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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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6 weeks AD – coffee and babies and fantasies

6 weeks AD (After Daughter) and most things are back to “normal”!

My normal coffee intake has resumed. Woohoo! I am a little concerned about how much caffeine actually makes its way into my breastmilk, but Miranda doesn’t seem to be complaining and there are no obvious ill-effects so I intend to ignore the issue. I did do some research into effects of coffee drinking on pregnancy (which can be summarised into “it just takes longer for the caffeine to break down in your body”) and most pregnancy magazines (those quality publications you get free from Boots, for example) tell you not to drink too much when breastfeeding either, but fail to tell you why. I assume it is because you get caffeine in milk – but there’s nothing to say that drinking diluted caffeine (natural lattes?) actually harms babies.

I am back to “testing” coffee shops too, and having too much of a coffee-based presence online, apparently. I got headhunted, of sorts! Very flattering. Someone google searched for coffee people in the north east, and with this blog, various links from the uni, my social network site addiction and my attempts at promoting Doctor Coffee’s Cafe, I take up a good proportion of the search results. It was about a Manager’s job going at Esquires coffee shop in Newcastle – nice salary, commutable from here, bloke sounded very genuine and friendly. It would have been great if I was able to work full time at the moment!! DOH. Managing coffee shops and 6 week old babies don’t mix, and no job is worth leaving her for at the moment.

Miranda in Esquires

Anyway, bloke said he’d “keep me in mind” if anything else came up in the future – which would be great given the inevitable dreaded post-uni unemployment is looming again. Just to make sure, I bundled Miri on a train up to Newcastle to approve the place. I’ve been to Esquires in Durham before, but apart from the nice penguins on the logo and the fact it has free wifi (unlike Neros!) I don’t remember it being anything special. I didn’t realise Esquires isn’t actually a chain though, it’s a franchise, and the franchisees get a lot more freedom so each Esquires is a bit different, again unlike the immutable Caffe Nero format. The shop in Newcastle is huge, right in the middle of the shopping centre and was pretty busy. I can see why the manager’s salary was so reasonable, that place must make a fortune!  (I did have a look at the Esquires franchises, and frankly, if I had that sort of money I’d set up on my own. Somewhere tropical. But obviously there are some success stories!). Nice enough place – bit cheaper than the other chains, iced Americano and filter coffee actually on the menu along with PROPER LOOSE LEAF GREEN TEA (my pregnancy-staple – woopedoo!). No one objected to me breastfeeding in there and the baby change was actually big enough to use comfortably. (two things I never used to check before!!). In some respects it was far less pretentious than most coffee shops – the staff were definitely “people who work in a coffee shop” rather than “baristas”. I was feeling cruel and asked for espresso, and it was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. It came in a tiny, but normal-shaped cup, just Miranda sized. She was not amused though. Esquires website tells me their coffee is a blend from Peru, Honduras and Sumatra (entirely Fairtrade… meh?) I tried some on filter and it was really really good, much better on filter than in espresso. So I was pleasantly surprised and sat there reading (about coffee – I had a slight book-buying accident again… groan…), absent-mindedly deflecting admiring comments about Miranda’s hair and fantasising for bit…

"Doctor Coffee and Daughter" has a certain ring to it!

My coffee shop fantasies are resurfacing again. (doesn’t take long!) Miranda has accompanied us out to do the Doctor Coffee van on the market already. I was dissuaded from putting up a sign with “Buy a coffee, get a free cuddle” on the pushchair… I am trying to get her used to the coffee shop environment, and I’ve been reading David Brandon’s “Life in a 17th Century Coffee Shop” to her so that she appreciates how good she’s got it now!! Esquires would have been a great ‘stepping stone’ to my own place – a chance to manage a coffee shop without the massive financial risks of opening up on my own, and hopefully that setup would have allowed me some autonomy. I don’t really want to admit it, but the Doctor Coffee van is not going to make my fortune – in fact, it is not really going to make a me living in the foreseeable future either. So, when Inevitable Post-Uni Unemployment does occur again, the most realistic option is to get a job that will allow me to save up for my own cafe, and run the van in any spare time I get. I haven’t yet figured out what happens to Miri in that situation though…..

What would be wonderful would be if a cafe just Arrived in my life somehow without major investment. The sort of thing that happens all the time…I was dreaming up a coffee shop expansion project – “Babyccinos”. A coffee shop for Mums and Dads combined with a sort of creche so that we can still get our caffeine fixes and relax for a bit, and small children can be amused at the same time, thus averting the incessant noisy crying of bored babies in Caffe Nero that Miranda has been contributing to recently. I fancied installing a ball-pool full of brown “coffee bean” balls for me and my friends babies to play in as well. It would be awesome. Sigh. Now where did I put my lottery ticket?
 
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Posted by on July 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to our local political candidates…

Dear Mike, Jenny and Edward (and any others who haven’t sent me leaflets yet – I confess I forget who our UKIP candidate is, since I only gave your leaflet space on my doorstep for a few seconds before moving it to the recycling bin.)

I am very interested in what you plan to do about supporting and maintaining jobs in Darlington, and creating new opportunities, given that the North-east remains an economically deprived area, and in my experience, graduate jobs in particular are especially hard to come by.

Jenny Chapman for Labour says she “will work with business to bring high quality jobs to Darlington so the town never again suffers the unemployment of the 1980s.” Very nice. How?

Mike Barker for the Lib Dems says very little other than that he will “fight to ensure future developments are in keeping with our traditional status as a thriving market town.” (Interesting use of the word “thriving” – but more on the market in a minute). Oh and the Lib Dems will “create jobs by making Britain greener.” Same question applies Mike, how?

Edward Legard for the Conservatives points out that he started Darlington Job Club, because “under Labour, high unemployment is back and manufacturing is in decline. The North-east deserves better.” Yes, we do, but even though I barely remember Thatcher’s government, I am pretty sure the Tory record on unemployment and industry decline would not count as “better,” especially in the North.

Let me explain a little about my situation. Whilst I appreciate that I am not exactly an average Darlington resident, I am sure my experiences and frustrations are not entirely unique.
At the moment, I am doing my Phd at Sheffield University. (Disclaimer: these are my thoughts, nothing to do with the views of the university). My husband and I bought a house and moved to Darlington in 2004. I am currently supported by a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, and I also run my own business part time, my little coffee cart on Darlington market two days a week. I am unable to keep up the coffee cart over the summer, because I am now seven months pregnant. I am now very concerned about the future and particularly my job prospects, because I am due to finish my PhD in April 2011, leaving me unemployed, with no real form of income and with a nine-month-old child to care for. My husband’s salary could not support all of us, and I wouldn’t want it to anyway.

In terms of qualifications, the PhD is in Human Geography. Prior to that, I have achieved a BA in Anthropology and an MA in Social Science Research Methods both from the University of Durham, and hold a University Certificate in Professional Development in Marketing from Teesside University. Although I have the ESRC grant for the PhD and I self-funded my fees for my Masters (with help from my parents), I received a statement from the Student Loans Company this morning gently reminding me that I owe £11,300 from my undergraduate degree. ‘Fortunately’ since I graduated in 2004 I have never earned over the threshold that warrants me having to pay this back (£15000 per annum).

Outside of university, I have eighteen months experience working as a project coordinator for a community development group in the voluntary sector. I also worked as a chef and cafe manager for a year, and did small group tutoring in Anthropology at Durham University. However, my community development job ended in constructive dismissal in 2006. This was a horrible experience anyway, but confounded by the fact that I have never yet managed to find a decent job in the local area since. I have worked for various pubs and coffee shops and on Darlington market, but all on minimum wage. I was also forced to sign on for Job Seekers Allowance briefly in 2007, and when discussing my qualifications with the jobs advisor, was asked “how do you spell Anthropology?” I consider myself extremely lucky to have found the PhD placement not long after that, otherwise I am fairly sure I would still be signing on or working for £5.60 per hour.

Four years of frustrating underemployment in Darlington have led me to believe that there are virtually no graduate opportunities in this area. I have plenty of qualifications and I am not really lacking in actual work experience; more significantly, I actively want to work. However, I really really do NOT want to finish my PhD and have to go back to working for minimum wage in an unskilled job, especially with a child to support as well. I would love to leave Darlington entirely: I do think my coffee business would be more successful in another area as well. Essentially, I need reasons to stay in the town.

My questions to the political candidates are therefore:
Do you agree that this area needs some form of economic development, and if so, how is it going to be developed and in what way?
Specifically, how are you going to create jobs in the town, and what sort of jobs will they be?
How will you support local small businesses and people wanting to start their own business in the area?
What are your thoughts on Darlington market and do you have any plans to promote it, improve it or even just resuscitate it?

I would be very keen to hear your responses, but I am interested specifically in your own party’s policies rather than hearing a list of your rivals’ various failings.

Yours sincerely,

Annabel Townsend

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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