May 4, 2015

To Be (a Barista) or Not to Be? That Is the Question


If you missed the introduction article to this series last week, I discussed how I would explore coffee shop cultures and factors that motivate coffee business decisions. What better way to start the series than to discuss what is arguably one of the most important pillars of a coffee shop – the barista?

SEE ALSOCoffee Shop Culture According To A Coffee Pro: Introduction

Like many children, I once asked my mother what I would be when I grew up. I am almost certain that no mother (including my own) would ever say to their child that they would be a barista as a career choice. I cannot help but feel frustrated that a large majority of societies still do not support the idea of a career outside the traditional box of career choicesStudy hard, go to university and be a lawyer or doctor – the same old recycled message. There are many jobs that are seen as simple part-time jobs while studying or as a means to get by. Being a barista fits this profile for many.

making iced coffee siphon syphon

A  barista life is not a traditional career choice. Credit: William Gancz

Is Being a Barista Just a Part Time Job?

Throughout the various roles I have held in my career in cafés, I have seen a countless number of talented baristas hang up their aprons after graduating from their studies.  Most of them gave me the same reason as to why they were leaving, ‘to get a full-time job that pays well with a mapped career progression’. Our culture makes us creatures of habit, this is why many follow the crowd rather than the heart, but you can feel alone in a busy crowd that doesn’t care about your passion.

I am surprised by the number of young individuals of this generation who still give into the pressure of pursuing money in a career that is devoid of their passion. Surely we can enjoy both money and happiness by taking the road less travelled. I am not alone when I say that as a barista, coffee is my passion and my career.

barista party group of baristas

Being a barista is my passion and my career. Credit: Atan Chua

Baristas Do Have Career Progression Options

A barista is a job title that has been confined to the four walls of a café. Unfortunately, many people do not realise that baristas have other avenues they can explore within the industry. Many choose to become interested in roasting, training, managing/operating coffee businesses, compete in competitions, become judges or even Q graders.

Many world famous chefs who built their fame creating signature dishes call themselves ‘chef’ followed by their name, yet a majority of them are not in the kitchen anymore, battling the heat and stress. Many of these chefs sit at the helm of successful restaurants. Their scars remind them of what it took to get to where they are.  Baristas who move to other positions within the industry are no different in my opinion. They may be spending less time behind the bar, more time cupping coffee, successfully distributing coffees to other cafes or even travelling to origin rather than punching the cash register. Regardless, their original title as a barista can be worn with honour because it is where most journeys begin.

two roasters standing by a coffee roaster

Being a barista can be just the beginning to a career in specialty coffee.

A Barista Is in a Powerful Position

The value and meaning of the title ‘barista’ has changed significantly. A barista is not just any person who serves coffee. Only connoisseurs of coffee brewing truly wear the barista title.

A barista stands at the forefront where coffee meets consumer, therefore a barista has the power to educate consumers about their purchasing decisions. Not just in terms of the quality of what the customer consumes, but also the power to articulate how an ethically sourced coffee can change the lives of impoverished rural communities in producing countries. When a barista knows the product they serve is sustainable and is empowering the producer, they can be proud to represent the coffee on behalf of its producers.

A barista is there to ensure that the consumer consistently receives the producer’s product at its best. This responsibility demands experience, but more importantly, passion. A barista’s craft is their trophy, as seen in the World Barista Championship and more recently at the new fast-paced Coffee Masters competition, but how they engage with the consumers can actually change the consumers attitude towards both the flavour of coffee and the nature of the coffee industry in general.

As more baristas value their role as coffee ambassadors and communicate with the consumer accordingly, the coffee industry and consumers will continue to shift towards a more ethical, sustainable and “specialty” model that benefits all parties from crop to cup.

barista making coffee cocktails in a cafe

And of course, let’s not forget how fun it is to make a customers day.

Article edited by A. Guerra.

Perfect Daily Grind.