New Zealand’s coffee culture is well established, with Wellington acting as the centre of gravity. Baristas Bonnie Lam is trying to Wanaka with a pair of venues, The Coffee Shack and The Dojo. In this interview, Bonnie outlines her coffee journey and provides some advice to other baristas looking to start a career.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
My first job when I was 17 years old was actually in a cafe, like most of us. During this, I was fascinated with the coffee machine - the fascination hasn’t stopped since! I nagged and nagged the barista to teach me how to use it. I was always very helpful, getting milk if they needed, being the first one there as soon as coffee needs to be run. Honestlym just being a 'teacher's pet' and helping every way I can. At the end, my persistence worked and they finally showed me how!
What's the status of specialty coffee in Wanaka?
It is one of my dream for Wanaka to overtake Wellington, to be the coffee capital of New Zealand. I would have to say we are pretty new in the specialty coffee game, maybe only the last five years. There are definitely still a lot of the old faithful 'mum and dad' cafes around still and those legends will always be with us! However all the new cafes opening have a very strong specialty coffee focus - sustainability, traceability all the abilities really!
What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
If you had asked me before I opened Coffee Shack, I would have said: eople who work fast (like really fast), handle stress well, multi-taskers. Pretty much anyone that can juggle four balls while balancing a plate on their head and walking on a tight rope. But over the four years there's been a few people that have proven me wrong. This sounds pretty cheesy but everyone is unique and the way they learn and do things are very different. Long story short, there is no one type of person who suits hospitality. They just have the WILL! and I mean 'will', I've also met a lot of 'Oh yea, I really want to learn to make coffee and it'll be super cool!', 2 seconds later, 'squirrel!'
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
Start from the bottom, go into a cafe. People, please do your job exceptionally before you demand to be taught this and that! If you are a waitress, be the best waitress they have ever bloody seen! Then invest in yourself there are so many online tools and specialty workshops around. Spend your money and go learn.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
The guys over at the Perfect Daily Grind are so bloody good, books, blog, follow baristas who you like. Live it and breathe it. There are no wrong answers really, just keep in mind who has written in, what experience have they got and try it out for yourself. Don't get stuck in one way, the more opinions you read the broader perspective you have in coffee.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
World barista champion. Maybe more 7 years tho! NZ Barista Champion in the next 3.
Follow @thecoffeedojowanaka to keep an eye on Bonnie’s newest venture, and visit when you’re in Wanaka