Steamy scenes in S Block

After parting with $3.50, Jake Brugh takes a considered sip of hot chocolate from his large takeaway cup.

“It’s pretty good – good value for money,” he says. “It stacks up nicely.”

Zoe Green (left) takes a hot chocolate order from year 10 student Lewis Flavell (right).

This is Jake’s first visit to Cambridge High School’s brand new café, The Caffeine Corner, and he’s not the only fan.

The student-run takeaway outlet, which also sells barista-made coffee and chai lattes, has been doing a roaring trade since it opened on March 11, serving about 95-100 customers a day.

Tucked into the bottom-right wing of the school’s new $12.4 million S Block building, it is housed in a purpose-built kitchen space boasting an industry-standard point-of-sale system, commercial coffee machine, dishwasher, sink and fridge.

It’s all been made possible since S Block opened last December, enabling the school to launch a new retail course for year 13 students this year.


Lucy Needham (right) and Demi van Dijk work on retail course theory in their classroom following a hectic lunch shift at The Caffeine Corner.

Designed to equip them with essential skills needed to thrive in the retail industry, the course is taught by Nicola Clark, who worked as a barista at the Vintage Café in Pukekohe for 10 years and based The Caffeine Corner on the same model, “minus the food aspect”.

“We’ve been able to replicate the industry standard so any of these students could walk up to a commercial space and know how to work all the commercial dishwashers and machinery, health and safety – even the basic stuff like working with a roster,” she said.

“At the moment we’ve got kids who are already making amazing coffee; at the end of the year we’re going to have 18 baristas who are absolutely top tier.

“It’s so good for students to have real, hands-on skills that they can use anywhere in the world.”

Demi van Dijk (left) and Lucy Needham hard at work in The Caffeine Corner.

Her 18 students worked as a group to plan, name and open the café, and now take turns working morning tea and lunchtime shifts to operate it under her supervision every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“It’s hard and fast, is probably the way to put it,” Nicola said. “As soon as we open that window it’s go, go, go.”

Today, students Elliott Schott, Lucy Needham, Demi van Dijk and Zoe Green are preparing for the 1.30pm lunch rush as the grinder hums into life, while eager students form a long queue outside the customer service window.

On the wall behind them, red plastic clipboards hold health and safety sheets, temperature checks, a shift check list and the barista shop roster.

Demi, who is steaming milk to a satin finish, plans to study psychology at university and says having experience in coffee and hospitality will “make it so much easier to get a job”.

A personal touch from The Caffeine Corner team for one lucky customer.

She worked at In Stone Café for about six months year and says The Caffeine Corner experience is similar.

“Students are very demanding for their coffee and hot chocs and they are very honest,” she said. “It’s really good though, because you get good feedback on how to fix things and improve. Getting used to this environment and the pressure is so good.”

Plus, there’s always a half-shot mocha with trim milk to look forward to before she heads back to class.

“At the end of our shift we get to make ourselves something to drink, which we can edit to our liking.”


A student’s view of The Caffeine Corner in Cambridge High School’s new S Block building, where Zoe Green (left) and Demi van Dijk are waiting to serve customers.

Hot chocolates – $2 for a small cup and $3.50 for a large – are the overwhelming favourite at The Caffeine Corner, accounting for about 80 per cent of sales.

But 14-year-old Lewis Flavell, who finds having to wake up at 7am every weekday to go to school a little jarring, prefers his beverages to have a little more kick.

“It’s really nice, some of the best coffee I’ve had in a while,” he says, taking a sip from his sustainable, plant-based cup.

“It’s just nice to have at morning tea so I don’t fall asleep in class.”

Elliott Schott reaches into the marshmallow jar with a pair of tongs as Lucy Needham keeps the machines running at full pace behind him.

Demi van Dijk (right) adds steamed milk to a hot chocolate while Lucy Needham works alongside her.

Retail students Demi van Dijk (left) and Lucy Needham work fast to keep on top of the lunchtime rush.

Three freshly made hot chocolates with marshmallows await delivery.

Retail student Elliott Schott loads hot drinks into a cardboard serving tray ready for delivery to customers outside.

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