Breakfast can wait, but not my morning cup of black coffee with neither milk nor sugar. Without it to rouse my spirits and prime both mind and body, I would never make it through a working day.
While I do know how I like my coffee prepared, I had no idea how much effort actually goes into preparing a cup of the fortifying brew until a stint as a barista at the Bettr Barista coffee cart located at Income Centre.
An Art In Itself
Pushing the buttons on the office Nespresso machine may be easy enough, but pulling a real shot of espresso is an art of its own.
“The first thing we have to do every morning is to calibrate the coffee to the right taste before we even begin serving it to our customers,” shared my mentor for the day, Siti Nurfarressah, or Esya as she prefers to be called.
It may sound simple enough, but the process is a delicate one. Extensive taste testing is needed to determine the fineness and amount of ground beans, and brew duration needed to achieve the right taste shared the 26-year-old, who holds a professional Barista Skills Intermediate certification from the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe.
Esya then detailed the key task that this untrained greenhorn would have to take care of– pulling espresso shots.
Beans aside, consistently great tasting coffee depends entirely on how the espresso shots are pulled.
“What’s important is serving our customers great coffee, and seeing the smiles on their faces when they taste it,” said Esya, who demonstrated how to do so with something called a portafilter, which holds the ground coffee during the brewing process.
The tricky part is measuring the right dose of beans and remembering the exact brewing steps to follow. Fumbling to watch the timer, stop the brew and purge the machine, I was thankful that Esya kept a watchful eye to ensure that I didn’t mess up.
Interacting With Customers
Helping out wherever I could, I was conscious of the customers watching my every move. Hands shaking, I tried to look as natural as I could, hoping that they wouldn’t notice the blobs of foam which passed off for latte art.
Having spent nearly two years as a full-time barista, Esya is a seasoned pro who can not only explain the nuanced difference between specialty coffee and regular coffeeshop brew, but can pull 500 shots of espresso in two hours.
I struggled to even steam a pot of milk properly for a latte. Esya, though, brushed my inadequacy off with a mother’s grace and helped guide my hand in integrating milk and coffee for a latte.
A Greater Appreciation
The entire process may look quick and easy, but it was only through my hands-on stint that I realised that each and every cup of coffee was the result of precise attention to the details.
Being under the scrutiny of the customers can be stressful too as mistakes are obvious. Remembering the differences between a cappuccino, latte, mocha, long black and iced drinks can be a headache – all of these exacerbated with a long line of customers waiting for that pick-me-up cup that will take them through their day.
I survived just three hours on the job, even earning slight praise for how quickly I got used to things. Baristas like Esya have got my unwavering admiration for their passion towards excellence every single day on the job, from 8am to 5pm, five days a week.
Good To Know
Bettr Barista X Income OrangeAid – a social enterprise, Bettr Barista aims to make a difference in bettering the lives of others through all things coffee.
Recently, it partnered NTUC Income OrangeAid to roll out three coffee carts to help give graduates of its six-month Holistic Training Programme an opportunity for meaningful work. The programme supports marginalised women and youths-at-risk by enabling them to gain a certified coffee education in addition to emotional and physical wellness.
Visit www.income.com.sg/orangeaid for more information.
Go grab a coffee and enjoy the video below!