• Nick Ashton

Updated: Jul 20, 2018

Despite 18 years as a Chartered Physiotherapist educating patients about how to look after themselves physically, this doesn’t mean I am immune to injury myself. During a very busy coffee event in Birmingham last month, while holding a heavy water bottle in a crouched position, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back which developed into full blown back pain over the next few days.


Would I tell my patients to lift a heavy water bottle in an awkward position? Could I have done anything differently to avoid straining my back? My back is now on the mend and I should make a full recovery, but I will definitely think twice about how I lift that heavy water bottle again in the future.


The injury has made me think about some of the common problems that affect a barista’s physical health so I thought I’d write about it. There was a great series of articles written a few years ago by Alex Bernson of Sprudge, named Barista Health in the Workplace, which included discussion about injury types in baristas, as well as general wellbeing issues. I’m going to expand a little on what was written by Alex and use my experience as a physiotherapist to offer some simple advice - apologies in advance if it gets a bit dry in places!


Steaming Milk

Neck pain and associated headaches can be the result of sustained periods of poor posture combined with stress and tension. This is commonly seen when looking down at a milk pitcher for long periods of time whilst steaming milk. Ways to improve neck posture and reduce strain when steaming milk include:

• Bringing the steam wand higher by raising the espresso machine height.

• Standing with your back straight, the back of your neck lengthened and your chin tucked in (imagine you are gently holding an apple under your chin).

• Using your sense of feel to steam milk to reduce the time you spend looking down at the milk pitcher.

• Changing tasks regularly throughout the day with your fellow baristas, rather than staying on one task for a full shift.

Shoulder pain is also generally avoidable. Again, it can be caused by prolonged postures associated with steaming milk, particularly if the shoulders are too hunched forwards. This position can lead to muscle tension, shoulder joint irritation and fatigue. As well as considering the ergonomics of the bar, as previously mentioned, the following may be useful to try to help avoid shoulder issues:


• Learning to hold your shoulders back using the muscles of your upper back and shoulder blades will help reduce the strain on your shoulders.

• Making sure you stand close to the steam wand will mean you don’t have to reach forward as far when steaming milk.

• Using an automated steaming system rather than a manual steam wand could be an option if you are really struggling. This obviously takes away a lot of the craft and some of the theatre of making coffee but in some cases may be a necessary compromise.


Tamping

Probably the area of coffee preparation that has been documented as causing the most issues is tamping. Persistent wrist, elbow and sometimes shoulder pain can result from tamping. There are lots of aspects to tamping that can be modified to reduce the chance of injury, these include:

• Avoiding tamping too hard (this usually makes the coffee taste bad anyway).

• Using a heavy tamper that doesn’t require as much downward pressure when tamping.

• Ensuring the bar height is suitable (this is tricky unless all the baristas you work with are the same height!).

• Keeping your wrist in a ‘neutral’ position so it isn’t deviated to one side, or twisted when you tamp.

• Making sure you angle your body enough to avoid twisting your torso whilst you tamp – this may mean standing with one foot in front of the other rather than side by side.

• Again, there are automated tamping options out there which takes out some of the human aspect of coffee preparation - these may be a useful option if you are really struggling.


Standing


Moving away from specific tasks of coffee preparation and looking more at simply being stood for long periods of the day, often in fairly limited spaces, the two areas of the body most commonly affected are the lower back and feet. Lower back pain is usually muscular in origin and rarely serious, whilst pain in the soles of the feet is common, particularly the heel. Issues caused by prolonged standing can be due to the wrong footwear, incorrect coffee bar height, muscle imbalance of the legs and torso, and poor posture. To help prevent pain associated with long shifts stood at the bar try the following:

• Take time to choose the right shoes for your feet. Some people have flexible, flat feet that need shoes that are stiffer with good arch support. Others have stiff, high arched feet that benefit from slightly softer shoes that are well cushioned.

• Keep your leg muscles flexible with regular stretches, particularly your thighs and hamstrings. Good calf flexibility is also important to prevent most foot problems.

• Stand with a good spinal posture – avoid letting your lower back arch inwards too much by gently keeping your lower tummy muscles tucked in (without holding your breath).

• Place a rubber mat on the floor in the area you are working to soften the surface you are standing on.

• Raise the bar height, or simply the equipment on the bar to prevent having to stoop or over-reach during service.

• Regularly change your position, for example switch between a normal standing position and standing with one foot in front of the other. Also, try and sit down during quiet times and do some simple back and leg stretches.


Lifting

It’s pretty hard to work as a barista and not have to lift heavy items during a shift. Whether it’s a delivery of milk or a box of beans, it’s easy to get it wrong and pull something, often your back. Every workplace should have clear manual handling guidelines, but here are a few top tips:

• Do not try and lift something you think is too heavy – use your common sense. Get someone else to help you or wait until someone becomes available.

• Make sure the item you are lifting is in front of you rather than to one side. This stops you twisting your back when lifting.

• Bend your knees, lean forward at the hips and keep your back straight when lifting (imagine you are sitting down on the toilet as you squat to lift).

• Keep the load you are lifting close to your body.

• You may not be a gym bunny who loves to squat, however if you are in a job that involves lifting tasks it makes sense to condition yourself. Strengthening your legs through squatting, lunges and dead lifts, as well as simple core exercises or a regular pilates class will make you more robust for the job!


Other Considerations


Dehydration, stress, high levels of caffeine and poor dietary habits can also affect your physical health. These factors may make you more susceptible to injury and can increase the sensitivity of your nervous system – this in turn potentially amplifies your pain levels. Stay well hydrated, take a break when you can, try meditation, eat well and think about whether you really need that next shot of espresso (I know it’s not that simple when you work in coffee!).


If you plan to be a barista for the long haul you need to look after yourself. It’s a great job with lots of opportunities – don’t be the next Broken Back Barista!



  • Nick Ashton

Research shows there are positive short term benefits of caffeine. These include improved concentration levels, enhanced sports performance and greater alertness. Many sleep deprived parents the world over will vouch for the power of coffee in the morning, the drug of choice for the sleep deprived! Although the positive effects of caffeine cannot be understated and the taste of decent coffee is an essential for many people these days, for some, caffeine is really not a good thing.


Aside from children and pregnant women, where anything other than low levels of caffeine consumption are associated with negative health effects, there are plenty of other people who are just highly sensitive to caffeine. For some, consuming coffee can lead to a sense of panic, anxiety and stress. Whether this is due to genetic factors, underlying mental health problems or a lack of previous caffeine exposure, coffee just does not seem to agree with some people.

No one is immune to the effects of high caffeine levels, even those people who regularly drink a lot of coffee. Just take a look at the London Coffee Festival and you’ll see what I mean! Also, speaking from personal experience, coffee late into the day really isn’t helpful for those people who sometimes struggle to drop off at night. It might mean missing out on coffee ‘opportunities’ occasionally, but you don’t remember that the following day after a good night's sleep.

For those people who are sensitive to caffeine but still want a great coffee experience, the future looks bright! Speciality coffee roasters are recognising the need for better decaf and as a result the choice and quality today has moved a long way. The decaffeination processes being used now mean none of the undesirable side effects previously associated. Thankfully, the characteristics of the coffee beans are no longer being lost in a sea of chemical solvents.

We will be brewing Fazenda Klem decaf later in the month at our next event, The Royal College of Psychiatrists International Congress. Roasted by James’ Gourmet Coffee and with a 91 point score in the Brazilian Cup of Excellence in 2017, this coffee is a great example of how far decaf coffee has come. Maybe decaf will never be commonplace at coffee competitions such as the SCAE World Barista Championships, but hopefully this side of the coffee industry will continue to grow and more and more people will give today's decaf the credit it deserves.

  • Nick Ashton

Updated: May 10, 2018

Intense competition means that consumers are bombarded by a dizzying array of choice 24/7. In a crowded market place, companies are always looking for new ways to promote products and services, especially when it comes to a major trade show, product launch or VIP event.

One well-established concept is sensory marketing - an effective method of influencing brand recognition and improving customer service by tapping into our senses - sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch. This ‘multi-sensory approach’ can prompt us to form positive associations with a brand or product and has been used for many years in various settings. Department stores carefully select lighting and aroma to ensure people feel relaxed and valued. Hotel chains choose a soundtrack that evokes a sense of calm whilst confectionery companies ensure their chocolate wrappers feel luxurious when unwrapped.


Recent innovations in sensory marketing have included the use of a more immersive experience for the consumer. Virtual reality is gathering momentum along with app-based sensory product enhancements. There are even musical spoons with built in MP3 players bringing a symphony to your taste buds!


At Sure Shot we are excited to be living in such innovative times however we also feel the secret of a brands success can be as simple as a cup of coffee. Brewed and presented well, coffee can still prove to be a significant draw at a busy conference or trade show. Having an espresso bar integrated into the right setting seems to make sense. It encourages visitors to not only stop to investigate the sounds and smells of freshly ground coffee, but it almost certainly encourages them to ‘linger longer.’


We have put together this infographic which we believe gives an outline of how serving a coffee to a customer or client at an event can tap into all five senses...