The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
The Milkman is a well-known Edinburgh speciality coffee shop, presently serving coffee from Origin Coffee Roasters and filter and retail coffee from other roasteries based in Scotland and around the world. The Milkman recently opened a second cafe at 52 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh.
I have been curious about barista work for a while so I decided to reach out to The Milkman to get a behind-the-scenes look at their cafe and how they serve coffee. Giulia, the store manager at The Milkman, took some time to answer my questions, which you can find below. Enjoy the interview!
Could you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your role at The Milkman?
I am the manager of both shops here at The Milkman. I discovered the world of speciality coffee about seven years ago when I started working for a speciality coffee shop in Italy. Since then, I’ve worked in various coffee shops as a barista and supervisor and then eventually landed at The Milkman in 2018.
What are the main tasks you do before the shop opens? How do you prepare for the day ahead?
The most important thing is definitely dialing in the coffee; making sure that the grinder and machine are set up correctly and that the recipe used for the day is the best we can offer to our customers. Then of course comes making sure everything is stocked up and the freshly delivered cakes are out on display.
How does your working environment change as the shop gets busier and quieter?
To be honest, it doesn’t change much. I am a very methodical person when it comes to working and I like to be on top of things at all times regardless of how busy it is. That said if one wants to know whether I’ve been busy or not the mess of ground coffee around the grinder is surely a good indicator!
What are the main parts of your job as a barista?
The most obvious is, of course, making coffee. However, I believe that customer service is a fundamental part of a barista’s job. Especially when it comes to speciality coffee, having friendly and approachable customer service is a great first step to spark an interest towards good coffee in those people that would otherwise end up in a coffee chain.
What do you think are the main skills a budding barista needs to succeed in the role?
Curiosity, enthusiasm and a passion for learning. There are so many things to learn about coffee if one is willing to improve!
What steps should a budding barista take to start a career in the role?
It might be a disappointing answer but the very first thing to do is getting the job. It doesn’t have to be a barista position in a highly renowned third-wave coffee shop straight away, there’s much to learn even at a slightly lower level. Milk consistency, proper steps at brewing an espresso, latte art… and then listening to other baristas with more experience and tasting everything, even bad shots, to train the palate. SCA courses are also an optimum way of gaining knowledge and aiming for higher roles straight away, but the price can be prohibitive for many.
How do you handle busy times at work?
By staying calm. I am a very chilled person, rarely getting stressed, so it comes quite easy to me, but there’s really nothing to be gained from panicking. Most customers don’t expect a barista to serve them in two minutes flat and won’t mind having to wait a bit more for a drink. They will remember, though, the nervous barista moving like a frantic robot and spilling a jug of milk on the floor in the process!
What is your favourite part about being a barista? What is the most challenging part of your job?
My favourite part is definitely being able to taste different coffees and support various roasteries. There’s something special about sipping a cup and knowing that the beans have been roasted by people who value the product, the environment and the farmers.
The most challenging part of the job, as it is with every hospitality job, are the customers. Not all of them, of course, the majority of them are great and they are what make the barista job exciting! However, being exposed to so many people on a daily basis makes us vulnerable to the occasional bad customer. Especially for baristas who are part of a minority, this kind of exposure and vulnerability can be very stressful.
How do you make speciality coffee approachable to your customers who may have little or no knowledge of what speciality coffee is?
Friendliness is a key point here. As long as they don't feel pressured or lectured most customers are more than happy to follow the barista recommendations and try new things - even if by that we simply mean not adding milk to a pour-over/batch brew or trying a coffee without sugar. Coffee cuppings are also a good way to attract new people to speciality coffee, especially when they are fun and informative. Right before the pandemic, for example, we organized one with the roastery Girls Who Grind coffee and we made sure it was aimed at everyone, be them coffee connoisseurs or not. The response to that was amazing and we could tell that people were genuinely enjoying the event!
Like a good teacher passes their knowledge with passion, the barista has a similar role when it comes to introducing new people to the world of speciality coffee. Of course, we also need to remember that not all customers are interested in switching their habits and that's ok!
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
At the moment I’m sipping a juicy Kenyan, Thunguri AA from Curve coffee roasters.
If you could visit any coffee origin in the world, where would it be and why?
Yunnan. I have never tried a coffee from there which wasn’t extremely peculiar and unique!
What is your favourite snack to have with a coffee?
A biscuit or a slice of a loaf if it’s an afternoon coffee, a cinnamon bun if it’s a morning one.
You can learn more about The Milkman on their Instagram page at @themilkmancoffee. You can find their website at www.themilkman.coffee.