WHEN Helen McFarlane joined Zo'i Espresso almost 20 years ago, Albury was just waking up to the pleasure of barista-brewed coffee.
Almond milk was not mainstream and reusable coffee cups were almost unheard of.
"When I first started we used to get a couple of cartons of soy milk a week but it was all skinny and full-cream milk," she said.
"The difference in milk is huge now; we do lots of almond, lactose-free, oat and soy; almond is actually overtaking soy."
Under the guidance of Zo'i Espresso and Coffee Mamma Albury founders Carolyn Higgs and Antonia Kotsiros, Helen drank in all of their coffee roasting and retail knowledge, honing her barista skills since 2003.
Helen continued to thrive when Matthew Sheridan took over Coffee Mamma Albury within a couple of years and later opened a Wodonga store, the latter was bought by Kerry Golding in October 2019.
"We've had three new owners and I've always just got sold along with the shop," Helen quipped.
"I've had three amazing bosses who have all nurtured my love of coffee."
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Having managed Coffee Mamma Wodonga from the outset in mid-2012, Helen recently took ownership of the Albury store together with her boss Kerry.
Kerry said it was a natural decision to team up with Helen.
"I wasn't buying into it without Helen," she said.
"They don't call her the Mamma of Coffee for no reason!"
Based south of the border, Helen said she enjoyed serving her regulars, particularly during the past year of multiple lockdowns owing to the global pandemic.
She said that continuity of connection had been vital for Victorians.
"People were very grateful we were open," she said.
"Interestingly, Wodonga people order bigger coffees; we offer three sizes there including a Super Fix (16 ounces). Albury likes smaller, stronger coffees."
Like all good baristas, Helen knows her customers by their coffee orders.
"I know about 90 per cent of orders," Helen said.
"Sometimes I'll be out walking around and see someone in the distance and even if I can't recall their name, I'll know they're a skinny latte!"
For the record, Helen drinks piccolo lattes and Kerry prefers her almond cappuccinos, decaffeinated.
Coffee Mamma staff remain unchanged with Emily, Shelby, Tracy and Nikita on hand to silk your milk.
Platform 9 Coffee Roasters still provides their beans including Afro Cuban and Mamma Deluxe, both exclusive to Coffee Mamma.
KeepCups are commonplace now and entitle customers to a discount.
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