When I signed up to spend an hour working as a barista, I did not expect to be using a small flame-thrower or a giant tub of Nutella, but, nevertheless, that was what I found myself doing while I worked at Barista Coffee Bar in St Helier.
I arrived at the café at around 11 am and donned my apron, ready to learn the tricks of the trade and become a coffee-making pro. My guide was Shayan Menezes, who has been working at the café for about a year. He introduced me to the rather daunting coffee machine, which was covered in buttons and levers I worried I would never understand.
Not long after I arrived, the cosy sofas of the café began to fill with people here for lunch, and the orders were rolling in. There would be a beep from the small printer by the coffee machine and a table number and order (our mission briefing) would emerge.
The orders started off simple with an Americano, but despite my top-notch pouring-hot-water-in-a-mug skills, I couldn’t get cocky, as things would only get more difficult from here. We did all the classics: the cappuccino, the latte, the café con panna (although I may have overdone it with the cream). I learnt the careful balancing act that needs to be done with coffee shots, milk, and chocolate sprinklings, and sometimes I even got it right. Fortunately, Shay’s patience was as strong as his espresso, and after a rocky start, I began to get into the swing of things.
Before long I was frothing the milk like a pro, so it was time to move on to the next level – we’d received an order for a crème brûlée latte.
This time instead of a mug, we used a rather fancy glass, and after adding the milk I carefully poured the coffee over a spoon held over the glass. My hands were shaking; the adrenalin was really pumping now. When that was finished, Shay sprinkled some brown sugar onto the top and I stood back, expecting that to be a job well done. I was a fool. That was when he brought out the fire. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you had to handle a small torch and precisely aim its flame to burn the top of a latte, but it really adds an element of risk to hot-beverage making. That was the only crème brûlée latte that was ordered during my short shift, which is probably for the best. I’m not sure if I’d have been able to handle the stress a second time around.
We kept making coffees of all sorts, and I kept having to be reminded which was what, and whether or not that meant we added milk.
All the while I was slowly being introduced to the world of latte art. Shay was able to make a milk swan on top of the coffee, but he thought it best to show me how to do a heart first, something I managed to triumphantly – albeit wonkily – complete. A little later I succeeded in making two hearts on top of the coffee. Then Shay made another swan. Show off.
Another unexpected situation occurred when we received an order for a Nutella latte. Without warning Shay brought out the biggest tub of the chocolate hazelnut spread I had ever seen. I had to resist the urge to grab it and run. The entire process of preparing someone’s drink was made infinitely harder by having to resist grabbing the nearest piece of cutlery and helping myself to a spoonful. I managed to control myself (somehow), but it was still heart-breaking to see the finished drink go.
The hour I was there flew by. To end, Shay showed me how to make a flat white, which is one of the café’s more popular drinks, and after trying it myself I can see why.
Once I’d removed my apron I had a quick chat with Sarah Fraser, the owner of Barista, about why she opened the café and what she’s learnt since.
‘I love the coffee bar culture,’ she said. ‘Just being chilled out… it’s about having the people… Your staff can make or break you, and I’m lucky that I’ve got a fantastic team.’
Although my stint was short, I had a great time. It was a lot of fun to make all these coffees I’d previously only known by name. In fact, it hardly felt like working, because the atmosphere in the café was just so friendly and warm. As Shayan said: ‘The most important thing for a barista is to make coffee with love.’
Barista Coffee Bar can be found at 4 Beresford Street in town and is open weekdays 7.30 am – 5 pm, and 9 am – 5 pm Saturdays.