learning to be a barista

originally posted on june 9th 2010

having been a regular nescafe drinker, with the opinion that “coffee’s just coffee”, my first drink at coolaboola was a truly awesome experience! this was more so because i’d only ever seen starbucks baristas prepare shots previously i.e. hidden behind a machine and grinder.

i remember being impressed (whilst pumping my own filter coffee) by the speed and efficiency with which the baristas (ruairi & louise at the time) prepared the shots, whilst still maintaining an impossibly sunny disposition and holding in-depth discussions with customers. all in all, this led me to believe that the tasks a baristas undertakes, though simple when performed exclusively from one another in a controlled environment, are a delicate mix requiring skill, charisma and a hell of an ability to multi task.

of course, after having been employed by ru & lu, i quickly realised what was really required was a calm, but confident approach. i found the training process to be a stress free, well thought out process, where i was shown that having pride in your work is a truly important facet of being a barista. the skills learnt are independently quite simple (dose, tamp, pour, serve, etc), but performing these tasks under pressure, and knowing you are being watched and assessed almost all the time, can prove quite a daunting task.

the way these skills are learnt was also a new experience to me, what with having been a carer where there’s weeks of training prior to any real-life situation. at coolaboola i was presented with a training manual, matched with experienced staff and essentially slotted into a shift behind the bar and learned the job on the fly. this method of learning, however, allows you to acquire your own style and way of doing things (within guidelines obviously), leading to a unique type of service and a huge sense of achievement and pride when something you’ve tried comes off.

for instance, my first piece of decent latte art (stored on my smart phone for showing off purposes obviously), though not brilliant, is still a milestone achievement for myself and hopefully a source of of pride for my trainer and head barista chris (a.k.a. seamus mcflurry). latte art is something that, having seen it done and tried it myself, i felt i would never be strong at…but strangely has probably become my strongest area. perhaps the most difficult aspect for me is taste profiles; my palette is beginning to develop and i’m starting to discern between the different tastes & flavours of different blends, but i’m mainly still at the “i either like it or i don’t” stage.

as for the future, i shall be attending the caffe culture trade show in late june to hopefully gain some useful insight into being a competition level barista, to attend a few seminars and take in the world latte art competition; which hopefully (with some improvement of course) i will entering next year.

this far, being a barista has mainly been a pleasure, barring the early starts and unfortunately the late arrivals (as i write this i happened to be an hour late for my shift – the one shift this week i had with the boss….quality employee!)

Simon Leeks

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