All things Coffee with The Cornerstone, Head Barista Sam.
The Cornerstone is a charming café in Pakenham, South East Melbourne. Known for their delicious food and friendly service as well as delicious coffees including Grinders Single Origins. We spoke to Head Barista, Sam about his barista journey, tips, and insights into what makes The Cornerstone a great place to work and their relationship with Grinders Coffee.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I enjoy coffee and am a coffee drinker. After working back of house in hospitality for some time, I wanted to transition to the front of house and my Dad suggested to try coffee making.
I started studying and learning, did a barista course which wasn’t necessary for the job but gave me a nerdy perspective on coffee. The crucial knowledge I’ve gained was from actually making coffee.
To me, it’s all about muscle memory and after doing it for 2 years, I’ve come a long way. It took me 2 months until my milk was good, 5 months to start doing latte art & 1 year to start working on my own. After 1.5 years I could handle all of the coffee service on my own. (Cornerstone is a busy café!)
It’s important to understand workflow. The machine is your tool, you’re like a chef and it all comes down to process, workflow and organisation. What started out as a desire to talk to people more, became a lifelong skill that I have and it’s really cool. You can take it internationally or you can take it home and make yourself a coffee.
Tell us, how do you drink your coffee?
Oat Cappuccino is my go-to.
What are your tips to make better coffee?
A lot! Few things compare to a perfectly prepared coffee made with care. I particularly love the fact the exceptional coffee in Australia, has travelled so far and passed through so many highly skilled hands for us to simply enjoy.
Understanding milk and espresso. Making a good cup of coffee is reliant on the espresso shot being great, the taste relies on the espresso. Know how to adjust the grinder, understand the numbers and the sensitivity of the beans. A barista should taste and understand the shot; bitterness, sourness, what causes it and how to fix it.
Get your milk really silky and this will make your coffee. Milk should have a good mouthfeel. The experience of drinking a good cup of coffee makes you feel like you’re drinking something really expensive. The espresso gives you the base for taste and the milk creates the overall experience of quality.
As a barista you’re in charge of making a coffee that tastes good and feels good to drink. Keep practicing, try texturing dish soap and water to get your milk silky. It’s like trying to teach someone music. Everyone’s a little different, so figure out your own way of like holding the jug for example.
One thing I learnt from the barista course is that the coffee can smell your fear, you need to be confident when texturing and pouring milk. It takes roughly 40 seconds to make a cup of coffee, it should be a fast smooth process. You’ve got to be good at keeping it flowing in your 40 seconds.
Can you tell us about your relationship with Grinder’s Coffee?
I came along to the recent Grinders Coffee Immersion Programme and saw the importance of a relationship with a café and roaster. The technical behind the scenes and how the roastery works was really educational. Our Territory Manager rocks up every 1-2 weeks, checks up and is really supportive. It’s a smooth process which makes everything easier. Good relationships, frequent visits, good supply and people you can connect to. Like an agent that’s supporting your business.
What makes Cornerstone a great place to work?
The first thing that comes to mind is the team. In my experience, it’s always down to the people. Our people know how to make the workplace light and fun but understand when it’s time to work. We know how to work with each other and understand that everyone is valuable. Everyone is like an arm and a leg, and we all work together to move in the same direction. Everyone is supportive and looks after each other the same way we look after the customers. We make sure we eat, hydrate and rest when needed. We see each other every day and are kind of like a work family. Hospitality needs this.
What’s your favourite menu item from your cafe?
I love all the food, but the roasted garlic wild mushroom is my pick. With an iced oat latte of course.