February 13, 2017

5 Important Habits for New Baristas


Barista: the word used to mean a student job, a job-between-more-important-jobs, a low-income part-time role.

But not any more. Not now there are barista championships and celebrity baristas, and people realize the skill needed to produce good coffee. Now this job is a full-time profession that people are proud of – and rightly so.

So if you’re a new barista looking to make this job your career, here are five habits I recommend you adopt.

Spanish Version: 5 Hábitos Importantes Para los Nuevos Baristas

cirque coffee pour over

Being a barista is a profession. Because it’s more than “just coffee”! Credits: Cirque Coffee

1. Drink Plain Coffee

It might sound strange, but I’ve met a few baristas that don’t drink coffee. They tell me it’s bitter, “disgusting” even – and the only way they can swallow it is with heaps of milk and sugar.

I can’t criticize: I still remember my first interview for a specialty coffee related position. I didn’t understand why the interviewee narrowed her eyes at me while I added two sugars to my cappuccino. I didn’t know that sugar doesn’t just sweeten the drink – it masks and even subdues some flavors.

Good coffee can naturally have a delicious sweetness, acidity, and depth of flavour. It can be like biting into a ripe plum in the middle of August. The only way to understand this experience is to taste coffee. And then taste it again.

Dialing in a grinder or developing a coffee recipe are mostly done through taste and smell. Refractometers, standard ratios, and formulas can help a lot, of course, but they don’t have the final say.

It’s a cycle: the more you drink coffee, the better your coffees will be, and the more you’ll like drinking coffee.

not just coffee pour

No milk, no sugar.  Credits: Not Just Coffee

2. Get Into Food

All the great baristas I know love culinary experiences. This doesn’t mean they’re good cooks – some of them are awful. (Making a latte has nothing to do with making radial cuts on an onion.) But they really appreciate the food they’re eating.

Eating, for most people, just means biting and swallowing. It’s often a background activity while they talk, or watch TV, or check Facebook. (This is especially true for millennials, who according to a study by The Boston Consulting Group find more social value in dining out than other generations.)

But I spend a lot of time with fellow baristas on lunch breaks. I notice that we talk about our food a lot – and we don’t just say it’s “delicious” or “filling”. We say things like “this mandarin is super acidic”. And you know what that means? That we’re paying attention to the flavor profile of that mandarin. Next we taste an espresso with intense acidity, we’ll think of it. That’s how you refine your palate.

Coffee and food

Coffee and food always pair well. Credits: réveille coffee

3. Obsess Over Cleanliness

Never forget that, at the most basic of levels, a café offers fresh goods that customers will put inside their bodies. That is a huge responsibility.

Touching the rim of a cup with a dubious finger, and then deciding to serve it to a patron anyway – that says a lot about the establishment’s loose policies. Because bacteria are everywhere. Yes, some are good, but that doesn’t mean we have to make an effort to put even more of them in our coffee.

The greatest baristas I’ve met or worked with have a clinical eye for details. They never stop cleaning, wiping, washing, and checking for dust or grime. They make sure every step of the coffee-making process, from pulling a shot to steaming the milk, is controlled and supervised.  

If you ask me, “brew, serve, and clean” should be written in gold letters over every counter around the world.  

five elephant

A clean working space is key, for you and for your clients. Credits: Five Elephant

SEE ALSO: Coffee Excellence: What Makes a Great Barista?

4. Enjoy Teamwork

I remember watching an interview with Charlotte Malaval after her presentation at the 2016 World Barista Championship. Although she did everything alone on stage, she publicly thanked the team behind  that helped her to place fifth in the world.

Working in coffee is a team effort from seed to cup. The coffee was planted, harvested, processed, transported, roasted, and packed by a huge number of other professionals. The incredible espresso machine you’re using was assembled by skilled engineers, and the milk was provided by experienced farmers.

What’s more, in the café, teamwork helps everything to run smoother. A good workflow is a sign of an in-tune team – something that’s not always easy to achieve.

methodical coffee

Sharing passion for your work can make colleagues turn into great friends. Credits: Methodical Coffee

5. Read, Read, and Read Some More

Imagine going to a library and asking for a book. The librarian doesn’t know what you’re talking about. They’ve never read that book or even seen it – even though you can buy it in every airport and gas station around. They don’t read any other books either; they’re just here to open and close the library.

Now imagine the librarian is a barista and the library is the specialty coffee shop in your neighborhood. They’re just there to pass drinks over the counter and count money.

Becoming a barista doesn’t just mean making delicious drinks. It also means being an expert who educates the customer. The coffee world, same as the tea, beer, and other culinary universes, is vast. There’s so much to understand – and so much your customers might want to know.

What’s more, it’s so easy to learn about coffee. Websites – like Perfect Daily Grind – are free of charge and easy to access. Forums and Facebook groups are great places for discussion. There’s a long list of good books you can read.

Earlier I mentioned “brew, serve, and clean”. But the motto I really think baristas should live by is “brew, serve, clean, and read”.

Bindle Coffee

Educations and training are always  important. Credits: Bindle Coffee

But What About Talent?

There are no prerequisites for becoming an amazing barista. In fact, even traditional barista skills are less important than the habits you form – tamping, silky milk steaming, latte art, and dialing in the grinder are all skills that come with practice.

So don’t worry about talent. In my humble opinion, it’s much more important to start enjoying coffee and food, have a reading habit, wash your hands properly, and get along with your teammates. Do all this, and you’re sure to succeed as a specialty barista.

Perfect Daily Grind

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