The daily grind: a day as a Bewley’s barista

Even the finest coffee can be turned into a vile and bitter soup by an inexperienced barista, I’m told, as I set to work in Bewley’s on Grafton Street. This should be fun

Conor Pope goes behind the scenes at Bewley's to find out just how they make the coffee and those fancy little designs they put on top. Video: Conor Pope/Kathleen Harris

Mon, May 5, 2014, 01:00

I am getting stressed by the orders piling up at my station on my first day as a Bewley’s barista when Goldilocks comes to the counter and nearly tips me over the edge. “I’d like a latte please,” she says. “But I don’t want it to be too hot. Or too cold. I want it just right.” She smiles expectantly.

I have about a million things to do and am about to ask her how I’m supposed to know what she considers “just right” when my mentor, Martino, steps in.

“That’ll be no problem, madam,” he says affably, and starts heating the milk for her coffee. As he uses his palm to gauge thee temperature of the milk, I make the coffee shot and remember all the things that can go wrong.

As part of my induction into the world of Bewley’s coffee, my morning has been spent in the company of Marie Cassidy, the company’s standards and training manager. She has warned me that even the finest coffee can be turned into a vile and bitter soup by an inexperienced barista. And I am an inexperienced barista.


“The cup is 50 per cent of the puzzle,” she says, before trying to teach me how to solve it. “Oxygen is the main enemy. So, once the coffee is ground in the cafe, it will only stay really fresh for five minutes. It doesn’t matter where you are ordering your coffee, it is very important that you hear the grinder, because silent coffee is not going to be fresh.”

In addition to the silent coffee, she warns me not to compress the grounds too much or too little into the filter holder. If the coffee is packed too tight, the water will struggle to percolate properly into the cup; if it is packed too loosely, it will flood through too quickly. Either way the end result will be bitter.

Then there is under-extraction, or not allowing the water to run through the coffee grounds for a sufficient length of time. The optimum length of time for the hot water to flush through the coffee in the filter holder is 24 seconds. Anything less, or more, will sour the brew.

I follow all the rules and the coffee is made. Goldilocks goes on her way. She seems happy enough. Martino, who is originally from Italy, has a rare moment to take a breath. He has been with Bewley’s for more than six years and is now a supervisor in the flagship Grafton Street store. At his busiest, he could make more than 400 cups of coffee of varying degrees of complexity a day.

“We get a lot of tourists in here for sure,” he says. “But we also get a lot of locals. Bewley’s is part of what Dublin is, and a lot of people come in and talk to us about how they used to come here with their parents or their grandparents. I am Italian, so I should know all there is to know about coffee, but I have learned more here.”

You want a what now?
An order comes in for a cappuccino. I make it without much fuss, and, as I pause to admire my handiwork, which includes a topping that looks like a loveheart (kind of), another four orders land on top of me. Three Americanos and a latte. I get them over the counter. It’s getting hot in here.

A woman asks for some class of ridiculous cold coffee drink with several words I have never heard before. I look at her in befuddlement until Martino takes over. Before I can say “it’s far from iced coffee you were reared, missus”, he is handing her what looks like a coffee milkshake.

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