A Participants response…
You are part of another person’s day and for some, their coffee would be the making or breaking of it. I was not entirely a part of the ritual between maker and customer - I didn’t know beyond what cups needed to be washed and which ones would I awkwardly have to hold, trying to stop the inevitable slosh of the liquid onto the saucer beneath before it reached the customer.
I was sixteen when I held my first job at a bakery – it was an interesting experience to say the least. I was very lucky that my lack of knowledge in coffee making wasn’t held against me which would increasingly be the exception. New Zealanders love coffee and our café culture has made it the center piece where once, it was once hidden away, a craft secret. In some respects, it still is gate kept by those who ask for experience and test you by your ability to make the quintessential flat white. If you had no means to learn the difference between a porta filter and hopper, you had little hope of being hired in the service industry where coffee’s importance is only becoming more paramount.
Thus, came the Essentials to Coffee course, a course funded by the kind patrons of Transform Aotearoa Charitable Trust and taught by Hilary and Chris. They were insightful and hilarious, revealing how little there was to the art of making a great coffee beyond; “-make 3000 cups of flat whites before you call yourself a barista.” Chris was the practical end, he joked with us and guided us with the steady hand of experience. He was in his element and helped us to feel like this could be ours too once we let go of our fear of messing up. You will mess up, Chris had promised, but you will also only get better.
I also learnt how much coffee I did not drink as I spent an entire night buzzed from the double shot coffee that I had, mixed in with excitement of learning a skill that had previously terrified me. The machines themselves are behemoths, and I held a fear for them I had not realized until I was in front of one but that is the beauty of this. With a few corrections here and there, you did get better and you feel the rush, which can’t be entirely put down to just the coffee fumes.
On the other side we had, Hilary, who was delightful in ensuring we were comfortable, even for those who found the theoretical side of the standards more daunting. She graciously accepted our coffees and complimented the best aspects of them. She also didn’t shy away from allowing us to learn, sitting us down and asking what we thought went wrong before pointing us in the right direction. She also had little qualms with correcting Chris’s terminology and showing us how the difference between a press and filter. She was in her element as well and their combined passion for their craft, you couldn’t help but want to be immersed in it yourself.
I had always respected baristas and their skills even though I was never a coffee connoisseur myself. By the end, I wanted an espresso machine, I started to see the allure of the once too bitter drink and how I could become as addicted to it as so many people already are. I want to not thank them for that. However, I will thank them for what they had taught us and sent us off with, future barista certification in hand; Chris said “I could promise you, with what I have seen today, if I still owned my businesses, I would give you all a shot.”
By Ila Abraham