March 30, 2016

The New Barista Generation: 3 Tips For Young Baristas


Are you dreaming of a career in coffee “when you’re older”? Being a barista was always my childhood dream – and today, still a teenager, I’m making it happen. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter if you’re young or still in school: you can take steps towards achieving your coffee career goals, starting today.

Spanish Version: La Nueva Generación Barista: 3 Consejos Para Baristas Jóvenes

barista pouring latte art
Young barista pouring latte art

From dreamer to barista.

Turning a Dream into a Goal

When I was a young girl, I dreamed of opening my own little coffee shop. The word “barista” didn’t exist for me yet, and I definitely didn’t know about the third wave. But I thought a cozy coffee bar, where you could also eat cakes, pancakes, and waffles, would be the perfect place. I would literally spend hours daydreaming about locations, décor, and recipes for baked goods.

Then my true coffee awakening came at the age of fourteen, when I changed schools and opted for an education in the catering industry and culinary arts. I chose to specialize in drinks, and so learned all about wine, cocktails, and coffee. But it was still coffee that captivated me, and so my daydreams turned into a goal.

The next step was turning that goal into a reality. I learned a lot about coffee through school, and if you have the opportunity to study catering, I recommend it – but you don’t need a formal culinary education to become a great barista!

I’m going to share the three steps that, outside of a formal education, will help you to realise your dreams and become a professional barista.

pouring coffee into a cup

Coffee, coffee, coffee! Credit: @smedleyshots 

1. Get Competitive

One of the best ways to improve your barista skills is to enter a competition. It will help you to develop and refine your techniques – as well as giving you the motivation to spend hours practicing them!

In my last year of secondary school, I had the opportunity to represent my school in a Belgian coffee competition. It was a great honour to be selected, as every school in the nation that specialized in catering participated.

I practiced constantly, both at home and at school. The competition was intense, and tested cupping, brewing coffee, and making espresso-based beverages. And, to my great surprise, I won! I became the Belgian Junior Coffee Ambassador for one year.

I recommend competing as soon as you can. I know I was very lucky to gain competition experience so early – most barista competitions are only open to participants 18 years and older. But if the cafés in your town host informal throw downs, try to participate in those; they often aren’t age restricted.

I also recommend observing competitions. There is so much you can learn from them, even before you’re old enough to compete. Whether you watch live, or watch videos online, it’s a good way to be exposed to new techniques, and also to identify the qualities that experienced baristas have.

Young barista practicing latte art

See you someday — at my own shop.

SEE ALSO: 5 Tips for Hiring the Perfect Barista

2. Be Dedicated to Learning

To be a great barista, it’s important to have a well-rounded knowledge of coffee. I don’t just mean about the cup you drink at home or serve in the shop, but about the plant itself and where and how it’s grown.

The prize for winning the Junior Coffee Ambassador competition was a trip to origin. I travelled to the major coffee-producing state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, and visited the plantations of Fazendas Dutra. I learned so much, from the best planting methods to how to pick the bean. And in doing so, I gained a much deeper appreciation for the plant.

Mina Geiras coffee farm

One of Minas Gerais’ coffee farms.

Brazil is a long way from home for many of us, so don’t worry if you can’t travel to origin right now. In fact, many seasoned baristas haven’t yet been to a coffee farm. But until you can visit origin, try to learn everything you can about the plant from home.

You can take biology, botany, and chemistry classes to expand your knowledge of the properties of the coffee plant. Speak with any older baristas you know who have made it to origin, so as to get a feel for how our farmers live. And read, read, and read! There are so many wonderful online and print resources about coffee (including the Coffee Production area of our website!)

Cupping practice for baristas

Studying hard: the serious side of coffee.

3. Practice Constantly

Practicing is crucial. The best way to get practice is by getting a job as a barista, but if you can’t do that yet, don’t worry. Now I’m a barista, and every day I get to make the best coffee I can for my customers. But even before it became my job, you can bet that I was already practicing. As an enthusiastic home barista, you can expand your skillset so much by working with the beverage daily.

I’m also a perfectionist – not only must my drinks taste great, I want them to look beautiful too! Today, I specialize in latte art, and I’ll be competing in my first adult latte art competition soon. And so I keep on practicing my latte art skills.

Figure out what your coffee passion is, and watch YouTube videos of others doing the same — that’s one of the main ways I find inspiration and technique for latte art. Go to every barista event, public cupping, and competition you can, and watch professionals practicing their craft.

You need to do all this because, as clichéd as it may sound, practice really does make perfect. By following this routine, you will give yourself a great start in becoming a professional barista.

latte art swan
Young barista taking picture of latte art

In love with latte art.

The Road Forward

It’s wonderful to be involved with coffee. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has me.

The truth is that coffee dominates my life. In my free time and on vacations, I’m always seeking out the best coffee bars I can find. There’s always something wonderful to taste and new to learn. Keep your palate open and be on the lookout for new flavors that will open up your coffee world even more.

I still hope to someday open my very own coffee bar. You’re all very welcome to come visit! Until then, I keep studying, practicing, and drinking coffee — and I hope you will too. We have the potential to be the best generation of baristas the world has ever seen.

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Edited by S. Parrish.

Feature Photo Credit: @smedleyshots

Perfect Daily Grind.