Photos by Trystan French.

When Matt Brown joined Coffee Bar around four years ago as the Senior Manager of Coffee Operations, he brought with him over 20 years of coffee experience from Australia. “The companies I worked for back in Australia were quite heavy into automation, so things like the PUQpress and Wally Milk are quite normal for high-volume environments,” Brown says. Coffee Bar was started in Truckee, California in 2010, and has since expanded to nine cafes around Lake Tahoe and the Bay Area of California.

Founded on the principles of Italian espresso culture informing their hospitality, Coffee Bar began roasting in 2018 to better serve their rapidly growing locations. With an increase in foot traffic to every location, one of Brown’s main goals was to increase the speed of service without sacrificing consistency. That’s when he decided to add Wally Milk to two of their busier cafés. As a standalone milk steaming machine with customizable settings, Wally was designed exactly for these sorts of high-volume cafés. 

wally milk on bar at coffee bar olympic valley

Coffee Bar’s Olympic Valley location is part of a small community organized around the Palisades Tahoe ski resort, where the 1960 Olympics took place. In the height of ski season, this location becomes a hotbed for locals and tourists alike. “Typically, this location would do $9,000-$10,000 in drink sales in one day during the busy season,” Brown says. “When we upgraded to a three-group Linea PB with a Wally Milk, we were able to increase sales to $15,000 a day.” In those busy seasons, customers would line up out the door to help them warm up before hitting the slopes. If the line was moving too slow, there was a chance that people might walk past the shop, assuming that it would take too long to get a coffee. There were also consistency concerns because the baristas had to move as fast as they possibly could. 

“Wally Milk ensures our customers get the best drink we can offer every time. If your temperature’s fluctuating a bit, if your foam consistency is fluctuating a bit, you are giving an inconsistent beverage to a lot of consumers and compromising your brand’s quality. One really well-trained barista might be more consistent than Wally, but two well-trained baristas aren’t as consistent as Wally,” Brown says. 

wally milk next to a yellow linea pb at coffee bar olympic valley

Brown was quick to add that Wally works better as a workflow tool than a barista replacement system. Though it helps automate part of the drink-making process, Coffee Bar found that Wally was more about creating efficiency for their staff than replacing anyone on the schedule. “When it’s one barista, it allows you to pack your shot, pour the milk into the pitcher, put it in the Wally Milk, and then go and pack the next shot while it’s steaming,” says Brown. Because of its hands-free design, Wally Milk allows solo baristas to manage bar flow as if they had a second person, which is usually how Coffee Bar locations operate in the first hour of business before their morning rush hits. “When there’s two, or even three baristas—which happens at Olympic Village quite a lot where you have one barista pack the shot, one steaming, and one just pouring—then you’ve got two pitches steaming at a time,” says Brown.  

As a barista efficiency tool, Wally Milk has been integral to Coffee Bar’s training program, helping new baristas feel comfortable and confident during bar shifts. “When it gets busy is normally when newer baristas aren’t as comfortable steaming milk manually,” says Brown. “During those times, they can use Wally Milk to keep up with the rush and switch back to manual steaming during slower periods for more practice.” This helps baristas keep focus on their espresso quality and not have to worry about multi-tasking before they’re ready to handle a rush on their own. 

wally milk steaming a pitch of milk with the platform slightly tilted

As Coffee Bar continues to expand and locations become busier, Brown has started to look towards the future and how other systems can help create consistency. “We’re doing a lot of work with gateway integrations for espresso machines for data sets and direct feedback,” he says, noting that connecting their café network will give them excellent insights for both staffing and machine maintenance. For now, however, Wally Milk has helped their locations take a big leap forward in incorporating new technology. At first, some baristas were skeptical. One morning after it was installed, however, an opener called in sick. The remaining solo barista was then able to open the shop and keep up with the order volume until the next barista on the schedule arrived. When asked how they liked the Wally Milk, their response was, “If you take this away from me, there’s going to be an issue.”  

Coffee Bar Olympic Valley is located at 1750 Village East Rd Unit 61, Olympic Valley, CA 96146.

Visit their official website and follow them on Instagram.