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We all want to be the best barista possible. The question is, how do we do that? Is it a case of the longer you do it, the better you become—or are there any shortcuts to barista-ing like a boss?
Well, while I wouldn’t call them shortcuts, there are some things you can do to help you improve. Read on for the seven keys to unlocking your full barista potential.
1. Purpose & Passion
No goal, no success. We need something in life to give us the drive to get out of bed and start our day. What’s your aim as a barista? Is it to pour the perfect coffee, create something new, or spread knowledge of specialty? Find that purpose and stay focussed on it.
It’s difficult to stay motivated with long-term goals, so give yourself a daily purpose. Maybe you could pour 3 new patterns today, aim to get that perfect shot of espresso, or even try a new cold brew technique. Having an aim that excites you helps you fight those blue days we all struggle with.
Struggling to be passionate about your goal? Feeling dejected by your failure to master that one piece of latte art? Remember, we’re a reflection of our environment. Surround yourself with positive friends. Use social media to get in touch with other baristas. See what they’re up to, ask lots of questions, and let their passion inspire you when you lose focus.
2. Advanced Training
Like with any skill, it’s not enough to just love coffee—although that’s an important start! You also need to learn about it. I recommend dipping into harvesting and roasting as well as brewing; this will give you a much greater appreciation of coffee.
While the internet has lots of articles and videos, they should augment your real-life coffee studies rather than replace them. Find a popular and reputable organisation that offers training. Seek mentors that won’t just teach you about coffee, but will also push you to challenge yourself.
3. Human Exposure
Yes, this means you need to interact with other people like you! I’ve met some amazing baristas who are the life of the party, and then I’ve met some baristas who, well, seem like they need to start drinking what they’re serving. Guys, we can’t improve in a vacuum. Other humans are our motivation, our resources, and our friends. Their perspectives help us learn; their passion can fuel ours.
Surround yourself with other baristas and coffee lovers. Get involved in local coffee tasting evenings. Volunteer your time at the local barista competitions—or compete! Nothing like this around you? Gather a group of friends and start something yourself.
A good workspace should have everything you need, and also be set up in a way that facilitates a good workflow. Make sure all your equipment is present, easily accessible, and in an organised setup. Check there’s enough room for you and other baristi to operate comfortably. A poor environment can slow us down, both when we brew and as we push our boundaries.
Oh, and don’t get complacent! Keep an eye out for new accessories and equipment that could help you develop as a barista—but make sure not to just cram them into your workspace. Reorganise the whole area if need be, so as to ensure your new tools help you rather than add stress and discomfort. And remember, there’s always room for improvement!
Ever gone into a coffee shop with amazing coffee and snacks, only to have the experience soured by a barista in a perpetual bad mood? There are two fixes to this. If you’re the barista, ask yourself why you’re unhappy and fix it—whether that means asking for a hug or drastically changing your life! If you’re the customer—and you regularly see this barista in a bad mood—try asking them how their day’s been. Maybe all they need is a friendly face (or even a friend)!
The baristi make or break the coffee shop environment, and an unpleasant atmosphere just doesn’t do justice to a great product. From that grumpy air deterring people from asking questions about the coffee to the poor service making people rush off, it can really negatively impact the coffee shop. And of course, the reverse is also true—great service can increase interest in specialty coffee and lead to returning customers.
6. Never Stop Being a Student
Whether you’re a national champion, an award-winning latte artist, or just a great barista, there’s always more to learn. Sometimes we can feel that we’ve already reached the top of our game. It’s tempting to reward ourselves for our rigorous training schedule with a little pride and some rest. You might think: I’ve worked so hard; haven’t I earned it? Don’t I deserve it?
The problem with that question is that you’ve worked so hard, you deserve better than complacency. Complacency is dangerous. If we lost focus, we could end up getting sloppy as our training becomes more relaxed, missing the chance to learn from an even better barista, or—perhaps worse—stop learning new techniques. Remember, even if you’re the World Champion in something, it doesn’t mean you’re the world’s best at everything—especially with coffee. Specialty coffee is innovative; there are always new techniques for you to learn.
7. Give Back
Not everyone wants to give back, but I find that sharing my gift and helping others improve inspires me to become an even better barista, trainer, and coach. I love coffee, but helping others love it grows my love even more. There’s a little more of that precious motivation!
There are lots of ways to give back. You can train others in person, create useful YouTube videos or Perfect Daily Grind articles (hint hint), or even use your coffee talents to raise money for good causes. Do whatever works best for you.
As baristas, we are more than just people who make speciality coffee drinks. We are customers’ teachers, listeners, and sometimes therapists. We are scientists, experimenting to find a coffee’s best taste and flavour profile. And we are artists, attempting to creating that masterpiece of a cappuccino.
Written by S. Aupiais (@shaunthecoffeeguy, @manmakecoffee) and edited by T. Newton