Coffee Skills: What Makes a Great Barista?
As baristas, we should aim to stand out. I’m not talking about being the centre of attention, but something else – something about the way you make that perfect cup of coffee that makes you cooler than cool. Something that makes the customer’s day, that helps them to love coffee even more, and that inspires other baristas.
But since it’s not as simple as being the centre of attention – how do we do it? I’m going to be honest, I can’t give you one single, simple answer. But here are five traits that all great baristas have. Adopt these for barista excellence.
Spanish Version: Excelencia en Café: ¿Qué hace a un gran barista?
What makes this woman a great barista? Credit: Petteri Sulonen
As baristas, we have the ability to create coffee that both tastes delightful and looks beautiful. I’m proud of what I can do, I know I can make my customers’ day, and I take absolute pleasure in doing so. I want to share my skills with every person that walks through the door of my shop, and that both fulfils and motivates me.
So when you make a coffee for someone, don’t just make them a coffee. Make them a masterpiece. Make them something you’re proud of. And watch as their eyes light up.
Take pride in every element of your coffee. Credit: Ryan Pang via Andy Anderson
Passion: that irresistible feeling that you need to do this thing and you need to do it right now. My passion for being a barista, and a barista trainer, is what gets me out of bed every single morning (well, in addition to my three screaming daughters, that is). It’s what gives me the drive to share my skills and knowledge.
You need to find something about coffee that excites you – that makes you want to improve, to learn more, and to perform at 100% every single day. And maybe, for you, the act of making great coffee and pouring beautiful latte art is enough. Great! But maybe you need something more – like discussing roasting with a local barista club, or discovering great coffees as part of a cupping group. It doesn’t matter what it is, you need to find that passion and fuel it. That’s what will set you apart as a barista.
Be driven by your passion. Credit: Art House Coffee Co via Andy Anderson
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As a judge for regional and national barista championships, I have the privilege of watching aspiring baristas share their love and passion for coffee. They get onto the stage and pour out all their skills and knowledge in an attempt to convince us that they’re the best. But according to the scoresheet, it’s not only skills and knowledge that we’re looking for – it’s meticulousness.
This is the easiest, simplest way to go above and beyond what people expect. In fact, without this, you can’t go above and beyond it. Make sure you’re using the best brew ratio for your coffee, make sure you’re preheating those coffee cups on a chilly winter’s day so your customer’s drink stays warmer for a little longer. Make sure that everything you do is done to the highest standard.
And always do it. Because we should always give our best.
Are you paying attention to the small details? Credit: Suryawandi via Andy Anderson
Meticulousness is important, but without consistency it’s just flash in the pan brilliance. That doesn’t mean we can’t be creative – we can get original with every single latte piece of latte art, experiment with brew ratios for new coffees, and be imaginative when designing drinks. But when we serve our customers, we must provide consistency.
Operate your equipment with the respect it deserves: maintain it consistently and clean it diligently. Adhere to quality protocols and efficiency every single time. Don’t let yourself slide into bad habits. Remember your training and remember the basics. And in this way, you’ll find you provide meticulous, high-quality coffee you can be proud of every single time.
Consistency in every single coffee. Credit: Arno Quinton via Andy Anderson
The industry is constantly evolving, and a great barista stays at the forefront – not at the back. Make a habit out of researching. Stay aware of the latest coffee trends and the newest brew methods. Let what you discover inspire you and motivate you.
You’ll probably find this links in to finding your passion. I love coffee pairing and palate development. The flavour wheel excites me, and discovering coffees that have a variety of weird and wonderful flavours – whether because of their varietal, farm environment, or processing – keeps me constantly researching and discovering.
Keep learning about coffee. Credit: Dhipta Adi Pungkas via Andy Anderson
So, the question is, what makes you a barista that stands out from the rest? If you can’t answer that, then you have a long and exciting journey of discovery before you. Take more pride, get passionate, be meticulous, stay consistent, and learn, learn, and learn!
Feature photo credit: Arlene Ibarra via Andy Anderson.
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