Further Development As a Barista
In my previous entries I looked at how I got to the current level that I am at as a barista but in this one I would like to discuss where I feel I need to look to next to keep developing while also maybe discussing the day-to-day workings of working in a coffee shop. As discussed before in my previous blogs becoming a barista isn’t an overnight transition that one can make and takes time and hard work to make it happen. However, I feel that this process may never really be over and that the knowledge that a barista has around coffee and the skillset they possess is always evolving as more and more experience is gained and with that in mind I’m going to look at the areas I feel are important to look at in terms of developing knowledge around coffee which may assist people who enjoy making coffee at home just as much as someone working in a coffee shop.
Firstly, I’d like to talk about what goes into the day to day running of a place like GUJI. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes that people may not be aware of when they come to pick up their favourite coffee. Keeping in line with the theme of these blogs and considering the behind the scenes work that goes into taking someone from little to no experience to them being able to repeatedly produce excellent quality drinks is no mean feat. GUJI as a brand has given this opportunity to myself and a couple of others in the last couple of months since it has opened in Cork, taking relatively inexperienced but eager to learn individuals and giving us all the tools needed to train and elevate us to the standard required. The attention to detail in this regard and the level of output has helped develop us and maybe helped fast track our development as well.
The working day in GUJI starts early with the first one or two people who are opening. This can be anywhere from 30-60 mins before we start serving customers, depending on the day and the level of prep that needs to be carried out. The first thing that needs attending to and perhaps most importantly for the day is dialling in the coffee. It would be easy to think that a coffee grinder is a fit and forget device and that once it is set up correctly it would need no adjustment. However, if you want to get the best possible espresso then you have to constantly adjust it. Every morning will require a different setting compared to the previous evening so therefore a significant portion of the set up in the morning is devoted to this task. At GUJI we have 4 coffee beans available on the bar and each needs to be dialled in separately to get the best out of it. Each bean also has its own ideal recipe that we follow to make sure that the customers receive a drink that best matches what the flavours profiles for each individual coffee bean, these can be found on the coffee profile board that we have which outlines the flavour profile of each bean, as well as cupping score and the altitude it was grown at (MASL- Meters Above Sea Level). Once all the grinders and other machines are up and running there is normally some other prep items that need to be carried out. Oftentimes there are cakes that need to be boxed up especially on the weekend when we receive a fresh delivery of cakes and also our Proper Fancy Croissants which have gained a lot of attention recently. The chocolate ganache that we use for our Sexy Chocolates and Mocha’s also needs to be prepared and then some cups are portioned out for quick access when the orders start coming in. On a busy weekend day this normally has to be repeated a few times during the day as these items fly out the door. There are other small bits of housekeeping that need attending to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible once it starts to get busy.
On a weekend morning things might start of a little slower as a couple of early riser’s filter through as well as people out making use of the walking and cycling facilities along the marina and by 10am there is normally a steady stream of customers eagerly lining up for their favourite morning treat. On a busy morning we normally have a few people working to make sure that everything moves smoothly and that nobody is overwhelmed with too many jobs to carry out. Once we start to get busy there is normally one person on the till taking the orders, one person in charge of pulling the espresso shots, one in charge of milk, making sure to pour the best latte art for those “insta” worthy shots! Then there is normally one or two looking after the prep work and any other jobs that need to be done to either keep up with the orders coming through or to make everyone’s life a little easier for latter in the day. For the first couple of weeks working you probably spend a little more on this side of the morning routine but as you gain more experience and you begin to develop a bit more speed you become more comfortable dealing with being on the drinks on the weekend days. Putting the cakes into boxes or bags can take up a decent chunk of time when getting set up for the day and sometimes can eat into a few hours at the start of the day so it is definitely beneficial to have an extra person or two on hand that can do these jobs. In the first couple of weeks this sometimes had to be carried out on the fly by the person on the till in between orders so having someone extra on this job speeds up things considerably.
There is a lot of odd jobs that are constant throughout the day that can be carried out that makes your life on the machine a lot easier such as making up more chocolate portions for our “Sexy Chocolates” and mocha’s as well as preparing cups of ice for the iced drinks as they are needed or preparing cold brews for any customers that have ordered them. Turning around and picking up a cup of ice to prepare a drink is a lot easier than having to stop what you’re doing to go to the other end of the container! Cleaning out and then filling up our milk drums for the Uber milk is also another time saver as once it has been done there is always a milk drum sitting there waiting to be changed over as soon as the current one is empty, having this ready alongside having the Uber milk in the first place makes preparing drinks with whole milk a lot faster which helps contribute to the volume we can produce. When comparing how long it takes to make a drink such as a cappuccino or flat white its apparent that the Uber milk shaves off a substantial amount of time compared to manually steaming other forms of milk. There isn’t any one magic bullet that makes GUJI’s process any better but it is the amalgamation of a number of different processes that help streamline the whole operation meaning that more customers can be served and have a better product and experience offered to them. A lot of the day is just a constant cycle of preparing something and then moving onto the next thing and for certain things that may require repeating a number of times. Ideally by the time the evening starts setting in you can be sure of how much you might need to finish out the day and the prep work starts to slow down. But once the last customer is served you can’t just finish up and leave straight away. The container all the equipment requires a full and thorough clean and while on paper it always feels like it shouldn’t take too long it does require a good hour or more sometimes. This is crucial in making sure the machinery is kept in tip top condition so that the quality remains consistent and also means that everything is neat and tidy for the person opening the next morning. Once the checklist is complete the door is locked up for the night with everything ready to go again for the next day!
Overall, I can’t praise GUJI enough. Firstly, for giving me the opportunity in the first place and then giving me the training required to get me to the level I am at now. In this aspect it is a phenomenal place to work because the attention to detail is of the utmost importance and then we have amazing equipment at our disposal and the quality of the coffee is exceptional which just adds to the perks of the job. We also have a top-class team that helps the day fly along because while we are focusing on making sure everything goes off smoothly there’s no reason you can’t have the laugh while doing so. My passion for coffee and everything around it has gone up a few notches since I’ve started and I’ve now started looking at other areas in which I can look at improving my knowledge around coffee. One item that I’ve picked up that has improved my tasting ability while also providing a welcome improvement in my home brewing is the Hario V60. This is a pour over dripper that allows water to drip through a filter and provides an incredibly smooth cup of coffee that really allows you to hone in on the tasting notes. This is a cost-effective method for home brewing and also helps tune your palate in to tasting coffee and looking out for its flavour notes.
Developing as a Barista
So, after getting through my first day on the job at GUJI tired but otherwise quite satisfied with how it went I was scheduled to work both days the following weekend. Initially for the first two or three weeks I worked just weekends before starting to work on weekdays as well as GUJI started to soar in popularity. My very first day at GUJI was a trial of sorts so I was shown the basics of the operation but as I moved on in the job the real part of the learning process was beginning. Luckily at this point we had a nice mix of experience within our crew and you were able to glean advice from people who had different levels of experience as a barista. Similar to how things can be in school sometimes it can be easier for someone who also is learning to explain a certain trick or pass on a tip to a complete beginner as they themselves have recently experienced what it’s like to learn from scratch.
My first full weekend made it apparent that GUJI was quickly becoming one of the most popular spots in Cork and the number of drinks being made by the team to meet this demand created the perfect situation to accelerate the learning curve in improving my understanding of what goes into the perfect coffee. I had shown on my first couple of days that I was at least able to cope with being on shots so I was given some more time to refine my technique in this area. The actual process of making an espresso shot is not too difficult and I’m sure most people would be able to manage if they are shown how it do it properly but the real skill that has to be learned is in getting an espresso shot that is consistently right and also the speed at which you can consistently produce these perfect shots. The process for preparing the shot remains the same for each in terms of the steps and actions you take but there is also a whole range of times and weights that you need to know that lead to that perfect espresso shot being made. When a shot doesn’t come out within the ideal range it isn’t served but it’s also important to know why this is the case and after tasting a few shots that are either under or over extracted it becomes clear why this isn’t acceptable to serve to a customer. This is an important skill that I feel that a barista should know as when dialling in a coffee bean or making adjustments throughout the day you need to have that association in your head and tasting the different ranges of espresso extraction times helps in your understanding and knowing if the adjustments you made are working. Learning to make adjustments on the fly is also another aspect of the job that I began to learn as the weeks at GUJI progressed. The coffee is dialled in every morning but a number of factors can affect the output from the grinders throughout the day and this means that small adjustments have to be made to make sure that the espresso shots remain at the level you want them to be. At first I was absolutely terrified to even touch the dial for adjusting how fine or coarse the beans are ground for fear of totally messing it up. If it is setup correctly it normally doesn’t require more than a small adjustment on the dial but as time went on I became more confident in my adjustments and this is quite an important skill to have as a barista.
Luckily, I had great teachers at GUJI and the importance of every shot being perfect has always been the number one goal. Our head barista Shaz has played a major role in my development as a barista so far and he has passed on his experience to all our new members of staff. Like anything worth pursuing in life nothing happens overnight and a lot of work has been put in to get all the baristas within the team to the level where it doesn’t matter who makes your drink as the quality is the same. After getting to a decent level with the shots the next area to look towards for improvement was undoubtedly the one everyone wants to be good at, the milk! This is an area of the coffee experience that has varying levels of importance depending on the customer you ask. While it may not necessarily impact on the taste of the drink, I think we all want the drink to be visually appealing as just like eating out at a restaurant we taste with our eyes first. If it looks good then it’s very rare that the taste doesn’t match. At GUJI the standard is that every milk-based drink is sent out as if it will be photographed so therefore a lot of time has to be put in practicing to get towards a level where you can reliably hand out drinks with a nice latte art design. For my first day the aim was to do a simple love heart and being honest there was plenty of drinks that fell quite short of that ranging from at best something resembling an onion to at the absolute worst a generic blob of white. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and getting even the most basic designs requires some fine tuning of one’s motor skills. Eventually it got to a level where the heart was a given for whole milk but I found that doing skinny and alternative milks was still a relative stab in the dark, without the fat they are a little harder to get the milk texture correct and the milk splits quicker which then makes any decent attempt at latte art a challenge.
After a few weeks of practicing on the milk I was starting to get close to some consistently nice tulips. But as I said getting the perfect art requires time and while I was able to do some nice tulips and hearts, I definitely hadn’t developed the speed to keep up with the number of drinks we were making on the weekends so my practice was primarily left to weekdays and quiet times on the weekends but in my opinion this was ideal because when you are learning it’s a lot easier to practice and make mistakes in low pressure situations. The mortal dread that developed the split second before the jug was lowered in an attempt at producing latte art has now faded for the most part and I now feel that I’m at a level where the vast majority of drinks are “insta” worthy. The same can be said of the alternative milks and skinny milk for the most part also. Now if I’m being honest in my personal opinion whole milk is hard to beat when it comes to producing the most “insta” worthy latte art so that may be something to bear in mind if you’re inclined to get that perfect shot for the gram! If I was to rank them in difficulty, I would put oat milk as the most consistent when it comes to producing a nice tulip, I would also put this as my preference when it comes to milk alternatives. The hot vanilla-based drinks also can be quite decent when it comes to giving the drink that bit of flair. On the other end you have soya and skinny milk which while not impossible are a bit more difficult to get decent results. Steam technique is very important when it comes to getting the right consistency and texture for pouring art. I have Shaz to thank again for showing me a reliable steam technique for this which starts with using visual ques on the steam wand and the listening out for the right kind of hissing sound it makes when the air is being injected and then then waiting for a folding noise to take over. If all of these are followed then you can be confident that the milk won’t give you too many problems. There’s also a handy trick for soya but that one might remain an insider secret! With soya or skinny the love heart is still the safe bet but I have been adventurous lately and some tulips have been produced with soya milk that has been textured properly.
Overall, I feel that if you compared my ability now directly with the version that started in GUJI it is like night and day. Like many things in life, practice really does make perfect. In this sense I am obviously very fortunate to be in a work environment that place such importance on the quality of the finished drink and this I feel has really fast-tracked barista development within the team. The other baristas with a similar level of experience as myself also can count ourselves fortunate for the fact GUJI and the wider group with the Old Barracks are very keen on giving a chance and bringing people on the journey to becoming a fully fledged barista.
My journey in coffee was a relatively slow-moving experience until recently when I started working in Guji. I first got into drinking coffee through cycling when on group training spins we would stop at a coffee shop at some point of the spin. Cycling and coffee go hand in hand and it has become a massive part of the culture of being a cyclist. My appreciation for coffee started slow and slowly developed from ordering the same as whoever was in front of me to figuring out which drinks I preferred. Bit by bit I started to piece together what a good coffee tasted like and this was helped in part by a friend who was at the point more of a connoisseur of coffee than myself. Eventually going to the coffee shop had become as common off the bike as it was on it and the culture around coffee and the ambience of a good shop drew me in. During the first Covid-19 lockdown and into the summer I started to dabble with making coffee at home (with varying degrees of success I may add) that was more than just a basic black coffee and began to realise that my interest in it had developed into something more. I began to wonder if maybe I would be suited to working on the other side of the counter and began to ask some baristas I knew from some of my regular haunts for advice on how to get into the game. The one thing that stood out was to never assume that there wouldn’t be any chances out there and to ask around to see if there were any places available.
I had found the Old Barracks when I was in UL and had seen them posting that they were going to open a coffee bar in Cork which piqued me interest. They were looking at hiring baristas with varying degrees of experience so I decided to give it a shot by sending them a DM outlining my interest in learning but how I lacked any notable experience. I received word back from Alan Andrews the owner suggesting that I go for it and that something would be set up for me to come in and give it a go. After Guji had established itself for the first week or two I was given the chance to come in on a Sunday to help out and see how things were going. On a side note, I had some car troubles on the drive down and wasn’t sure if I would even make it but thankfully I did and I thought that the day could only get better after this. Alan was there to give a hand as well that day and introduced me to Helen and Shelley who had already been working there. I was shown around the unit and everything was explained from the equipment being used to what my role for the day would be. Things started off slowly but by 10am a steady stream of customers had begun to flow through. Due to my lack of experience, I mainly was on hand to help with anything that needed to be done such as boxing cakes, making the chocolate ganache and making sure to keep the milk drums topped up for our ubermilk machine. At some point around midday Alan suggested I come over and give a hand on shots. In a sense I went into it thinking nothing of it and this innocence probably saved me because pretty quickly it became apparent that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. From the outside looking into the container everything seems fast paced but under control and it seems almost effortless but a lot of this is down to the time put in by the baristas to reach this level. For my first time on the shots I had no such experience to fall back on and was now faced with the prospect of a long list of dockets lined up and requiring shots to be made for it. To add another curve ball to my learning curve I also had to contend with keeping track of the different types of beans that Guji offers, at this point I was having to think a lot each time I was asked which shot was a Columbia and which was an Ethiopian having to count back in my head to try and work it out. These days I have a system I use so I can remember which is which and anyone who is on the milk and knows how I put the shots in order will know from the dockets which is which and it can be the little things like this that help make everything that bit more streamlined. Unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded such knowledge on my first day and looking back on it now I do wonder how it actually went off without too many glitches. When you are on the shots you have to be able to get into a flow and not think too much as every few seconds of extra thought slows everything down. Thankfully through sheer volume of orders I was quickly learning this fact and started to refine my technique to try and match the pace that was required.
To add further perceived chaos to the day and because of large volume of customers we had that day our supply of whole milk was running quite low so off I went to make sure that there was enough in the fridges to keep the flat whites and cappuccinos flowing. With enough milk to keep us going for the rest of the day and a potential crisis averted the crew continued to keep the steady stream of customers going and I was given a go on the till to see if I had even the slightest ability to interact with a customer. While I definitely was not as slick with the conversation or even operating the till as I am now, I don’t think it went too badly and also had the others to fall back on to ask for advice or any help that I needed. Eventually as the afternoon came to an end and things began to quieten down we were able to gather ourselves. Overall, the consensus was that it was that it had been a very busy day but that it had gone off with little to no problems. From my first day at Guji a number of things were instantly apparent to me. One of these realisations which became apparent that day and that has stuck with me through since is the importance of remaining calm and to not get overwhelmed, no matter how busy it is. From the outside looking in it can be hard to truly appreciate how busy it can get and the number of individual factors that influence the experience the customer has with the shop and the brand as a whole. These range from the experience the customer has when the order has been taken, to their first sip of their drink once its ready. If any of these factors goes wrong along the way it can impact on a person’s perception of the experience or brand and therefore it remains one of the fundamental areas for a successful shop to focus on. That first day and being thrown in at the deep end really gave me an insight into what is expected of you to make sure that the product is as good as it can be and what my potential strengths and weaknesses were.
Thankfully the day went well for all involved and Alan was happy to have me help out again the following weekend. For me I left the unit feeling that the day went as well as it could have for me given the total lack of experience. Some small mistakes were definitely made that felt like big ones to me at the time but a certain number of mistakes are almost expected and how you deal with them is more important. Even to this day there isn’t a single person who works as a barista who doesn’t make at least one mistake in a day but it’s all about how you recover from these mistakes that makes the difference. One day was enough for me to know that it is a job that is a lot harder than what meets the eye but that it was definitely something I had a strong interest in and the bug well and truly took hold of me. Since then, I have gained a lot of knowledge on coffee but like most areas of speciality one thing that becomes more apparent the more you learn is the amount of information you don’t know about it. These range from all the different elements of coffee such as how its farmed, the knowledge and skill that goes into roasting each different origin of bean to get the most out of it, extraction times, weights etc. The process of learning all this is definitely best left for a separate blog that I will write soon.
Coffee to go is the new going out #itsallguji
Steps for an amazing Valentine’s Weekend with Guji!
Step 1: Treat yourself to our special Ruby and White Chocolate Proper Fancy Croissants filled with creme patisserie and topped with a chocolate disc. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
Step 2: Try our Valentine’s Day Cannoli, filled with raspberry mascarpone and topped with fresh berries. Four pieces per box for you to share with your loved ones!
Step 3: Wash your treats down with one of our famous SEXY CHOCOLATES with homemade toasted mallows on top to make your Valentine’s Day even sexier.
Step 4: Come down to our pink container and take photos with our Valentine’s Day signs, made especially for you to share your Guji weekend with your Instagram followers. See the picture of Sam and her sign below!
Step 5: Take a snap at our container using our Guji Love Instagram filter. Find out more here !
Step 6: After you’ve completed these first five steps, why not listen to Nina Simone’s ‘I Put a Spell on You’ over a romantic dinner. Scroll down or click here to listen on our Valentine’s Playlist on Spotify.
You and your pup could be featured in our next newsletter!
Bring your pup down to our pink container at the Marina Market in Cork and treat them while you enjoy a warm drink and one of our (human) sweet treats! We love having your furry friends around, so dog treats are on us and fresh water served in a pink bowl, Guji style.