Barista training can help you – or your staff – to improve their coffee-brewing abilities and customer service, see career advancement, and even venture into new paths within the industry. It can be invaluable for both the barista and the coffee shop.
But if you’re going to attend training, you’ll want to get the most out of this opportunity. I reached out to Tim Sturk, Director of Coffee Operations at Servest Food Co., an SCA Certified Trainer, Q Grader, and a developer of the SCA Brewing module. He’s trained around 5,000 people over the past 9 years and has agreed to share his expertise with us. Read on for his three tips for trainees.
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Tim leads a Professional Brewing Calibration training session in Richmond, Virginia. Credit: Tim Sturk
“Being a good barista is being skilled with coffee,” Tim tells us. But of course, no one is born pouring great latte art or brewing perfectly consistent coffees. That takes training, practice, and dedication.
A good barista should be able to understand the specialty coffee industry standards. They should know about extraction, brewing methods, equipment maintenance, and more.
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And a well-trained barista can do all this – and more. They will improve sales; as Tim says, “people want to buy from people. Buying from a skilled, knowledgeable and passionate individual just adds to the overall experience… why wouldn’t you go back?”
They will motivate other members of staff. “Once a barista has been trained, there is an inherent commitment to serve quality in every cup… As the skill is embedded and the trained barista is leading by example… the other team members will notice and either emulate that behaviour or choose to move on to a different career,” Tim explains.
And they will have gained valuable connections with talented people who will push them to further their career and coffee knowledge – as Tim tells me, “baristas also want to belong and there is a thriving global coffee community… [training events] bring us all closer together…whether it is in person or via social media.”
Training is for anyone who strives for better. Tim says, “I think training is driven by individuals who seek to personally improve.” And in the end, capable and well-trained baristas don’t just make coffee better. They do every aspect of their job better.
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So, let’s look at how to get the most out of training opportunities.
A training session led by Alexis Sabogal of La Motofeca in Argentina. Credit: La Motofeca
Arrive With The Right Mindset
Choosing to attend training is the first step towards improving. In fact, Tim tells me that it “means you are halfway prepared as there is eagerness to learn more.”
Of course, perhaps you didn’t choose to attend. Perhaps your employer made the decision for you. But you still have a choice to make: are you going to attend training because you have to, or are you going to attend with an open mind and an eagerness to learn? You’ll need the latter if you want to benefit from the workshops.
And remember, everything you learn about coffee is useful, even if you might not need the knowledge every day. Take cupping: a skill crucial for roasters, producers, and coffee buyers. Baristas, on the other hand, will rarely attend coffee cuppings. Yet learning how to cup and refining this skill will help baristas to better understand the coffee they brew. As Tim says, “understanding all the variables and how they interplay is vital to creating great tasting brews.” Cupping will give baristas the skills required to better taste coffee, evaluate it, and even troubleshoot it when there’s a problem.
A barista brews coffee using a V60. Photo Credit: Barista Guild of America
When we attend training, we’re challenging ourselves. But we should also be challenging assumptions, “common knowledge,” and the “rules” of coffee.
We’re not encouraging you to start arguing with your trainer. But as Tim says, “be curious, open-minded and don’t accept what you are told.”
He tells me that he wants his students to play and experiment with the coffees and find answers for themselves. Of course, knowledge is power, but practice makes a master – and “no one argues with their own evidence,” as Tim says.
Don’t Stop Learning When The Training Ends
Finding the right course is important, but don’t think that training starts and ends in that workshop room. “Training is ongoing and needs to be maintained, supported, refreshed and then continued,” Tim says.
This means reviewing what you learned, practising it, attending additional training sessions and – perhaps most importantly – taking every learning opportunity available to you. The specialty coffee industry is constantly innovating, so grow with it. Read the latest books and industry leaders’ blog posts. Attend events. Run your own experiments, keep notes, and compare results.
As Tim tells me, “There is so much available on the internet and through social media, as well as with events: World of Coffee, EXPO in the USA, Coex in Asia, and of course the World Barista Championships.”
Tim teaches the team at KEEN Coffee, Enkhuizen, Netherlands a course on Professional Brewing using the Behmor 1600 Plus. Credit: Tim Sturk
Training brings the coffee community together in pursuit of excellence. We do these courses out of a passion for high-quality coffee and high-quality service.
And good training doesn’t just help us to achieve these goals. It also motivates us to do them. As Tim tells me, “Better trained baristas will produce better quality coffee… not because they are told, but because they want to.”
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