February 16, 2023

The barista-to-roaster career step may not be as logical as it seems


For many baristas, a passion for high-quality coffee and excellent customer service is what drives them to work in specialty coffee. Alongside this, many develop a number of technical skills to help them succeed in their job role – as well as in the coffee sector more widely.

However, the barista career journey in the specialty coffee industry is rightly a major discussion point. It can be difficult to transition into other roles in the sector, and opportunities to progress can be limited, too. 

Ultimately, as the next step in their career, many baristas try to move into roasting – an option which seems logical on paper. But this may not always be the case.

To explore other ways in which baristas can progress in their careers, I spoke with two industry professionals. Read on to find out what they had to say.

You may also like our article on career progression for specialty coffee baristas.

A barista engages with customers at a pay point in a coffee shop.

What skills does a barista need?

Jessica Keenan is the Managing Director at Ascension Coffee in Dallas, Texas. 

“For many people, the barista role is an entry point to developing a career in specialty coffee,” she explains. “[Compared to other jobs in the industry], working as a barista doesn’t always require as much experience.”

First and foremost, baristas need to have solid technical knowledge of how to prepare a range of different coffees (including different origins, processing methods, and varieties) as both espresso and filter.

Brett Bolwell is the CEO at Barista Equip, a coffee equipment distributor in the US.

“Baristas need to understand different brewing methods, as well as how grinding and extraction influence flavour,” he says. “Having this knowledge will set them up for career growth, as well as being able to take on multi-faceted roles in the coffee industry.”

Similarly, baristas should be able to use a range of equipment, including a number of different espresso machines and grinders.

Moreover, baristas working in specialty coffee need to be able to steam different types of milk, including plant-based options. In line with this, they should also know how to pour high-quality latte art for beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites.

What about soft skills?

Alongside these “hard” skills, baristas also need to have good people skills – both in terms of customer service and working as part of a team.

“Excellent baristas are curious, can quickly solve challenges, are empathetic, and have a solid understanding of human connection,” Jessica says. “Having curiosity indicates an intrinsic passion to learn, while problem solving demonstrates you have the ability to think critically and prioritise tasks in order of importance.

“Empathy in the workplace, meanwhile, manifests itself through great hospitality, resolving conflicts, and team building efforts,” she adds.

Jessica also points out that these skills are important not only for baristas, but also for other job roles in the coffee industry.

“A professional barista looking for a career in coffee needs to have a solid understanding of the entire supply chain,” Brett says. “Naturally, this can help them progress into other areas, such as roasting, product distribution, and quality control.

“Moreover, a barista looking to advance their career will be more highly regarded by employers as they will have a wider skillet,” he adds.

A barista prepares a pour over in a coffee shop.

Why is career progression a challenge for baristas?

As with any other industry, opportunities for professional growth in the coffee sector are understandably important. However, given how difficult it can be for a barista to progress in their career, it is important that employers invest in their long-term growth.

In its 2022 Global Workforce of the Future report, Adecco Group found that 27% of international workers plan to leave their current job role within the next year because of issues with career progression.

This is especially pertinent in the hospitality industry, where high staff turnover rates can be a problem for some businesses. In the UK alone, for example, the hospitality industry has an annual turnover rate of 30% – one of the highest rates of any country in the world.

“Hiring new baristas means we have fresh pairs of eyes and different perspectives keeping the business relevant, as well as preventing stagnation,” Jessica says. “Moreover, providing opportunities for career progression helps to attract and retain talented baristas.”

Given that baristas often work less sociable hours and generally earn less than other job roles in the coffee industry, employers need to demonstrate that they are invested in their career development. This can be done in a number of ways, including training and creating personal development plans.

A barista pours coffee beans into a grinder.

So, how can baristas progress in their careers?

For many baristas looking to advance in their careers, taking the step into roasting is often a popular choice. This is largely because working at a roastery allows baristas to expand their coffee knowledge in new ways.

“[When it comes to career development], a barista should be thinking beyond the roastery and into other areas, such as supply chain management, sustainability, and training opportunities,” Brett says.

There are many ways in which baristas can progress in the coffee industry. Ultimately, these depend on their interests and long-term goals.

Many of these growth opportunities are already available to most baristas in coffee shops, including:

  • Barista trainer
  • Shift supervisor
  • Head barista
  • Management roles, such as assistant or store manager

These positions can allow baristas to understand how to manage and train staff, along with how to improve bar and café workflow. Moreover, they can learn about other higher-level responsibilities, such as:

  • Stock management and ordering
  • Financial management
  • Menu development
  • Coffee shop design

“Many baristas thrive in high-energy environments like coffee shops,” Jessica tells me. “Maybe they enjoy the buzz of a Saturday morning rush or the competitive nature of working with other talented coffee professionals, such as hosting on-shift latte art throwdowns.

“For these baristas, career progression into training, brand ambassador, or marketing roles could be viable options,” she adds.

Hosting classes which focus on a number of technical skills – including extracting espresso, brewing filter coffee, and pouring latte art – can improve a barista’s presence in the wider coffee community, develop skills, and give them another potential income stream. Given that interest in coffee education only continues to grow, there are more and more training opportunities for experienced baristas than ever before.

What about becoming a competitor or an influencer?

Taking on long-term training positions can lead to an improved personal brand and more opportunities to take part in high-level competitions. For successful baristas, this can mean advancing to international stages, such as the World Barista Championship or World AeroPress Championship. In turn, baristas can better establish themselves in the global coffee sector, and maybe open their own coffee shop or educational facility.

It’s also been impossible to ignore the recent rise in the number of coffee “influencers”. Notable industry professionals can attract a large number of followers on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok – and can essentially brand and market themselves as coffee experts on a much larger platform.

Given that the value of the global influencer marketing platform market is expected to reach nearly US $70 billion by 2029, it is becoming a more viable opportunity for those who are able to build a following.

When it comes to other job opportunities, Jessica adds that some baristas may also be interested in knowing more about green coffee buying, quality control, or sales of coffee equipment.

Where can baristas look for job opportunities?

Besides looking at company and organisation websites, as well as asking in local coffee businesses, it can be difficult for baristas to find job opportunities.

However, dedicated platforms such as PDG Jobs – a jobs board that hosts listings from some of the most established names in the specialty coffee sector – can be useful tools for any barista interested in career progression.

Platforms like PDG Jobs provide job listings from across the supply chain, ranging from head barista to coffee shop manager to green coffee buyer. Moreover, listings on PDG Jobs are regularly updated so that coffee professionals from around the world can keep up to date with new available positions in the industry.

A photographer takes pictures of a barista preparing a V60.

Career progression tips for baristas

Jessica tells me that the size of a company can impose limits on the number of opportunities for professional growth.

“It’s important to note that smaller coffee shops and roasters may not have the same level of capacity that larger businesses do,” she says. “However, regardless of the company’s size, every job offers a chance to learn new skills.”

Baristas already possess a wide range of skills and knowledge which can transfer to other roles in the coffee industry. However, investment in long-term professional development is still critical.

“Creating opportunities for baristas to contribute to a number of tasks away from the bar and roaster is a great way for them to understand more about what they may want from their next career step – as well as how to get there,” Jessica says. 

“Furthermore, business owners can also highlight previously unrecognised skills and build more trust between them and their staff,” she adds.

Weighing up your options

Moreover, career progression in the coffee sector largely revolves around on-the-job learning, rather than taking more formal training approaches. This can make it challenging to know which direction to go in.

Jessica tells me although she started her coffee career as a barista, she then transitioned into a number of other roles. She says these include coffee shop manager, head of roastery sales and education, green buyer and Q-grader, and leading a roasting company.

“I didn’t follow a straight career path in coffee, which is where a lot of baristas struggle,” she says. “Throughout my career, I have invested a lot of time in talking and connecting with as many people across the industry as possible, alongside investing in my education.

“In doing so, I uncovered job opportunities, but most importantly, I discovered my passion,” she adds.

A barista pours latte art.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong career path for a barista. Depending on your interests and personal goals, there are a number of directions to take in the coffee industry.

Finding these opportunities can also be a daunting task. Platforms like PDG Jobs, however, are always a good place to start – for baristas, as well as other coffee professionals.

Looking for new positions in the coffee industry? Check out PDG Jobs here.

Perfect Daily Grind

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