When Don and I first arrived in Mooloolaba, we were bewitched by all the cafes on the Esplanade and stopped most days after the morning walk for a cappuccino, latte or flat white and a leisurely perusal of the morning papers. It was a very civilized luxury after our years in the Pacific. However, we really didn’t have a clue when ordering what was what, and had to ask repeatedly. I’m sure the young baristas thought we’d just landed from Mars.
How far we have come! At the moment, the leading idea for self-employment when we get back to the US is to own and operate our own mobile espresso and smoothie truck. This would be the kind of thing that sets up at events for anywhere from a day to two weeks. Don has been doing reams of research, filling in the blanks of a business plan, and we even have a truck in mind. We’ve been in touch with a fellow in Florida who has one, and he has been incredibly generous with mentoring information and encouragement.
The other day we were at a business in nearby Kunda Park called Beverage Marketing, the local distributor of a US product called Dr. Smoothie that our mentor had recommended. Dr. Smoothie will provide product samples to people considering the business, and they kindly extended that courtesy to us, even though our business would be on the other side of the world. The showroom was full of fancy espresso machines (of which my sister’s home model was the smallest!), and an Aussie couple was getting lessons from a slim Asian man in how to make a proper cappuccino. We sidled over and watched over their shoulders.
It turned out that the couple had just outfitted their own coffee truck (in Australia the popular model is a stand-outside set-up in a panel van), and they kindly invited us outside to have a look-see. In the course of all our standing around and chatting, we ended up with the instructor's card, and he with ours. And that night he called and offered us some private lessons.
So, Friday morning we climbed in our car and drove out to Nambour, a town about 20 minutes inland. The countryside was lush and lovely, with folded hills and valleys and houses with yards. We found Paul Chan in his cool and shady carport, beneath a house on stilts on the hillside. His big green professional espresso machine was set up on a stainless steel table with a fridge and all the paraphernalia at hand. we could hardly ask for a nicer learning environment.
Making espresso is a much more intricate process that we imagined. There is the type and age of the coffee beans as well as ambient conditions to consider when setting the grinders. The ground beans need to just right to allow the drip rate of 30 ml of water to fall within 22-27 seconds! This takes some experimentation the first time, and attentive adjustments subsequently. We learned how to measure and properly tamp the grounds in the portafilter (aka a group handle) and how to lock it in the machine to extract the espresso. After that we learned the art of volumizing milk (and not burning it or yourself…or others!) with the steamer wand, and then how to pour it out so as to make a cappuccino, flat white or latte.
It was a high caffeine morning for the two captains, but fortunately Paul’s wife just happened to whip up a scrumptious banana cake to help us get through! We spent at least an hour sitting on their deck discussing the fundamentals of a mobile business. Paul was a great resource as he once had four of his own.
An unanticipated highlight of the day was Paul’s four-year-old daughter Alicia who was not going to be persuaded to stay upstairs with her mom when such interesting strangers were at hand. Exactly the same age as Kai with much the same open personality, her distractions gave us a bonus dose of grandparenting. Not often can you bounce basketballs while you learn to make coffee!