue blog, but I am not quite sure where this one fits. It’s my coffee adventures!

I’ve mentioned in a previous post already about the Canadian love affair with filter coffee. Virtually every food place I’ve been in had great tanks of the stuff, their beloved Bunn machines, where “medium” or “dark” blends are kept hot (and stale) in the equivalent of giant thermos flasks all day every day. My new employers have three such tanks of coffee. They also do a lot of award winning, excellent vegetarian food, and wonder of wonders, they have an espresso machine!

It’s a Rancilio Epoca 2 group, and it has not been well used. The vast majority of the place’s trade comes from the restaurant side of the business, and the next largest proportion is the filter coffee. Espresso barely gets a look in, and their machine was not well loved or cared for. This is through no fault of the staff nor the new business owners – it was simply that no one had ever been shown how to use the machine, or more importantly, how to clean and maintain it, and because it accounted for so little of their trade, it was never a priority. But now I am here. And it is my priority! So, I had it sent away for a repair and a service, which cost a rather painful amount of dollars, but the improvement is stupendous!

I honestly found it difficult to believe it was the same coffee going in to the machine. Regina, unfortunately, has really, really hard water. Most of the repair work done on the espresso machine was just unclogging it and removing all the limescale inside it. It now has a shiny tank again, and new water filters! The difference in the taste of the espresso, made with clean, softened water, with the right amount of pressure, at the right termperature and with no leaks was incredible! I even got approval from The Boss’s Italian Dad, who requested a Doppio Espresso – presumably to test me! 🙂

Next week I am going to do a bit of Staff Training and make baristas of them all. I am encouraged by the fact that some of the team actually seem genuinely interested, admit to drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee, and do prefer espresso to the filter coffee they serve up to the customers. This is a great start as it means they will know when they make it badly. I’ve always found it harder to train up non-coffee-drinkers for that very reason – they can’t tell when it’s good! Hopefully, when I have a crew of skilled baristas, the customers will notice and we can start weaning them off the tanks of filter coffee in favour of the good stuff too!

Part of the training is going to have to include cleaning and maintaining the machine though. They can’t do much about the pH of the water here, but they can learn to detect problems with the machine. Everything from changing the filters to backwashing and checking the group head seals, to the simplest thing: getting in to the habit of wiping the milk wand after EVERY use. I usually tell people, “you have to wipe your knob otherwise it won’t squirt properly!!”. Strangely, this tends to stick in their heads quite well…

Updates on progress to follow!!

 

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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