My dream is to one day own my own coffeehouse.
After we decided to travel to Australia, we learned that Australians love their coffee and they happen to know a hell of a lot about it. We knew right away that Australia was going to be a fantastic place for me to learn more about coffee to apply to a future business in Canada.
A few days after we settled ourselves in Perth, I prepared my resume and cover letters and went on a scouting trip down the main restaurant and shopping street near my cousin’s house. Even though finding a job was imperative, I was still checking out the feel of different places and being a little bit picky, to be honest. You might as well LIKE what you’re doing for work, right!? It turned out that my cousin and his wife are friends with a photographer who does the photos for one of the cafes in the neighbourhood, and they noticed through her social media accounts that they were hiring. MEANINGFUL COINCIDENCE.
Even though the advertisement stated that “Working Holiday” folks need not apply, I sent my resume anyway. I was given a short interview and a one hour trial in the cafe and, fortunately, got the job!
This tiny cafe, Harvest Espresso, is a bustling place. I have never worked in such a small space that serves as many people and pumps out as much product as it does. Harvest is always busy. It’s pretty amazing what this business accomplishes with so little space, but it’s really part of its charm and appeal. We have lines out the door most days, especially weekends, and this naturally garners some attention and interest in this hole in the wall on Albany Highway.
Interacting with customers is safely within my comfort zone, but serving was new to me so I had to learn about working alongside a kitchen staff and chef, carefully delivering creative and artful breakfast dishes to tables, and (most importantly to me) how Australians like their coffee! It was a sink or swim start (best way to learn, in my opinion) as the cafe was too busy for me to be guided by someone holding my hand. There is no other way I’d rather it, actually. You have to be quick, friendly, patient, and comfortable with at least 10 people in your personal bubble at all times!
I feel like I was meant to find Harvest in this journey around Australia. It’s not the kind of cafe I expected to be working in, but it has ended up giving me much more than I expected to receive. My manager is the coolest person I think I’ve ever met, meaning I honestly can’t imagine Catherine mad. Like, ever. She’s human after all so I’m sure it happens, but she is the epitome of cool, calm and collected. She does not micro-manage and she has given me (and the other waitstaff) generous opportunities to improve our skills and work towards our own personal and professional goals—all while managing a very successful business. Her husband, the head chef, leads a quirky, international team of cooks who are always forgiving and funny as hell. They also make some of the most interesting and sought-after meals in Perth that come from the highly experienced and creative mind of “Chef”. My fellow ladies in the front—what can I say? They’ve become like family to me. As the Canadian girl with the least amount of experience in an Australian cafe, I was surprised at how patient and kind they all have been to me. The regulars are awesome and have completely embraced me as the ‘foreigner’ on the front of house team. Some days are stressful handling the small space and people just being people, but overall this has been the best job.
A little bit about coffee in Australia (through my eyes)
Baristas in Australia make very good wages and are often highly trained by prestigious academies that operate all over the country. You will even find some cafes who advertise that only ‘trained’ baristas will make your coffee. I mention things like training and ‘prestige’ to emphasize the different values placed on this kind of work in these two countries. From experience, I know in service and hospitality industries that training does not always directly translate to meaning “the best” employee overall. A trained barista won’t necessarily give you the best coffee of your life. More importantly, as with any occupation, even a highly trained person needs to have other qualities like dedication, real-world experience, passion and heart to make their craft the best that it can be.
From my perspective, the differences between drinking coffee in Australia and drinking coffee in Canada (GENERALLY) are significant. In larger cities in Canada, you will surely find more “boutique” and “specialty coffee” shops, yes. By this I mean cafes and coffee shops that will make hand-made drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. In small town Canada (which to me is Canada), you will find “drip”, or filtered, coffee brewed in a pot. If you ask for a latte at a small coffee shop in Canada, you will most likely get a cup of dissolved powdered coffee, milk and sugar that was poured from a machine automatically with the touch of one button. I’ve found that most people in Canada just don’t order “white” coffees if you’re having breakfast at the dive down the street. You order, simply, a coffee and you get black coffee from a pot that was brewed within the last 20 minutes, served with cream and sugar on the side.
You won’t find $20,000 espresso machines in small diners or cafes in Canada. In Australia, almost anywhere you go you can find a hand-made flat white, latte, cappuccino or some variation of those basic white coffees. You want just a black coffee? You’ll get an espresso shot and hot water (most commonly known in Canada as an americano, or coffee that is strong as shit).
Many people have told me that Australia is the best place to learn about coffee, especially for someone who wants to make a business out of it one day. From working at Harvest to experiencing coffee culture here as a customer, I have learned an immeasurable amount and have loved the process of gathering knowledge about one of my favourite things.