Who's our best barista?

Coffee makers aim for title

Last updated 12:00 31/10/2012

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They steam and froth behind espresso machines every morning, giving the people of Palmerston North a much-needed kick-start to the day.

Jono Galuszka had coffee with each of the five people who are up for Barista of the Year at the Manawatu Hospitality Awards.


While most would be humbled to be nominated for an award, Moxies owner and barista Mike Waghorn is a bit miffed. "If I find out who nominated me, I'll put some gloves on and get in the ring with them," he says.

Not that there is anything wrong with awards, of course, but he says he just did not expect it.

Some might wonder why it has taken so long, considering his long career in the Palmerston North hospitality scene.

He started running bars in the 1990s, and was the first manager of Highflyers.

But when he bought Moxies about seven years ago, it was the start of a serious learning curve.

"I had never made a coffee in my life before I bought the place," he says.

"(Coffee supplier) Supreme gave us a bit of a rundown, but I seemed to pick it up pretty quickly."

Since then, Waghorn has brought the coffee output up to about 300 cups a day - nearly six times as many as he used to make.

While making a good cup of coffee is the way to get people in the door, speed is important to turnover.

"As an owner, my priority is getting coffees out quickly and making good coffee rather than spending a whole lot of time on one.

"I haven't got the luxury of a whole lot of time."

In the first two years, he worked nearly every day.

"I do only five days a week now, because it's hard work and you will burn yourself out."

But that hard work has ingrained the process of making a good coffee into his head, he says.

"It's just second nature, to a certain extent."

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The Palmerston North coffee scene is in healthy shape at the moment, he says.

"Palmerston North people are spoiled for choice.

"I've just come back from Vegas . . . and I fluked one good coffee while I was there."


For Ann-Maree Dudley, making coffee is just a small part of being a barista.

The Scholars employee says she loves the customer interaction the most.

"I enjoy finding out all the customers' stories. Then you get your regulars, and you really get to know them."

Dudley started making coffee at McCafe, before moving on to the now-defunct Starbucks in The Plaza.

When the coffee chain suddenly left Palmerston North in 2009, Dudley got herself a job at Scholars.

The cafe is popular with UCOL students, but plenty of regulars also make their way across town for a cup of Dudley's coffee.

Six-and-a-half years of making coffee seems like a long time for a young person, but Dudley says she loves her work.

"Sometimes I like to think I'm done with it, but that's what you do when you have a bad day.

"I enjoy what I do, otherwise why would I stay with it as long as I have?"

She says her coffee intake varies from day to day.

"I would drink anywhere from one, if I'm not really feeling it, to five or six coffees a day.

"It can get quite bad."

But drinking all that coffee is an essential part of the job and the only way to make sure it is tasting good, she says.

And what is her secret to making a good coffee?

"Someone who knows what they're doing. You have got to know the basics of how to make a good coffee."

She says she is nervous about the competition, mainly because it will be her first one.

"I'll just rock in and do what I do."

Just as long as she doesn't have to make what she calls a "why bother?".

"It's a latte, which is pretty nice usually, but they have it with half a shot of decaf and soy milk."

Why bother indeed.


Making coffee is fast, technical, skilled work, says Gemma Crilley.

"We can do 600 coffees in an eight-hour shift. You don't just push a button and stir things. It's hard work, with dockets coming out of your ears."

So the Cafe Cuba barista makes things a bit more fun by turning it into a competition.

She will race her fellow baristas and try to impress customers that little bit more.

"You get really busy and work really hard, but it's fun as well."

Crilley says it is all just a bit of fun between colleagues, as they also try to beat her.

But the friendly competition helps keep everyone on top of their game, she says.

"I've made coffee for 10 years, but it's only since coming to Cuba . . . that I've really improved."

In those 10 years, Crilley has worked in bars, hotels, restaurants and cafes.

"Little bits of everything really, but now I'm focused on the coffee side of things," she says.

Like so many others, her hospitality career started almost by accident.

"I left school [and was studying photography] and was doing some part-time bar work.

"I pretty much fell into it, but I loved it."

After a decade in the industry, Crilley says she would not dream of doing anything different.

"If I wasn't passionate about it, I wouldn't be turning up."

Having a good set of regulars helps.

"It makes you feel like you're appreciated for what you are doing," she says. "You almost feel like they need you."


Andrew Feldon's reputation speaks for itself.

He has multiple Barista of the Year awards, represented New Zealand in barista championships, and even judged competitions.

However, he says he only started taking his coffee career seriously in 2005.

"It was initially supposed to be a fill-in job," he says.

He was quickly snapped up by Streetwise Coffee in Otaki and went on to own the company's caravan in Sanson.

After a stint with Altura in Auckland, he moved back to Palmerston North to take up residence behind the machine at Tomato.

The long black drinker says he was asked to judge the Manawatu competition this year, as he is qualified to judge world championships.

However, he turned it down so he could compete.

"I'm looking at [opening a coffee business] soon, so competing will be good," he says.

He says many baristas can be content with their knowledge, but to get to the top they need to always be hunting for more.

"It's about being involved in other bits of the industry.

"You should surround yourself with professionals who know what they are doing and love it.

"It's amazing what you can learn by hanging around with other professionals."

Feldon says competing against people who have less experience than him also helped him learn. "There are some really talented baristas around. It's good to see what they're all doing."


Sarah Dickson says she "did the rounds" of Palmerston North's cafes before ending up at Cafe Jacko.

A veteran of 14 years in the industry, she says drive and passion are what keeps her interested, as well as the customers. "They end up becoming your family. If they are not here, I worry about what has happened to so-and-so. I like to see everyone every day."

Dickson, who has a flat white in the morning and a long black in the afternoon, says she has noticed the changes over the years in how Palmerston North people see coffee.

"People are starting to realise what a good coffee actually is."

That increased perception makes it more important than ever for cafes to have excellent baristas, she says.

"If people go somewhere else, they want a great coffee - not just a good one - and if they don't get it there they'll come back."

She started her career on George St and is happy to be back on the cafe-lined strip.

"You can smell the coffee when you walk down here."

Despite her time in the industry, she says she has never been in a competition.

"It'll be a nice learning curve, so next time I'll know what's expected."

And, she says, there will be a next time.

"I can easily see myself doing this for another 14 years."

- © Fairfax NZ News


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