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As we know, to a lot of people, coffee is more than just a way to wake up in the morning or a hangover cure. It is a passion. As our customers become more and more passionate about coffee, they desire to educate themselves about this, much loved beverage. The exciting thing is, that we Baristas are the first port of call for these curious customers.

It is important to know how to answer our customer’s questions in a way that relays accurate information, without being pretentious, and at the same time being equally as passionate to share our knowledge. We need to remember that many of our customers aren’t there to receive long winded lectures; they are on their way to work and are looking for something short and to the point.

The following are a few FAQs that the curious customer may ask, followed by the knowledge we should know as Baristas and finally how we can quickly answer their questions and encourage their curiosity, without causing them to miss their train.

Q: What is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?

This is one of the most common questions we get from curious customers and as we know, it’s all about the milk. More to the point it’s about the microfoam.

Microfoam: This is the beautiful, silky, shiny, textured hot milk that is produced by creating tiny bubbles through injecting steam at 1.1-1.5 bars of atmospheric pressure, (known as stretching). We follow this process by using that same pressure to break these bubbles down and mix them with the milk, (known as texturing). The way we create the difference between the density of the milk within these two drinks is through the amount of air we add; the more air we incorporate into the milk, the greater density it will have. It may also be worth noting that a latte tends to be a larger drink which can also account for the difference in flavor.

A: The difference between a latte and cappuccino is mainly the density of the steamed milk, this causes a latte to be more milky, whereas the cappuccino will have a stronger coffee flavor.

Q: Why do you pour the milk from one jug to another?

When we are busy, a really good way to speed up the workflow is by steaming milk for more than one coffee at a time and to split pour. The curious customer is paying attention to your every move and they will notice.

We know that when steaming for multiple coffees, (or even one coffee) we need to ensure that there is just the right amount of microfoam for each drink. Steamed milk is incredibly volatile and within seconds it will begin to separate and thicken. We avoid this by splitting the milk into different jugs. It keeps the freshly steamed milk moving and allows us to keep a lovely texture just right for pouring latte art and ensuring that the customer gets the best drink possible in a good time.

A: This is called split pouring, it keeps the milk from separating and allows just the right density and texture for each drink.

Q: Why can’t I get the espresso I make at home to taste as it does in the shop?

These curious customers are clearly very serious about their coffee, and we know, there are a lot of factors that go into making the perfect espresso.

We use a very specific recipe called an Espresso Brew Formula. This formula contains three variables: Dose, Yield and Time. We spend our days ensuring that we have the right weight of finely ground coffee beans, (dose); we have double the weight in our extracted coffee (yield) and that the extraction all happens in the right amount of time. To follow this formula we spend our days looking after time and changing our grind size, weighing our dose and weighing our shots. If we find that anything is out of place we make tiny adjustments to ensure we are pulling the prefect shots for our customers.

On top of all this, and perhaps, (it could be argued) one of the most important factors in any method of extraction, is the water. With espresso, up to 90% the cup is made up of water. Therefore, logic says that we should pay attention to the water we use. Many of us who work behind an espresso machine, will be working with water that has been filtered through a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system. This filtration system will be programmed to strip everything out of tap water, reserves some of the water, and then injects the desired amount of minerals, (known as total dissolved solids or TDS), back in. RO allows us to have control over how hard or soft the water we use is. It has a great effect on the taste of coffee and plays an important role in keeping our machines working properly.

A: We use a really specific recipe, (i.e. 20g in, 40g out, 25-35 seconds time), we grind on demand, and we have a water filtration system that gives us the ideal water quality. If you weigh out your beans and yield, grind on demand and use bottled water, you will have a much better espresso at home.

There are many reasons it is so important for baristas to know their stuff, and as our customers become more and more informed, they are going to expect us to raise the bar. Hopefully, these FAQs will give you some ideas for when your customers become inquisitive. We will revisit curious customer FAQs sometime in future months; please feel free to email, if you have any questions and we’ll answer it the next time we look into this topic.

Until next time.

Kathryn J. Thompson Sr. Barista/AST, Artisan