“The hardest part isn’t the coffee, but getting the milk foam right”

(Wo)man at work: Barista at Coffeelovers


Gemma van der Elsen/ 20/ third-year student of Medicine/ works 5-12 hours per week/ earning about 9 euros per hour

The Student Service Centre has only just opened for the day, but the first customers are already coming into Coffeelovers. Gemma van der Elsen takes their orders at the till; her colleague Britt is working behind the coffee machine. “We take turns during the day. One of us prepares drinks, the other one ‘walks around’ to catch up on dishes, put out baked goods, put bread rolls in the oven and work the till. During very busy periods, there are three of us here.” An extra pair of hands is very welcome on those days: during exam periods, they sometimes serve some 500 cups of coffee per day.

This week, it’s been exactly one year since Van der Elsen began working at Coffeelovers. She started out behind the till and followed a one-evening barista training course a few weeks later. “The hardest part isn’t the coffee, but getting the milk foam right.” This is even more difficult with the different kinds of plant-based milk alternatives on offer at Coffeelovers, such as soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk. “They have different frothing temperatures. Oat milk stays relatively thin, as it’s quite watery, whereas almond milk can easily become too dense. Yes, some of my colleagues know how to make latte art, but I just stick to the heart design.”

The coffee machine is largely self-calibrating, as long as the grind settings are configured correctly. Van der Elsen adjusted them this morning, before opening hours. “We have to adjust them a few times throughout the day. The outside temperature matters, for example, or how full the machine is.”

The most difficult drinks to prepare are coffee beverages with whipped cream. “The coffee is hot, so the cup will overflow if you don’t add the whipped cream right. I used to work in an ice cream parlour and work with whipped cream a lot, but always on cold stuff, so I never had this problem. The worst that could happen was my creation toppling over.”

When the morning rush has died down, Van der Elsen has time to pour herself a cup of coffee. “It’ll start again around 10 a.m.” She likes it when it’s busy (“I prefer doing something to doing nothing”), but it’s also nice to have a quiet moment every now and then. “It gives us a chance to chat with our colleagues. Our team is very nice; almost all of us are students. We recently had drinks with employees from other locations to celebrate the New Year and we go on an outing every year. Our employers know everyone; they send us messages on our birthdays and personalised Christmas cards.”

Van der Elsen grabs two tiered display stands from a cabinet. She puts banana bread on one of them and croissants on the other one. These are delivered by the central kitchen every week. It’s getting busy again. “Where’d the pitcher with iced tea go?”, she asks her colleague. She spends some time searching for it, only to find out that she overlooked it: the pitcher is in its usual spot in the fridge. She quickly pours the iced tea and turns to the following customer. “We have a lot of regulars, some of whose orders I remember – students and people who work in the building, but people from outside the university people as well. They like having a brief chat before pulling out their laptops and getting to work.”

Has the knowledge she’s gained by working here made her more critical of the coffee she drinks herself? “I no longer drink coffee from the vending machines at the university. And I don’t really like milk that hasn’t been frothed by hand anymore, either.”


“The hardest part isn’t the coffee, but getting the milk foam right”
Author: Cleo Freriks
Loraine Bodewes
Categories: news_top
Tags: studentjob

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