Updated August 2020
Definition of barista
“A barista is a person, usually a coffeehouse employee, who prepares and serves espresso-based coffee drinks”. That’s what Wikipedia says about being a barista.
Well, that’s just purely a simplistic view.
When I meet new people so many time it happens that they ask me about my job and when they realise I’m a barista they look at me in such a way like “why you’re doing this?” or “Is it just temporary?” or “Are you looking for something else while making some money?”. The answer is always the same: “I’m working as a barista because it’s my choice, I’m doing this because I’m doing what I like”.
Being a barista sounds strange for most of the people. This simply happens because people underestimate this profession (or even they do not consider it as such at all) and think that it’s just a way to make money for University or just anything before finding something better.
Yet, people even doubt about you that you don’t have a degree so you’re just doing something pretty easy to find, with a decent hourly rate so an easy way to make money which is true though.
However, there are a lot of coffee shops (especially coffee chains) that are looking to hire people in every period of the year but there’s more than just “yes, we need to replace students or someone that has found what he was studying for”.
What people don’t know is that the coffee industry is looking for skilled baristas to get them paid more than what people believe. This normally happens in the speciality coffee industry, where the barista is kind of a unique individual that makes a coffee shop more profitable than a student (with all respect to students or others) so a better barista salary is provided.
Yet, the coffee industry is growing faster. Just think about London: The Independent journal has said that “6,517 new coffee shops are expected to crop up nationwide by 2023, which could lead to a shortage of baristas”.
So, what means being a barista?
As far as I’m concerned, working as a barista is a real profession. A barista should use his skills to not only brew nice coffee but raise the standards of the coffee shops while making a client a faithful customer explaining and giving him reasons why he should spend more for a speciality coffee rather than any commodity ones. This is to me what means being a barista. A person who can keep consistency (deliver the same quality) day by day because it’s easy to find coffee shops where to drink good coffee nowadays, but it’s much more difficult to find a place where to drink good ones every day.
Main skills/tasks of the barista role
- build customer loyalty: educating customers by motivating them why they should come to your coffee shop instead of going somewhere else. Being a barista means to deliver a great service, from the preparation of the drink/pastry to the general experience while at the counter or the table. Please remember: customers often return not only for what you serve them but for the human interactions, how you treat them from welcoming them as soon as they enter the coffee shop making a good impression;
- demonstrate good knowledge: customers may ask you what’s the difference between the variety of the drinks you serve from the menu, buy some coffee and ask you to grind it or just want to have some suggestion from you about brewing coffee at home;
- know about the different brewing method: demonstrate your ability to set a recipe whether it’s for batch brew, french press, espresso or cold brew. Also, demonstrate consistency when steaming milk according to the milk beverage such as cappuccino or flat white;
- being neat, clean and tidy: keep a nice attitude at work and maintain the shop clean and tidy. Keeping the working area and the equipment (grinder, coffee machine etc) clean just not look good, it stands for professionalism which makes the difference between a normal barista and someone that want to make the difference;
- have a positive attitude: it’s all about your personality, engaging with customers and enjoy talking with them (it’s always part of building customer loyalty);
- ability to work in both busy and quiet time: work efficiently, calmly and quickly especially in busy period maintaining high standards throughout the day and always finding something to do while in a quieter period;
- ability to work in a team: sharing information between the teams and set standard recipes help ensuring consistency allowing customers to drink good coffee no matter the barista who made it. It’s not just about technical skills but rather create the best team you ever worked with.
Making experience behind the bar is pretty important, not only for the barista salary but also for the experience that comes up shifts after shifts.
Behind a coffee machine, a barista learns the basics of coffee extraction, how to deal with the different brewing techniques while learning from his colleagues by sharing knowledge and ideas. Also, how to speak with customers giving them suggestion so improving sales.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s only through studying by himself that a barista can make “the final step” becoming a real professional. A self-taught barista is the one that read books and coffee website, competes in coffee competitions (I’m going to talk about competitions later on with a dedicated article) and invest his money and time attending various courses such as SCA courses.
If you want to become a good barista and you didn’t know yet, there’s a “barista training path” founded by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) in which you can delve into different topics such as the green coffee course, the barista course, the roasting one and so on.
To have a look more precisely head on this link.
Remember, being a barista is not just pushing buttons in front of a coffee machine but it’s the result of passion, commitment and sacrifice. It’s all about raising awareness on what’s behind the coffee world. It’s more about selling an experience, showcasing all the effort that was done to produce that cup of coffee.
I am an Italian coffee lover that pushed for the love of this “amazing drug” decided to come to London to study about coffee and its different extraction procedures and tastes.