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Trains, Coffee and the Art of Foaming Milk

Kelle Vandenberg

By Kelle Vandenberg

A couple of weeks ago a group from PBi jumped on a train and headed due south to Portland… to the land of all things hip and cool. Our destination was the American Barista & Coffee School, to learn the importance of good coffee, a perfect grind, and silky shiny milk. Stepping off the train, sans skinny jeans and second-hand cardi sweater, I felt a little old and a little out of place, but determined to do my best, blend in, and foam some milk.

Those familiar with both Seattle and Portland can appreciate the difference in vibes of the respective cities. Both are lovely in their own right with great restaurants, sleek waterways, and a thumping music scene. But coffee reigns supreme in both, as an epicenter of economic growth. The differences between Seattle and Portland remind me of two sisters, with one being older, and a little more practiced and reserved, and the younger sister more care-free and bohemian, both equally passionate about coffee.

We spent 2 ½ days learning the art of becoming a barista—it was fascinating, and significantly harder than it looks. Glimpsing the history of coffee brewers, espresso machines and the science in developing what we know as the modern day espresso. Part language lesson, history lesson and cooking class, forming a perfect latte (which just means milk) is a skill based on quality, and the folks at the ABCS, do a fine job of teaching students of all levels.

So why did a bag company send a team of packaging geeks on a train, in a hotel, and to a school to learn how to be a barista? To further our education on quality, because quality is what drives business, or it should. The same quality and skill it takes to pull a perfect shot, to create silky milk for your latte, is the same quality that goes into the packaging that helps preserve the freshness and taste of your coffee. To appreciate quality you need to first understand why it is better, learn the history of its growth, and learn to discern it from others who do not lead with the same said quality.

When I order an espresso from my favorite coffee shop, I appreciate the quality standing behind my cup. My thanks to Bruce, Tom, and Sarah for their patience, hosting and generous help with that ever elusive silky shiny milk. Needless to say…I won’t be quitting my day job to enter that latte art competition, but I certainly will cheer louder the next time I watch one.