The Health and Safety behind making a Cafe Latte!

by Brendan Torazzi

Oct 11, 2018

Brendan: welcome back to Episode 3 of the Health and Safety Podcast. Today, I’m here with Daniel Benmayer from CoffeeSchool.com.au. I recently came across somebody that said that this was this whole new thing about accredited versus non-accredited coffee training which I think sounded really crazy in a way. I just wanted to get to the bottom of why there is even such a difference required and what is the reality in the marketplace. Dan, could you sort of give us a bit of a background as to what your business does and what the changes have been over the last few years.

Daniel: sure Brendan. Thanks for having me. My business primarily teaches people how to be a barista, how to operate a coffee machine. It all originated when 20 odd years ago I had a cafe and I used to train my staff every week how to be a barista. The first thing I would ask an employee whether it would be a wait staff, a kitchen hand, a chef or a barista the first question would be do you know how to operate the coffee machine. Most people did not know how to do it. I would teach them frequently and I would teach them all the time.

One day I had a lady come in who said she wanted to do work experience as part of her hospitality course. I’m not sure where she was working. She said, I need to do one day a week for eight weeks to get my certificate in hospitality. I said okay. She came in and I taught her how to make coffee. The next week she came in and I said, can you make me a flat white? She said, I forgotten how to do it. I haven’t done it all week. Could you show me again? I said, okay so I taught her again. Then the next week she came in on the Friday, the same day she would always come in. It's a shame I don’t recall her name but anyway she's a nice lady. I said to her, can you make a flat white? She said, can you show me again?

I said, hang on a minute. What is this course called that you're doing? She said, it's how to run a coffee shop. I said, so you're doing a course with an institution where they have not taught you how to operate a coffee machine which is the most fundamental, critical skill required in hospitality. It is the basis of all hospitality as far as I’m concerned wherever you work in hospitality. There is now 99% of the venues have a coffee machine restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, hotels and even petrol stations now have a commercial coffee machine in them.

Brendan: this was sort of just to give me a bit of a timeframe this was the end of the nineties, right around that era?

Daniel: yes like 20 odd years ago so like 1996. Something like that. I said to her so you're doing this course and they haven’t shown you how to make coffee. She said, not yet. I said to her, okay I have just spotted a whole in the market. No one is teaching baristas. I closed my cafe which was in Glebe at that time. I put up a sign Coffee School. I put up the website CoffeeSchool.com.au and started the Coffee School and coffee training industry in Australia exclusively for barista training.

Brendan: you were like one of the first guys on the block.

Daniel: I believe I was the first because nobody was training people how to make coffee in the industry at the time. Clearly even the hospitality institutions who were teaching hospitality were not viewing it as a critical requirement. My background was running a business, running a cafe. The first thing I would always say to someone as I say this, can you operate the machine? If they knew how to do it I would hire them on the spot. First I would say show me. I would observe their technique and you could tell within 30 seconds to one minute whether somebody knows what they’re doing as a barista. If they could do it I’d hire them. If they couldn’t do it I’d toss out whether I want to train them or not but most of the time I needed up training them. Then I realize that I should turn this into a business idea.

Brendan: back then what were you charging to train somebody up?

Daniel: fi they worked for me I charged them nothing because that was part of to get them into the level of where I needed them to be at but when I closed the coffee shop, I think it was around $90 or something, $99. Then it went up a bit. Then we added coffee art to it.

Brendan: look around these days and there's coffee shops everywhere and there's this massive demand for baristas and like yourself as a former coffee shop owner the staff are always a bit of a headache and trying to find people that are suitably qualified. When I found this out the other day that you had to have now a certificate to become a barista that astounded me. When did that start coming in?

Daniel: that is not correct. You don’t actually have to have a qualification to be a barista in my opinion. There’s no legal obligation for somebody operating a coffee machine to have a piece of paper to say I’m qualified to do it. That would be akin to having a certificate for making cheese sandwiches.

Brendan: they don’t have that at the moment.

Daniel: maybe they will introduce the Camembert Certificate followed by the cheddar followed by the blue vein but at this point I believe 99% of baristas who work in hospitality who are really good baristas are just good baristas. They don’t have a certificate. I always encourage my students regardless of the accredited certificate that we provide them. Do not go into a shop waving I’ve got a certificate. I’m a barista. Go into a shop when you want a job. Go into the shop and say, I am a barista. I have a certificate but can I make you a coffee so you can see me. You can observe my technique and you can see that I’m good at it because at the end of the day even if they come in waving their certificate around as a coffee shop owner I would always say to them make me a coffee now please. I just want to watch you. It takes one minute and you can tell as I said within one minute whether they are good or not good but there is no legal obligation for them to have the certificate. I think in fact Australia is the only country in the world that I’m aware of where we have an accredited coffee certificate.

Brendan: when did that accreditation come in?

Daniel: I think it came in around 2000.

Brendan: wow so it's been around for quite some time.

Daniel: yes because for the first four years I investigate whether or not there was a regulated qualification for coffee. At that time there was not. Since then somebody decided to write what they call an accredited training package for being a barista which involves a lot of things that are not relevant to operating the machine such as what are the altitude of beans grown at, how do you change a filter on a machine? These are things that a barista does not need to know from an employer's perspective. From an employer's perspective if I’m going to hire someone all I’m interested in is their ability to make good coffee quickly consistently.

It’s like saying I’m a taxi driver but I know how to change the oil in the car. The taxi driver does not need to know how to change the oil in the car. The taxi driver has to know how to drive the car and similarly all the barista has to know is how to operate the machine and make good coffee. In the training package there are other things that are added to it that don’t really improve the quality of your coffee but it is part of the accreditation process.

Brendan: what about the health and safety aspects? Were they covered at that original course that you did back in the mid-nineties through to whenever you became started offering accredited training? Were the health and safety aspects still there or what are some of it because the guy I was speaking to the other day who had just done a course just out of interest? He was saying there is a certain color cloth to wipe the milk one and other color cloth and you can’t put that cloth on the bench because you can have cross contamination. I guess it's a whole manager food safety concerns.

Daniel: that is a concern but that is so common sense that to make that a mandatory part of the course is they do it as regulation but it's a bit like saying the cloth that you used for wiping the steam wand exclusively is for wiping the steam wand. It should not be used for wiping a bench and that is where they have the color coding. You know for example you may choose to use the blue cloth exclusively for the bench, blue for bench and you may use the green cloth exclusively for the steam wand all day long and you rinse then out as you use them but you do not cross contaminate but for me personally that is logic.

When I used to train barista before any accreditation came in it was like please make sure that you use the same cloth only for the steam wand and if you want another cloth pick another color and use it for the bench. That is the biggest safety issue with food contamination and safety, well you really have to show the student that the steam wand is hot. The thing about a coffee machine is when it makes that big frothing sound people get scared of the sound. I used to say to my students and I still do. Do you use a stove at home? 99% will say yes. We boil pasta and we fry eggs. I’ll say to them, a stove at home is far more dangerous than this steam wand. The only difference is the stove at home doesn’t make the sound. You’re only afraid of the sound. Just be aware that the steam wand is hot. If you're going to manipulate its position you take a thick tea towel or you use the milk pot but you do not grab a steam wand because it is always hot. There’s always steam piping through it. You make that very clear to the students. You demonstrate how hot it is and you show them. You don’t grab it.

If you want to move it you take the cloth and you use the cloth to protect your hand to move its position. That is the biggest issue. The other thing is the hot water that comes out of the machine for making tea. Be aware that there is a spout for hot water. When you put the cup under or a tea pot under the spout you do not hold the teapot. You place it there. You remove your hands and then you activate the source that makes the water come out whether it would be a lever or a tap and you do not touch it while the hot water is coming out. Common sense prevails that your hand is nowhere near hot water. You turn it off and then you take the cup or the teapot away but you don’t hold it. You place it there.

Brendan: that all makes good sense.

Daniel: it's all very fundamentally logic. It’s like I don’t want to hurt myself. How do I prevent myself from hurting myself? I use a cloth to protect myself from the steam wand. I don’t hold a teapot while I’m pouring hot water into it. That’s it.

Brendan: I’m interested to hear a little bit more about the journey that you went through. In the early days you were the first coffee school on the block more or less. What were the student numbers like in the early years and how has that changed over the last I guess 20 years? What has happened with the industry in other words?

Daniel: the industry has grown. Hospitality has grown. We expanded from Sydney to Brisbane to Melbourne and to Perth. We became national, Australia wide. The industry has grown. There is a lot more competition now. There are many places doing it. A lot of people saw what Coffee School was doing and said, oh we could do that to promote our coffee beans. Many coffee bean suppliers then started their little coffee academies to help them market their beans but their intention was always to sell beans rather than do training but they would do training as part of their bean supply marketing. A lot of people just duplicated what I did including Tafe and it's not difficult. It’s like piano teacher. Anyone who is a reasonably good musician and has done a lot of study with music can say I’m a piano teacher. Now you need the accreditation to provide the certain certificates.

Brendan: students are coming in requesting that accreditation, a nationally recognized accreditation or is it just something that is now part and parcel with like for example Victoria Coffee. Are they a nationally recognized course or are they just doing an awareness course?

Daniel: I’m not sure what Victoria do but I’m sure that some students unfortunately think that it's a legal obligation to have a certificate in making coffee. It is not a legal obligation. The real benefit of the coffee certificate is you could put it towards the hospitality certificate as one of the units but again from an employer's point of view...

Brendan: you want to be able to make good coffee right? That is the mandatory part.

Daniel: in fact I have many students who just say I just want to do the course and they fail to submit the written assessment. They’re not interested in getting their accreditor's certificate. They just want to make beautiful coffee at home. Their intention is they have a machine at home. They want to know how to operate it. They want to know how to get the best out of it. They want to know how to get the best out of it. They want to know how to do the pretty pictures at home.

Brendan: love hearts.

Daniel: love hearts, leaves, flowers, rosettas, whatever you can think of creatively. They do it for that reason. A big portion of the people would be doing it for employment purposes. A smaller portion are doing it because they're opening a cafe and I says to the people who are opening a cafe you need to know how to make coffee, one when your staff don’t show up for work you know how to do it because that happens unfortunately that you would have to be a barista at certain times. Two, when you're hiring someone you need to be able to say to them show me, make me a coffee and if you don’t know how to do it correctly, how will you know that they are doing it correctly? You need to know what to look out for when you're watching a barista and say that their technique of frothing the milk is good. I can see they understand how to extract it. I can see that they’re doing it in a logical, consecutive order. It’s really obvious that they’re rinsing and they're doing all the correct things to insure that they're getting the best coffee out of that machine with the bean that they're using and they understand the fundamentals of making coffee.

Brendan: where do you say the industry is going from here? It seems like it has reached that saturation point. It’s like so many coffee schools, so many providers, everybody is drinking coffee. Where do you say the opportunity is coming up or is there any industry trends that you think may happen? Being a bit of an innovator I see you as then.

Daniel: I don’t know where the industry is headed. I know that people are continuing to consume coffee and enjoy coffee. Society loves coffee and they expect a certain standard and we want the standards to be maintained and even raised so that regardless of where you go whether it be that petrol station or whether it be the pub or whether it be obviously the cafe and even the football stadium you should be able to get a decent coffee which reminds once I went to a football stadium and they had the best machine, they had the best machine and my God Brendan, did I get a terrible coffee. I could not believe how bad it was. I wasn’t watching the barista so I didn’t know what they did. I reckon one, they didn’t clean the machine fundamental. You’ve got to have your equipment cleaned constantly, frequently. Maybe two they just had no idea of how to set the grinder right and no idea how to froth the milk.

Brendan: it's easy to get wrong isn’t it?

Daniel: as part of the way that I teach coffees is I teach the students how not to make coffee. I show them how many ways can you destroy the coffee. Let’s go through the ways of what you should avoid doing. One, burn the milk. Burn the milk it's all over. Forget about it. It’s finished. Okay? That is the first. Two, over extraction of the coffee. Put too much in, add dirty water to clean coffee. That is a big no no. Three, you don’t get your grind setting right. It will come out too quickly. It will be very watery. Those are examples of what not to do. You teach these things. The student is aware of what to look out for.

Again, it doesn’t matter which machine you're learning on whether it would be a commercial machine or a domestic machine the technique is the same. People often say to me oh, how do I know how to use the machine at work? I’m like they're all the same. It’s like a car, a Ford, a Mitsubishi, a Toyota. Once I teach you how to operate a commercial coffee machine you can operate any coffee machine. The brake is the brake. The accelerator is the accelerator. The steam wand is the steam wand. The group head is the group head. They’re all universally the same. I teach on the big commercial machine. You go home and you have a little domestic machine. Everything is the same except the machine is small and cute.

Brendan: that makes sense. We’re going to wrap up now. I’m going to ask you a few sort of outro questions. How old are you?

Daniel: 47.

Brendan: what do you do to keep fit?

Daniel: run and surf.

Brendan: that sounds like a man after my own passion. How many hours sleep do you get on average?

Daniel: I try for seven if I’m lucky. Seven I try to.

Brendan: have you got any personal goals that you're looking to achieve in the next 12 months?

Daniel: piece of mind is a big one.

Brendan: that is a good one. Finally, what business achievement would you like to be most remembered for? Bringing coffee training to Australia?

Daniel: maybe. I haven’t really thought about it. If people remember me great. If they don’t that's okay. I’m just another dot on the universe.

Brendan: Daniel, it's been great having a chat with you. If people want to find out a little bit more about Coffee School where can they go?

Daniel: CoffeeSchool.com.au.

Brendan: oaky Dan, thanks very much. Great speaking.

Daniel: thanks Brendan.

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