If you want to become a barista, you may be wondering how to start. There are many options to choose from, and depending on the type of barista you want to become, there are some skills that will be more necessary for you than others.
To help you take your first steps in the barista world, I provide some hints as to what it is to be a barista, the required competencies, and easy ways to acquire knowledge and experience to land the coffee (shop) grounds running and ready.
What does a barista do?
A barista is someone who makes coffee drinks. They work in cafes, restaurants, or any hospitality setup for that matter.
Espresso bars in Italy were the cradle of barista culture. When Italian appreciation of espresso drinks became widespread in the United States, Australia, and many other European countries, the barista role became more notorious.
In most countries, baristas are still focused on coffee drinks. It's more likely to find baristas in espresso-centered cafés, traditionally called espresso bars.
Currently, after Blue Bottle Coffee became global, it's more common to find coffee shops serving pour-over coffee using drippers like the V60 and Chemex. In this regard, the role and skill-set of the barista have expanded considerably.
For this reason, although some café owners expect no more than decent latte art, high-end specialty coffee shops have more demanding requirements.
Usually, a barista will be responsible for:
- Welcoming customers
- Explain coffee drink menu options
- Describe coffee beans and roasts differences to customers when necessary
- Sensitize customers about coffee quality whenever possible and relevant
- Ask and record feedback from customers
- Use and administrate customer management systems and loyalty programs
- Coffee gear cleaning and preventive maintenance
- Keep track of drinks ingredients inventory, including coffee, milk, syrups, toppings, etc.
- Wipe down countertops, bars, tables, and chairs.
- Clean up spills
- Onboarding and training of new baristas
Depending on the size and characteristics of the employer, a barista may assume more generic tasks like cleaning the shop floor, dishwashing, and so on. A barista may start a more diversified coffee career in more specialized coffee shops. In this case, a barista may learn sensory skills or coffee roasting as part of their professional growth in the coffee industry.
What you need to know to be a barista
There are some things you need to know to become a barista. Essential skills refer to coffee drinks, customer service, and coffee shop operations.
Becoming a coffee drinks expert takes more than dialing the perfect espresso. First, it's vital to know coffee origins, processing methods, and roast types.
Bear in mind that all these factors significantly impact the way your coffee drinks taste. So, even if all these factors are out of your reach, they will make you look more or less competent. For this reason, you must learn to discern if your coffee tastes bad because of your lack of skills or because you're using low-quality coffee beans.
On balance, you should master the entire process from selecting and grinding your coffee beans to serving the customer's drink. Furthermore, it's essential to master all the principles and practices of coffee extraction.
Calibrating the grinder, adjusting water temperature and pressure are fundamental aspects of coffee extraction that any good barista knows well. Additionally, good latte art skills are almost taken for granted across all types of coffee shops.
A barista is the customer-facing role of the coffee industry. Snobby coffee enthusiasts may forget this, but in the end, coffee is a matter of personal preference.
That said, a barista will do her best to offer a good customer experience. Friendly, detail-oriented, and quick are part of the challenging role of the barista under pressure.
Dealing with angry customers and long lines is far from ideal, but it could happen even at the best coffee shops. For this reason, high emotional intelligence and assertive communication help baristas to perform at their best...
Coffee shop operations
A strong sense of organization and efficiency are crucial. For instance, reducing waste in all forms possible isn't only relevant for the environment; it also helps businesses be more profitable by reducing costs and increasing margins. For this reason, learning the A to Z of your coffee shop is part of becoming a great barista.
Coffee shop operations may sound ambiguous, but it refers to the business processes that keep the café going. From coffee beans sourcing to customer service, every link counts.
Mastering coffee shop operations improves baristas' performance because it helps to connect the dots. In other words, coffee shop operations knowledge boils down to having a systemic understanding of what's going on with the coffee shop.
Sure, understanding the complexities of the coffee industry isn't necessary if you're looking to work as a barista as a side gig or just before finishing college. However, if you want to start a career in coffee, working as a barista is an excellent opportunity to dive deep and learn all the coffee intricacies.
Considering the narrow coffee shop scope, understanding how it works is great to perform better on a daily basis. Additionally, it enables you to advance your career and take a managerial role in the future.
How to become a barista
In most countries, baristas need working experience to take the best jobs. For this reason, qualifications tend to be not that relevant in most cases. If you want to become a barista, there are some ways to prepare yourself besides going to an academy or acquiring experience.
That said, high-end coffee shops tend to value certifications, and you may find it interesting to take Specialty Coffee training. Still, as good as it is, the Specialty Coffee Association training tends to be expensive.
For this reason, online training has become a good starting point. Reading online content helps prepare for the most fundamental challenges, and The Coffee Lab has top-quality reading material. I strongly recommend checking the following articles, as they expand on the basic skills in real-life work:
Additionally, YouTube has become a good source of information, and you can check James Hoffmann and Lance Hendrick channels as a reference.
More advanced content is available from Barista Hustle online academy, and many platforms like Udemy and Domestika offer barista-related training.
In most cases, exploring the basic topics will help you start strong as a barista, and you'll use your early hands-on experience mastering the less conceptual bits of the role.
Becoming a barista requires conceptual and practical knowledge. Learning in advance about coffee drinks, customer service, and coffee shop operations will help you focus on practical skills like latte art and dialing espresso drinks under pressure.
As the most critical customer-facing role in the coffee industry, becoming a barista is a fantastic opportunity to be an ambassador of coffee producers and roasters, showcasing their hard work, innovation, and quality focus.