November 9, 2015

High-Volume Baristas: 5 Things You Need To Know


Have you ever walked into a café in the morning and flinched at the long queue ahead of you? Imagine how it feels to be the barista serving them all. High-volume baristas frequently are tasked with making hundreds of drinks under immense pressure.

Our cities run on coffee because, and between 7 to 10 am, these venues get busy. On the wrong day, well, it’s hard. Manic doesn’t even cover it. But on the right day, it’s more fun than Disneyland on your 5th birthday.

Does that surprise you? I bet there’s a few other things that would surprise you about being a high-volume barista.

Spanish Version: 5 Cosas Que Nadie Te Dice Sobre Ser Un Barista en un Café Concurrido

1. High-volume Baristas Are Masters of Mental Arithmetic

If you’ve ever felt you weren’t so good at math in school, being a barista at a high volume café will change that really quickly.

Working as a barista means more than just making coffee. Busy cafés need several baristas to rotate through so everyone gets days off and a chance to rest their wounded hands (more on that later), plus there’s also only so much room on the machine, so when you aren’t pulling shots or steaming milk, you’ll be front and centre on the till.

You’ll deal with hundreds of transactions every single hour. And these transactions will change with every modification. You either learn fast or you go back to washing dishes.

PLU codes

Price Look Up codes on a café’s system

2. High-volume baristas Are Constantly Using Their Hands

Caffeine does strange things to people. Drink too much and you can get the shakes, get snappy with people, and hit the toilet. But you’re not drinking it; you’re making hundreds of coffees a day, so other things will likely happen.

Caffeine dehydrates. Experience prolonged contact with it and your hands will become scaly, dry, callused, and – in high volume situations may even bleed.

Baristas also drink a LOT of coffee. Sometimes we forget not to drink every coffee we make when dialing in, which means we can drink anywhere from one to ten espressos before opening. And then there’s the inevitable filter tastes just to make sure you’ve brewed them properly.

Dry hands

Dry hands are the price of being awesome

3. Multitasking Has A Whole New Meaning For High-volume Baristas

To many people, it looks like you’re just behind a machine doing one particular thing. And there are times when this is true.

Then there are other times when you look at the 30 seconds window between starting and finishing an extraction as an opportunity to complete multiple tasks. In the time it takes for that shot to finish, you can serve customers, fill milk jugs, place one to steam, reload an empty hopper, turn on the kettle and dose it out – all before getting back to that milk jug, turning off the steam valve, and pouring off into that espresso.

Now repeat that non-stop for an hour and you’ve got an idea of what’s expected.

High volume barista

Most people start work at 8 am or 9 am. This means you will get two waves of service.

4. You Will Learn That There’s Awake… And Then There’s Awake…

It’s not quite The Walking Dead in a café, but mornings don’t suit many people – and this is only truer when they haven’t had their morning coffee yet. This isn’t to say people are rude, of course – just not quite awake.


You’ll have seen memes like this one floating around the internet. The classic is “you don’t want to see me before I get my coffee”. That’s accurate, especially if you’re a barista, but the catch is that we will ALWAYS see you before you get your coffee.

I’ve had some strange requests but mostly its the responses that get you. For example, this morning:

Me: “Good morning, what can we do for you?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Me: “Ummm….would you like a coffee?”

Customer: “… Yes.”

Me: “Ok, what sort of coffee would you like?”

Customer: “Just a coffee, thanks.”

Me: “Right…I’m sorry, but would you like a flat white or a latte or a black coffee?”

Customer: “Oh…sorry…yes…um…..haha….yeah a latte thanks, 2 sugars. Sorry! I’m not quite awake yet!”

Me: “Haha that’s OK, you haven’t had your coffee yet so you get a free pass!”

5. It’s More Fun Than You’d Expect

Working in a busy cafe is hard work – even without the scaly hands and the maths. You will feel exhausted some days, but you’ll have had more fun at work than would be possible in most jobs.

You’ll see the best and worst of your fellow baristas as you work like demons to make everyone’s morning better. You’ll dance around each other in a caffeinated ballet of beans, milk, and espressos. Some of the friends I’ve made working in cafés have taught me a great deal about coffee and life.

Barista pouring chemex

Colleagues become fast friends (pun intended) in coffee, especially when you pump out several thousand a week.

Most of all, your passion for coffee will grow as you connect with the roasters and farmers that produce the coffee. It’s as simple as talking to your roaster, visiting the roastery, and taking the time to follow through. That new coffee you just dialled in? Google the estate that it comes from and see if they have a Facebook page or instagram. Trust us, they want to hear from you! You might even get an invite to stay with them.

Some people think of baristas as a step up from servers in McDonalds. Others think of baristas as coffee gods and goddesses, possessors of caffeine secrets that mere mortals could only dream of knowing… And while we may like the second description, the truth is that there is no other experience that come close to being a high-volume barista. It’s painful, it’s stressful, it’s incredibly fun – and it’s something that we wouldn’t swap for the world.

Did we miss anything from our list? Let us know in the comments, on facebook, or on instagram.

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