Throughout their working day, a barista will have many different responsibilities. If you are considering a job as a barista, read on to find out everything that you’ll need to know from how to make coffee to maintaining machines and cleaning at the end of your day. These days there are many new barista jobs as coffee shops become more and more popular and an increasing number of restaurants and other business want to add better-standard coffee to their menu due to customer demand. Working as a barista can be a lot of hard work, but it’s also a fun job that gives you the chance to learn a new skill and become more knowledgeable about coffee.
Starting the Workday
The first thing that a barista will do when starting their workday and setting up their machine is to run shots through the portafilters. These are known as ‘seasoning shots’ and are carried out to make sure that any cleaning solutions, debris, and anything else that might have settled in the machine overnight are thoroughly first out before you make the coffee for your first customer. While doing this, the barista can also check where their grind is and adjust it if needed.
One of the first things that you are going to learn on barista training jobs is espresso extraction. For the barista, it’s important for them to be fully aware of the recipe and variables that they use to make the perfect espresso. This can sometimes vary depending on where they work, for example, some coffee chains use a certain type of beans for their espresso. Just like making cocktails or baking cakes, to make the perfect espresso you will need to know how much of each ingredient you need and which variables you are in control of to make sure that your shot comes out as desired.
Luckily, there are only two ingredients in an espresso shot: fine ground coffee and water. The more precisely you measure the ingredients when making espresso, the more consistent your shots are going to be. A barista is in charge of the following variables:
Grind: Grinding the coffee is where the preparation work begins when making espresso. A high-quality burr grinder is usually the standard for professional baristas in a commercial setting, as this will produce more consistent, even coffee grounds, making it easier for the water to extract all the coffee flavors evenly. Tightening or loosening the grind can be done by the barista to adjust the grind size. For espresso, fine grounds are important.
Dose: The dose refers to the amount of coffee that is placed into the portafilter and will vary depending on the size of the basket that you are using. The dose that you use should fit within the range that the basket is designed for. Baristas can dose in several different ways, but the main thing here is consistency. After lots of practice, baristas can become very good at simply eyeballing the dose. However, many use scales or coffee dosers to ensure that they get it right each time.
Distribution: Another simple yet important part of the recipe is the distribution. Once you have placed your coffee in the filter basket, you might need to move the grounds around a little to ensure that the bed of coffee is as even as possible. You can do this in several ways. Some baristas will gently use their finger or even use a distribution tool to move the grounds, while others just tap the edges of the portafilter, which causes the grounds to move around in the basket.
Tamping: Once the coffee grounds are evenly distributed, tamping is an important step in the process that involves compacting the coffee grounds into the portafilter. Tamping creates some space between the coffee and the group head and makes sure that the coffee grounds are evenly packed for an even extraction.
Working as a barista is not all about learning how to make the perfect espresso, though. Another of the main things that you are going to learn when you undergo barista training is how to achieve the perfect steamed milk for different espresso-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. There are two phases involved in making steamed milk. These include the stretching phase, where air is introduced to provide the milk with texture, and steaming, where the caramelized sugars in the milk are brought out using heat.
Milk that has been correctly steamed and textured before adding it to the coffee is going to enhance the coffee’s flavor and bring out the sweetness of the espresso. Using steam to heat up milk alters its chemical composition, leading to a different flavor that perfectly blends with espresso.
Things to Consider When Steaming Milk
If you have just started out training to work as a barista, learning how to steam milk for the first time can be a daunting experience. There are a few things to keep in mind that can make your experience easier and help you get the perfect steamed milk faster.
- Always start using cold milk. Whole milk is usually easier to texture compared to skim milk.
- Choose the correct size of milk pitcher for the amount of milk that you want to steam.
- Spend some time practicing pouring only the amount of milk that is needed for the drink that you are making into the right size of steaming pitcher. When pouring milk into the pitcher, it’s important to bear in mind that steaming is a process that can cause the amount of milk you use to double in volume.
- Introduce air at 100 degrees by holding the steam wand tip just under the surface of the milk.
- Plunging the steam wand further into the milk is referred to as ‘rolling’ the milk, creating a rapid swirling movement, and bringing the temperature up to 140 degrees. Ideally, you will need to hold the pitcher by the handle at all times because it should be too hot to touch.
- Gently tapping the pitcher on the counter will help you remove any bubbles of air from the pitcher, while swirling it gently keeps your steamed milk smooth and helps you avoid any separation.
The main things to avoid when steaming milk include:
- Moving the pitcher around in a circular motion
- Moving the pitcher up and down
- Leaving the pitcher set down while the milk is steaming
Cleaning the Espresso Machine and Its Parts
Another main responsibility that often falls onto the barista is to make sure that the espresso machine and its parts are kept perfectly clean and well-maintained. After the end of the shift, the espresso machine will need to be cleaned to keep it in good working order and make sure that it is fully prepared for the next working day. To clean the espresso machine, start by removing the portafilters and baskets and soaking them in hot water combined with an espresso machine detergent for several minutes. Detergents will often cause damage to handles, so make sure that the handles are not exposed. Then, rinse them with hot water.
You will also need to backflush the machine using filter and espresso machine cleaner. This is usually dropped into a slot in the machine designed for a cleaning tablet or in smaller machines, placed in the portafilter. Flush the water through in increments of ten seconds and continue the procedure until the water runs clear. Some large commercial espresso machines will have a dedicated cleaning button that you can simply press to start the process after adding the cleaning tablet, so this will depend on the type of machine that you use as a barista. Spend some time cleaning inside of the group head and remove all the parts including baskets, portafilters and drain trays to clean them and underneath them.
Finally, the espresso grinder part of your machine should also be cleaned on a regular basis. Most baristas will do this job weekly, but this will depend on the volume of coffee that you are making per week using the machine. You can use a coffee grinder cleaning product weekly and use a vacuum cleaner to fully clean the grinder to ensure that all coffee oils and coffee bean particles are removed fully from the burrs. Then, use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash the hopper. This will prevent espresso beans from building up in the hopper and becoming rancid, impacting the taste of the coffees that you make with the machine. To maintain the hopper and grinder on a regular basis, make brushing out excess grounds from the inside of the doser and wiping down the inside and outside of the hopper with a dry paper towel a nightly job.
Training to work as a barista can provide you with new job skills or simply something that you can use at home to make perfect coffee. During training, you will learn all the basics of making espresso, espresso-based drinks, and proper coffee machine maintenance and care.