How to avoid café waste


Chloe Tathem explains how to minimise wastage when learning latte art techniques, and be considerate of the environment and your hip pocket.

Since the pandemic hit, a lot of café businesses have been more financially uncertain, and therefore are more conscious and conservative with food costs and wastage. Through trimming wages and being scarce with wastage, it can make it difficult to maintain coffee training in-store. However, there are cost-effective alternatives and more sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions to keep your coffee training on track for success. Prioritising training and implementing more sustainable practices will be pivotal to sustaining cafés as we slowly recover from the pandemic.

At Mocopan, we used the time during the lockdown periods to brainstorm more sustainable practices to adapt across all facets of the business, including our barista training programs. Samantha Mason, the Training Coordinator and former Queensland Barista Trainer of eight years, helped develop a more environmentally friendly and sustainable training practice to combat milk wastage and the ever-growing mountain of paper cups in landfill. Samantha designed durable, reusable and translucent polycarbonate training cups and a powdered milk alternative, she named “Filk”, which stretches and textures just like real milk but without the carbon footprint.

The name came from the concept ‘fake milk’ and was developed in 2020 to be used in Mocopan barista training programs to limit the environmental impact and cost to store for milk wastage. It is a food safe milk powder with added proteins, stabilisers and thickeners to aid in creating a silky milk texture during steaming and stretching, and allows for manipulation when performing latte art. Through the addition of stabilisers, Filk interacts with fresh espresso shots more cohesively and maintains contrast, definition and clarity in latte art in comparison to other milk alternatives. A one-kilogram bag of Filk can produce as much as 16 litres of ‘fake milk’ and eliminates plastic milk bottles from entering landfill. Once commercially available, it will help café businesses limit their wastage and carbon footprint while optimising barista training for future success.

In the meantime, I have some helpful tips to reduce cost and waste in-store or even at home.

  • Reduce milk wastage

During my time as a barista trainer, I have heard many new baristas express their fears and worries surrounding steaming milk. However, like all new skills, practice makes perfect. A simple alternative to practice your milk texturing without wasting milk, is dishsoap.

Simply fill your jug to the bottom of the spout with cold water and add two drops of dishsoap. Once you start steaming, the mixture of soapy water will stretch and texture similarly to real milk, allowing you to practice repeatedly without the worry of wasting milk. You can use this technique to practice creating microfoam, perfecting your jug and steam wand positioning for the ultimate whirlpool action, and pouring latte art. It goes without saying, but solutions are not safe to drink so you will need to use caution and not mix them up with customer orders.

Another alternative to reduce milk wastage for training purposes is to purchase a bag of powdered milk. Simply add a tablespoon of milk powder with 200 millilitres of cold water and steam. For best results, use very cold water so it resembles the temperature of milk taken straight from the fridge. If the consistency is watery, simply increase the powder-to-water ratio until the desired texture resembles fresh milk.

An equally important sustainable factor is the portioning of milk into jugs prior to steaming.

  • Eight-ounce cup takes approximately 200 millilitres of milk
  • Twelve-ounce cup takes approximately 300 millilitres of milk
  • Sixteen-ounce cup takes approximately 400 millilitres of milk

Using this guide will give you consistency and control and you’ll be wasting a lot less of your precious milk.

  • Conserving your coffee beans

In addition to preserving milk while practicing your latte art skills, you can also conserve fresh espresso with a creative and sustainable alternative – food colouring. Simply add a few drops of food dye into the bottom of a cup with 10 to 15 millilitres of hot water, steam your milk or milk alternative, and pour until your heart’s content. Just a few drops of soap and food dye is all it takes to minimise wastage, and you can practise your wrist wiggle or tulip dip until you create muscle memory for a real customer coffee pour. Refer to BeanScene’s August 2021 edition ‘Back to the latte art basics’ to brush up on your latte art techniques. If you would prefer to use fresh espresso shots, I recommend using split shots so you can practice in two cups to maximise your practice while minimising wastage.

  • Water wastage

When you put your mind to it, there’s sustainable and waste reduction solutions for every aspect of coffee production.
To save water, consider installing a jug rinser or set a purge button on your coffee machine for two-to-three seconds only. You can also try to ensure your dishwasher loads are nice and full to conserve your water usage. Every drop counts.

  • Reusables and refillables

Over the period of the pandemic, some businesses have decided to maintain a takeaway-only business model. From
a coffee training point of view, this poses some challenges. Disposing of paper cups for training purposes is highly wasteful and harmful to the environment, with a single disposable cup taking up to 60 years to decompose, not to mention costly to the business long-term. It also makes it harder for trainees to understand milk texturing and foam levels, as disposable cups are opaque. A cheap and sustainable alternative is clear polycarbonate cups. Not only are they unbreakable, they are food safe, 100 per cent recyclable, and created using 50 per cent less energy and less carbon dioxide compared to a glass equivalent.

With Australians disposing more than 2.7 million coffee cups every single day, every little step to more sustainable practices helps limit our impact on this earth. How do you combat disposable cups with a takeaway-only offering? Allow customers to bring their own refillable cups.

  • Compost your coffee

If you have a green thumb, used coffee grounds make for fantastic fertiliser for your gardens. Rather than disposing of coffee grounds, offer it to customers or your local community garden. Coffee grounds add nitrogen to your compost pile, or can be used as fertiliser to improve drainage, water retention, and aeration in the soil. The earthworms will also love you.

Whether you are a café owner, manager, barista or an avid self- taught home barista, these simple but sustainable alternatives can help you master the art of coffee without costing the earth or your pocket.

The coffee culture within Australia is a rapidly growing trend and industry that we must nurture especially during the difficult times we have faced since the pandemic hit. Through adapting more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, we ensure training remains a priority for future success, and we start to rebuild one of the hardest hit industries. Let’s come back stronger than ever.

This article appears in the August 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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