Questions about making our bar more Barista healthy?

Hello All-

We are looking for ways to make our Café more worker safe. The biggest problems we have identified are that: we have traditional tampers, and a milk fridge under our espresso machine.
Personally, I’m old and falling apart, so everything hurts. After 25 years in the food service industry, I have a litany of aches/problems/muscle complaints. Several surgeries on my hands, chronic inflammation of overused joints, etc.
The point is, I don’t really wish carpal tunnel, or repetitive back injuries on anyone in the world.
What sort of newfangled devices are available, and what sort of clever work tips have you all come up with to minimize the strain on the barista body?
Keep in mind that we are located in the US, and we are not interested in getting any milk fridge things that would force us to change our milk. We buy from a local distributor, and love our milk in a near unnatural way.

Thanks for any info/tips!

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My tips from making several hundred coffees a day:

  1. Become ambidextrous

Learn to use both arms to tamp, both arms to put the filter into the machine, both arms to take it out, both to operate the grinder. Spread out the work across all your muscles and don’t use the same over and over. To start tamping was the big one for me, but after just 2 weeks taught myself to be completely fluid tamping with both arms correctly.

  1. Use your body weight

When you tamp, lean into it with your body weight. It’s a lot less strain and will be more consistent. Use your body weight to lean into the portafilter when locking it in and generally use your weight and gravity to take anything strenuous that would otherwise require muscles.

  1. Put forwards a case for suitable equipment

Explain the benefits to your employer if you’re looking for new equipment from a health point of view, but from a business one too…

  1. Have a trainer assess your positioning and habits

Get other people to critique your technique. Are you tamping correcting, with your arm running 90 degrees to the counter? Are you pouring milk with a natural wrist whilst holding the jug right? Are you leaning on one leg too much when you’re standing around? Get people to call you out on it and learn to correct your posture.

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Investigate automated tamping devices. There are older lever units thhat you can putna digital scale on and probably other ideas but PuqPress is what we have been using for a while now. NOBODY ever complains about sore wrists, shoulders, elbows anymore. Plus, frankly, the automation of this repetitive motion is an easy route to increasing consistency on shots.

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We have been looking at the PuqPress, but it is quite the investment.
How durable are they? Do they ever go down? Would you worry about newer employees not being able to manually tamp without it?

They are not cheap (500 cups of coffee or so!) but they do make a difference in both comfort and consistency of your product.
Our training involves significant training with a traditional tamper and we only have the Puqpress at our busiest spot.
We have had it for perhaps 2 years and have never had a problem. Really there is not much to go wrong with it.
To be honest, I was sceptical at first but having it on bar has convinced me of the value of the investment. Also, your staff will appreciate that you are spending money on something that is a direct benefit to them (and to you.)

A PuqPress is such a small investment compared to the medical bill and years of potential pain and suffering caused by working in hospitality. Make a case for one, bring it to your employer and they’ll buy it if they care about your well being.

Otherwise they must WANT you to suffer in the long run - an employer failing to provide employees with a safe working environment whilst actively (and being fully aware of it if you’ve made a case for a PuqPress) contributing to the diminishing of employees health is not an employer anyone should ever have to work for. The goal is to PREVENT health issues from happening in the first place NOT to implement change when it’s too late. Having spent some time in Italy getting to meet some serious old old old school Baristas I can safely say that their hands and joints are wrecked.

Teach all new employees how to tamp properly and consistently before moving onto the PuqPress.


Tall fridges are a dream. Organise milks by frequency used. None of this under counter, bending over 100 times a day and working on your knees to top up and organise it rubbish… Alternatively you can store milk on a cold refrigerated counter top if you’re into that. Could also look into things like an Ubermilk system (or similar if you’re got some cash to splash).

Try not to touch the coffee. It’s worse than sand. It will happily embed itself into your skin. Don’t be a kinda gross hero - use a teaspoon.

Wash your hands frequently and properly. This should go without saying. It will contribute to healthy skin on your hands.

Find an antibacterial alcohol hand sanitizer that also moisturizes and use it frequently. ALSO invest in the kind of hand soap that has a gritty feeling to it like salt (not sure of the name).

That’s all I can think of off of the top of my head right now. I’m sure more people can chime in. I thought this post was about being healthy and using non-dairy milk etc. Maybe consider '‘Barista Friendly’ or ‘user friendly Barista’ or something along those lines - I’m sure you’ll get a bunch of responses then.

Great advice, all round… wisdom from years of slogging it out in the field.

I do have one comment, though… the antibacterial hand sanitisers? NOT a good idea at all. These are nasty concoctions, bad for long term health, and have been heavily implicated in the rapid rise of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. The comples alcohols used in most of them are hard on the cleansing organs of the body, liver, spleen, etc. and have deleterious effects long term on skin health. Be aware, there are billions of HELPFUL bacteria on our skin, just as in our digestive tracts. The wide spectrum antibacterial “sanitisers” are non-specific… they WILL kill the beneficial bugs along with any bad ones happen to pop round. This leads to immune system deficiencies and a general susceptibility to systemic infections of various sorts. The microorganisms on the skin are important parts of our overall immune system.

For hand cleaning, use a basic detergent such as a handwashing pot and pan product… I like the Joy brand, cuts grease and oils well, no scent, basic chemistry, gentle on hands. Cheap, too, at about twelve bucks the gallon at Casn and Carry, Restaurant Depot. Goes a long way.

But get rid of those nasty alcohol compounds we see everywhere. They are bad news. I NEVER use them anywhere. If true disinfecting is needed for some specific reason, simple cheap rubbing alcohol works… and is nowhere near as harsh on the body inside or out as the hand sanitisers.

Hey Tionico I actually never thought about that. Very insightful! Thanks for the information and advice. Looks like I’ll need to do some more research into this.


Thank you so much for your response, I have a quick question about PuqPresses, we are looking at the M1 model to fit under our k30, the company states on it’s website that this model should not be used with naked portafilters, is this actually so? Or is it one of those company-doesn’t-want-to-be-liable statements?

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