BeanScene Magazine

Melissa Caia’s motivation

From the February 2017 issue.
Melissa Caia’s motivation

Melissa Caia is a familiar face within the Australian coffee industry. With a hospitality career spanning more than 20 years, she devotes her time to nurturing the next generation of baristas.

As a young child, Melissa Caia would watch her father prepare his morning coffee before he went to work at the family fruit and vegetable market.

“I would smell the aroma of coffee at 2am when dad would wake up. He would put the coffee pot on the stove, have a shower, then you’d hear the moka pot brewing. He had the same routine each morning – stir the coffee, tap the spoon, then sip it,” Melissa says.

She was too young to critique her father’s coffee preparation skills, but little did she know that one day her sensory abilities to taste, prepare, and judge coffee would take her around the world and provide her with experiences she never knew existed. 

Melissa is the Coffee Academy Teacher Coordinator at William Angliss Institute in Melbourne. Within this role, Melissa coordinates coffee training, manages state and national client’s training programs, and nurtures skill development to improve employability for students from disadvantaged communities. When she’s not teaching coffee, Melissa’s teaching gelato production – and sampling test batches from time to time.

Within the coffee industry, education and training can mean a heightened level of development from Q-grader to roasting or sensory evaluation. But for Melissa, the education and training she provides her students is to appreciate coffee – from scratch.

“The students I train have never used coffee making equipment before or worked in hospitality. They’re brand new. My role is therefore more than just coffee preparation. I’m a counsellor and mentor. A lot are international students who struggle with English as their first language. I have to adapt learning styles, deal with mental health issues, ethnic backgrounds, and their lack of confidence,” Melissa says. “The students are only interested in one thing, and that’s to get a job. They don’t care about winning barista competitions, they just want employment.”

Thankfully, William Angliss Institute is associated with industry partnerships that assist in this process, but Melissa says in today’s busy café environment, baristas need to present more than just skills and availability.

“The best baristas are those who want to get to the core of their profession, be willing to push the boundaries, but most importantly, be self driven. You can’t teach that. It’s something [Australian and World Latte Art Champion] Caleb Cha had before he started my class. He learnt a lot, but he strived for more and kept learning. It’s that level of discipline that saw him get to be a champion barista. The fact that he did doesn’t surprise me at all. He did the hard work – I just nurtured it along the way,” Melissa says.

With the demand for quality baristas higher than ever throughout Australia, if not the world, Melissa says it’s important for workplaces to be supportive of new employees, and likewise for eager baristas to realise their “dream job” may take time.

“Within the walls of a training facility our students focus on skills and knowledge, but once they leave they need the support of a committed workplace. It’s important for employers to be open-minded – they might just be responsible for developing the country’s next best barista,” Melissa says. “It’s also important for newcomers to realise that other roles within a café can be a stepping stone towards working as a barista if it doesn’t happen straight away.”

Melissa’s foray into the coffee industry wasn’t immediate either. She had experience working at the family business and making coffees at a local café, but her mind was torn. She wanted to be a hotel manager, and completed a TAFE [Technical and Further Education] and university course in hospitality management. She even considered a career as a naturopath and tackled a year of health science at university before a trip to Europe helped cement her true passion.

“I realised hospitality was for me. I loved the adrenaline, fast pace, service, and getting slammed with orders,” Melissa says. “It first clicked when I used to work at a café and gelato store in Chadstone, Victoria in the late 90s. On my days off I’d visit other cafés such as Pellegrini’s, Brunetti and Wall Two 80. There was no St Ali, Seven Seeds, or Veneziano in those days.”

For Melissa, cafés had always been a place to meet people, but upon her return from overseas in 2004, she saw a shift.

“No longer were cafés about mass production. People were pushing new things and I fell in love with the art of it. There’s a creative element about coffee that I really connect with and a level of satisfaction from seeing people’s enjoyment of a product you make in a short amount of time.”

Within the five years Melissa worked at the café and gelato store she completed a course in preparing and serving espresso coffee at William Angliss Institute, and an education course (Dip VET). After the course she stayed in contact with Jill Adams, the former Training Development Manager of the Coffee Academy, who became an important figure in Melissa’s career development.

“Jill was the one who got me into training and helped me meet other coffee professionals. She encouraged me to be part of the industry, and pushed for me to experience coffee competitions, visit roasteries, and connect with likeminded people. That encouragement is something I’ve always valued,” Melissa says. “I knew I wanted to contribute to the coffee industry and I decided the best way for me to do that was to help the little café down the street produce better coffee. My vision was broader than specialty.”

The full article features in the February 2017 edition of BeanScene Magazine.

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