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The Daily Tar Heel

How to make café au lait — from a former Daily Grind, current Friends' Café barista

Students Brittany Newby and Brian O'Donnell became the first graduates of the PATHSS, Project Achieve for Transitioning High School Students, program on June 1st.
Students Brittany Newby and Brian O'Donnell became the first graduates of the PATHSS, Project Achieve for Transitioning High School Students, program on June 1st.

It’s there for those late night study sessions before a huge test; it’s a way to catch up with friends; it’s an excuse to take a break from studying.

And, for senior Olivia Gensheimer, it’s a big part of her life.

Starting around Christmas of last year, Gensheimer learned the ins and outs of coffee through her former job at The Daily Grind and current job at Friends’ Café. Training was extensive.

At The Daily Grind, we had a written exam that was a lot on the recipes and equipment that you use,” she said. “We had been trained, so we knew the answers and I felt it was easy and then we had experiential parts of the test where we would make a cappuccino or a latte and make sure you can do it. Then you are thrown in there.”

She said her favorite drink to make is a classic cappuccino, and though she likes to attempt latte art every time she has the chance, it’s a lot harder than it looks.

Gensheimer spent a lot of time at the Daily Grind. The Daily Grind, which operated for 23 years before it was closed on June 24, was a favorite staple for both thirsty and exhausted students on campus. Rather than make the trek to Franklin Street or to the south campus Starbucks locations, the Daily Grind was a centrally-located option that enticed patrons with flavored lattes like the Grasshopper, a mint and chocolate flavored drink.

Though Gensheimer spent a lot of time at The Daily Grind early in her barista career, she has moved on to working only at Friends’ Café. Unfortunately, some of her co-workers — and friends — were not as lucky.

“A lot of my co-workers lost their jobs because The Daily Grind had five people working at once and Friends’ has two who work at once, so it’s a smaller shop,” she said. “Going from seven people working at once to two people means they didn’t need as many people.”

While Friends’ Cafe is still around, the loss of The Daily Grind has left a hole in her heart.

“It was just sad because it was my community,” she said.

Gensheimer continues to see the friends she made while being a barista because for her, coffee is a way of connecting.

“For me, coffee is more than just a good drink with caffeine, it’s definitely where a lot of my community stems from,” she said.

“When I think of coffee, I definitely love it for the taste, but I really love it for the new people I meet.”

How to make specialty coffee at home

Gensheimer has found her community but, due to her exposure to higher-quality coffee, she has acquired a more particular taste. She wishes it was possible to make a good coffee drink at home without espresso or fancy machines, but she says it’s hard without the equipment.

One drink that can be made at home, she said, is a café au lait.

“In a café au lait, the base is coffee, which makes it unique from a latte,” she said. “However, what makes it different from a regular cup of coffee — some people like milk in their coffee, so instead of pouring regular cold milk they steam it in an au lait.”

Gensheimer said people prefer different ratios, but typically it’s half coffee and half milk with ratios varying to taste.

“So, if you find a way to steam milk at home then that would be a cool way to add something to your coffee,” she said.

Don’t be too disheartened that you won’t be making your own espresso anytime soon. Gensheimer says that it’s important for people to be open minded about coffee, and that there are plenty of options out there.

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“I think it is my biggest pet peeve when someone says, ‘Oh, I don’t like that’ but have never tried it before,” she said. “So do be open to try.”

And though she couldn’t think of a fancy drink to make at home, the barista did have these words of encouragement:

“Don’t be scared of black coffee. It’s the best drink out there.”

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