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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.

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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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PhD Graduation! (unofficial!)

I got my PhD! But I can’t afford the flights back to the University of Sheffield to graduate properly. So we did our own outside the Leg here in Regina.
Model: Annabel Townsend,
Bespoke Coffee Bean Mortarboard by Rachel Chapman Millinery,
Gown from Bedsheet by Claire Terrill,
Coffee bean dress: model’s own.

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Now, what on earth do I do next????

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Branching out and going solo

First up – the best news:
FINALLY, I really am Doctor Coffee, officially.
I got news from my PhD examiners that they’ve accepted all my revisions and corrections to the thesis, and they’re happy for it to be accepted for the PhD. Woohoo! So the Official Version will now gather dust in the University of Sheffield library, and I get to graduate – except I can’t afford to go back to the UK just to ponce around in a silly hat and get a piece of paper, so we shall have to arrange our own little ceremony over here! I am also reclaiming my Fanny logo from the cafe:

"Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee!" - Stephanie Piro

“Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee!” – Stephanie Piro

So, what do I do with a PhD in coffee?
Tried to open a coffee shop… loved it, found it very difficult with BabyCoffee, hated it being in Darlington. Moved on.
Next: “Those that can, teach” [sic] right?
To this end, I’ve gone self-employed again, and I have started Doctor Coffee Consulting. This is my new website: www.doctorcoffee-sk.com This really came about through unrelated circumstances giving me a boot up the backside to organise myself, but the idea is to use my knowledge of all things coffee to help other businesses set up; either adding or improving coffee in existing businesses (ie: restaurants who want to do a bit more than just old filter coffee on their desserts menu), or helping new start-ups. I’ve done plenty of barista training already, but I am also keen to do unique blend designs and so on. So far, I’ve worked with three businesses in Regina already and did a “home barista” workshop for a guy who just really, really liked coffee. It’s all good!

Finally:

A lot of people commented on my coffee-related, geeky t-shirts when I was barista-ing, asking where I got them. (I had numerous, all black of course, but my favourite one is “Instant Human, Just Add Coffee!”) My usual answer was “down the back of the internet.” Never one to pass up an entrepreneurial opportunity, I have since created a CafePress shop, devoted entirely to coffee geekery. T-shirts, mugs, bags, and loads of other paraphernalia, even baby clothes, all adorned with my coffee designs! Here’s a few. The rest of the shop can be found at http://www.cafepress.com/drcoffeescaffeinatedcollections

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 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!”

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Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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My Life in Coffee

Time for some pretty pictures.
It occurs to me that I’ve been messing around in the coffee industry for six years now. I’ve had a lot of adventures and learned a huge amount. Coffee has taken me all over the place, from the Voodoo Cafe in Darlington in 2006 (where it all began in earnest), Durham for Caffe Nero in 2007, to Sheffield for the PhD for the next four and a half years, London for Caffe Culture and other research gigs on numerous occasions, then Ohio, and Guatemala City for conferences in 2010, six months in Nicaragua and Costa Rica for fieldwork in 2008-9, back to Darlington for my coffee van in 2009, Afternoon Tease in 2010, my first ever North East Coffee Festival and Doctor Coffee’s Cafe in 2011, and finally to Regina, Saskatchewan for 13th Ave Coffee House in 2012. Oh and my book is being published by a German publisher. It’s been quite a journey!

Here’s some highlights! These are in no particular order and there are a lot of them!

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Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Plans for 2011

First of all, I hope my dear reader(s) had a good Christmas and happy new year to all!
Second, apologies for the state of this post. I am trying to type it on my phone, that is, my brand new nokia E90. I know that this phone is at least 3 years old now, but it is still the best phone Nokia have ever made and I love it, and darling hubby has bought me a new one for christmas to replace the one that died a nasty death last summer. We are currently driving back from Shrewsbury to Darlington, Miranda is wailing, i am bored but it is dark and I can barely see the keyboard to type, and WordPress Mobile in all its infinite wisdom has rendered the New Post screen a whole 4cm wide for no fathomable reason.
But i digress.

I had a nice message from Simon at Pollards coffee roasters, saying “2011 will be the year of Afternoon Tease”. It kinda has to be really, but also it should be the year I really become an actual doctor of coffee. This means finishing the thesis, which in turn, means a helluva lot of work over the next few months. Intense planning is required.

One possible plan for the thesis is to build up a reputation in Afternoon Tease for good coffee to the extent the Coffee Geeks or glitterati or whatever they should be named; the barista champions, and gourmets and so on start visiting from afar. I could run off a few copies of the thesis with a vanity publisher and try and flog them in the cafe – I’d just need some major geeks and/or academics to come in because I’m sure no one else would be remotely interested!

In this spirit of all good research, I have adapted Gwilym Davies’  (Flat-cap-wearing 2009 World Barista champion, part of the aforementioned coffee glitteratti) idea of the ‘Disloyalty card’ – encouraging people to try out other *good* coffee venues in London on his list, just to get people experiencing excellent coffee. Darlington, in my opinion, does not have enough good coffee venues for this to work here, so instead I am introducing a Coffee Adventurer card – to get people to try drinks they wouldn’t normally have. I am going to do a Tea one too. After the customer tries all the different drinks, they get their favourite free. A bit like Bingo!

I feel pretty strongly that the thesis should not be the be-all and end-all of this PhD. I have absorbed so much, often trivial, information about coffee that it seems a waste (geddit?) not to use this knowledge. Some is being employed in the day to day running of the cafe (embodied knowledge) but I want to expand on that. I think, with a bit more practice, I could do barista training in the cafe. (knowledge sharing?) I know a few people (who I’ve met through my research) who do very well out of teaching people how to make coffee… May need to improve my latte art though.

A long term project is also to roast my own in there. Despite all my efforts, roasting is still the area of coffee I know least about. Off the top of my head, I’ve met and interviewed at least ten roasters, and I’ve seen it done all over the world. However, it is the sort of thing that can go wrong very easily and expensively, and no amount of sweet-talking “helpless-student” begging has resulted in me being let loose to play on the machines. This I see as a distinct deficiency; I need to learn. I was offered a very, very small shiny coffee roasting machine to borrow when we opened the cafe, just enough to fill the place with that fantastic aroma in the mornings. I had to turn it down at the time because we had no air vents to let smoke out of the back! But with a bit of forethought and the potential use of the empty rooms above the cafe, and some ducting, I reckon I could set it all up there eventually and roast my own Miranda blend!

Speaking of Miranda, the final plan, which is both long time and on-going is to set up her own little Penny University within Afternoon Tease. If all this goes well, Miri will effectively grow up in the place, and we were planning on home-schooling her for at least a year. In the cafe, she has Aunty Jo to teach her singing and writing, Aunty Tattoo.Jo to teach her to dance, me to teach her barista skills (needing a basic level of physics and chemistry to understand how the espresso machine works), cooking and baking, we can do coffee origin trips for geography and learning Spanish, she can learn IT through updating our website, her Daddy can teach her enough maths to do my accounts(!) and maybe even some physics and technology if we get the roasting machine up and running! Sorted. she’ll be fine. obviously.

Now all I’ve got to is get going with it all! Oh, and make some money in the process.

Happy 2011 peoples!

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A Career in Coffee

I have never had a sensible answer to the inevitable question that has plagued me for the last three years: what exactly do you do with a PhD in coffee?

Since my maternity leave runs out frighteningly soon, and a few short months after that, the thesis should be submitted, I thought I’d better try and find an answer.

I tried to somehow develop a career in academia, applied for 5 lectureships, only two of which I was actually interested in doing, and didn’t even get shortlisted for any of them, such is the hopelessness of the academic jobs market at the moment. One job had 92 applicants.

So I began to scheme and fantasize a little, and then accidently came across My Most Perfect Job Ever, working as a coffee hunter for Mercanta, the importing company. The role involved learning cupping and then travelling all over the world, sampling coffees for export. Amazing opportunity! Of course I applied immediately, but the closing date for applications was so far away, and I also thought there would be loads of applicants and I probably didn’t stand a chance anyway, so I promptly forgot about it. That was until two weeks ago, when I got a call asking if I could do a phone interview. Aaaargh. This was more than a little nerve-racking, not helped by my phone dying in the middle of it, and Miranda wailing in the background. Still, it went very well, sounded very positive and on paper at least I haveall the skills, experience, qualifications and passion for coffee they were looking for. They explained, however, that the job was very much London-based. I did say I’d be willing to relocate and also that I was happy to come down for a further interview if needs be. My Wonderful Friends and Wonderful Husband took this to mean the job was a dead cert, I was sure to get it and I even got the Wonderful Friends sending me links to houses for sale Down South (most at a mere four times the price of our current home.)

This threw me into an agony of indecision though because, as I hadn’t taken seriously the possibility that I would get the Mercanta job, we had begun to work on an even more exciting, daunting, exhilerating, stressful, creative and expensive project, that is, AFTERNOON TEASE!
Afternoon Tease is our new café. I have been on about opening my own place since time immemorial and at the moment, with the safety and comfort of the PhD drawing to an end, Miranda to worry about and the need to find some sort of employment in Darlington (laughs bitterly), I decided that now is the time I should take the plunge and actually do it. Ideas that are never acted on are a waste of brainspace, and I do believe that if I wait “for the right time” I’ll never do it. There’s never a *right* time.

The idea was simple enough – I want a cafe, but I do not have anything like the resources to do it by myself. My Wonderful Friend Jo wants a sort of “office” space to devote herself to her writing and music and set herself up as a freelance writer and performer. My Wonderful Friend Tattoo-Jo (it is very difficult going in to business with two partners both called Joanne) is a Burlesque artist and teaches Burlesque classes locally, and could really do with some rehearsal space. So, what happens if we share the rent on a unit and combine the lot? A burlesque cafe and writers workshop, sort of thing. And the name became obvious after our first serious discussion. The other plan is to create a baby corner; Miranda is going to have to come to work with Mummy everyday (which I still reckon is a far better option than putting her in childcare at 5 months old) so we have all sorts of things, including a knitted tea pot, for the people too small for caffeine to play with.

Actually getting it set up has taken an enormous amount of time – far longer than I had naively hoped. We found one unit which would have done, but the landlord was more than a little unhelpful and it all fell through. We looked at more, and nothing was suitable for what we wanted or could afford. Then my driving instructor pointed out that a unit on Parkgate was free. Even after finding it, we then had the epic tasks of getting hold of the estate agent and then getting hold of the solicitors and then getting them to actually do what we want them to, and then scraping together, begging and borrowing to get the deposit together, then waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting to get the lease… aaaaaaaaaargh.

Just as we were about to settle the lease, I got a call from Mercanta and did the phone interview. So I had an INCREDIBLY tense ten days where the lease could have appeared at any point, and I was simultaneously awaiting the outcome of the Mercanta interview to see whether I’d go to London. I honestly couldn’t decide, and both Jo’s were incredibly supportive and understanding, especially since one option basically meant screwing them over in the middle of all our hard work. But, on Saturday, I FINALLY got the lease. (with spelling mistakes in it?! £350 for solicitors fees and two weeks late, wtf?). And then next time I checked my email, I also got an email rejecting me from the Mercanta job. Which I can’t help feeling was mainly because I don’t live in London, and possibly because I have Miranda. This pissed me off. However, Afternoon Tease was obviously meant to be!

The next two weeks are going to be insanely busy turning the unit – which used to be a model railway shop – into a cafe, including building the kitchen from scratch and making the toilets inhabitable by normal people. The espresso machine has got to be pulled from my beloved Ape van and replumbed into the kitchen, but *of course* everything shall be ready by our opening do! We’re having a big party for our opening night on 4th December, and open to the public on 6th December. Do come visit us!

logoYou can also visit our website at www.afternoon-tease.co.uk

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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