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.