Working at a cafe or quick-service restaurant (QSR) location doesn’t automatically designate someone a star barista, though some people may loosely throw that term around as anyone who can make a cup of coffee for a customer, and gets paid to do it.
A star barista is a professional who understands the fundamentals of coffee, is trained in the science and craft of coffee making, and loves creating excellent coffee for others. Yes, it is hard work especially at peak times in a ‘good coffee place’ but it can also be rewarding.
There’s an art in appealing to one of the most finicky demographics in the world: coffee drinkers. If you’ve ever wondered how to become a barista, this is for you.
Who Exactly Are Baristas?
So what exactly is a barista?
A barista will be certified in coffee creation and have a working knowledge of how coffee is brewed on a scientific level. A star barista knows how to make a great cup of coffee!
It isn’t enough to know which buttons to push on an espresso machine; they have an intimate knowledge of coffee beans, espresso, and how additives (creamer, sugar, etc.) react when in the cup.
Baristas are at the forefront of the coffee world. You could think of a star barista as a chef of coffee.
They’re versed in customer service, and understand just how picky we can all get with our coffee and espresso beverages.
Foodservice sees a completely different breed of consumer that retail workers don’t, because everyone enjoys their coffee in an entirely different way.
You’ll have common orders from time to time, but if you work in a real coffee house and not a QSR location, it will probably get extremely specific.
Many baristas learn much of their craft on the job.
It is important to understand how coffee is brewed before attempting it yourself, which will allow you to identify potential issues with anything you create, and how to fix them the next time.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Good Barista?
How long does it take to be a good barista? Arguably longer than it takes to make a Keurig cup of coffee. Okay, lousy coffee humor there, but it can take quite a bit of training to hone your craft.
There are some terrific barista training schools in most places. It is not just technical know-how but also focusing on communicating with the customers in a friendly way.
The argument is that the customer could be brewing coffee in their office or home, but they chose to come in to see you at your location, and you need to respect that.
While we both know that they’re getting better coffee when you make it, there’s a high annual cost to buy from a coffee house every single day.
The atmosphere, coffee, and friendly attitude are all key to the process, and you have to manage the coffee and attitude at the same time.
If you can make every type of coffee beverage, focus on the customer, and uphold friendly conversation, then you are on your way to becoming an accomplished barista.
However, we have seen some coffee places where the barista is so busy creating the coffee that they hardly interact with the customer at all. The customer service is left to the sales staff. This is understandable, especially at busy times, but it is a bit sad.
A star barista’s knowledge, charm, and communication skills have much to offer the customer and can be an asset to the business. In any case, the star barista will be known by the quality of the coffee they create.
How to become a barista? Well, we encourage you to explore the best Barista Schools in your area. The Speciality Coffee Association (SPA) also has some excellent courses in most countries.
The Good Coffee Place is no substitute for an experienced teacher in an excellent barista school. However, we can give you a heads-up with a crash course (cheat sheet if you like) in making espresso.
Making the Perfect Espresso Like a Real Barista
Baristas need to be able to create killer espresso above all else, especially if it’s being used in frozen beverages or as a wake-up shot in a cup of arabica coffee.
There are four basic steps to making a great tasting espresso:
Step 1: Grind
Getting the right grind is imperative to the flavor profile, body, and acidity of your espresso shot. Grind beans freshly before brewing.
Most espresso machines have their own two-pound grinder, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but just know that using pre-ground espresso is going to taste bitter.
You have to hit the perfect grind size in order to get a good flavor out of your espresso.
Step 2: Dose
Machines are going to output an undefined amount of espresso grinds.
You need to check the ground output for your machine every morning, but be aware that it is going to change throughout the day as more grinds find their way into the machine.
You should have between 13 and 19 grams of freshly-ground espresso in your portafilter. Too much, and it’ll jam up and take too long, which can make a bitter flavor.
Too little time or not enough ground coffee, and you’re not going to get the best-flavored coffee, even if the grinds are the perfect size and texture.
Step 3: Tamp
Tamping is a minor step, but critical in ensuring your dosing goes smoothly.
Once you’re done dosing, level off the top of the portafilter to a perfect 90-degree angle so that it doesn’t have any issues when you insert the filter.
This is important because water dispersion will affect how the espresso is brewed.
You can measure your ability to tamp evenly by looking at the grinds after you remove the portafilter. The grind should be even and without divots (where water may have concentrated in an uneven tamp).
Step 4: Finish Brewing
You’ve ground, dosed, and tamped the coffee and the machine will do the rest.
Secure the portafilter in place (every machine is different, but you usually have to turn it counterclockwise by about 60 degrees to lock it into place).
If the ground coffee is not even, the result is a bunch of ground coffee and hot water in a cup.
Star Baristas Also Know Multiple Brewing Methods
Espresso is an art, and so is coffee making. There are many ways to brew a great cup of coffee.
A star barista should be well versed in multiple brewing methods since some specialty coffee houses do offer different coffee and brew varieties. This is to differentiate themselves and keep an influx of new customers that are accustomed to coffee brewed in a specific way.
You may not experience brewing methods such as Turkish coffee, but you may experience siphon coffee makers, filter and drip (of various kinds), and cold brewing.
As you may expect a barista needs to be manually trained and there aren’t a lot of online courses available. However, a quick search of Good Coffee Place, or other places online will give you some information for each brewing method, and why the particular brew method can make the coffee taste different.
You don’t have to master every method of brewing, but it is important to at least be familiar with most of the methods.
How do You Become a Certified Barista?
How do you become a certified barista? You can go through an in-person class, or take an online course (of which, we will link a few below).
Certification programs exist for newcomers, as well as seasoned professionals who are looking to expand or solidify their experience.
Certification is not required for many base level coffee jobs in America, but being a barista can take you to entirely new heights above entry-level positions.
High-class restaurants require skilled and certified baristas to tailor their top-tier espresso and coffee beverages.
If you’ve ever been to a pricey place and looked at the dessert menu, you might have seen recommendations to pair a certain dessert with an in-house coffee.
Those are baristas brewing those $8-10 individual cups of espresso, and they have to hit the nail on the head every single time.
Online and Offline Barista Schools
If you want to acquire some proper knowledge on what it takes to be a barista, and how to make a great cup of coffee, you could opt for an online course to get your foot in the door before you ever touch a commercial espresso machine.
An online barista school will give you the knowledge you need to be a barista and you practice your manual skills on the job. You will learn from trial and error or from an existing barista.
As we mentioned previously the Specialty Coffee Association offers various online and offline coffee skills and education programs.
You could also take online and offline courses from Counter Culture Coffee, where they offer a catalog of different skill-based courses to pinpoint exactly what you want to learn.
In both cases, some classes are prerequisites for others, ensuring that you have a fundamental understanding of everything before you get the ball rolling.
There are most probably good local barista schools in your area.
If you attended a good local barista school, then please let us know. We would like to feature any good coffee place, including barista schools on Good Coffee Place!
Your first Day as a Barista.
If you were to walk through the door on the first day of your career with a certification under your belt, it’s not going to do the job for you, but it’s going to eliminate some of those nerves.
Be warned – it can be absolutely nerve-wracking to be surrounded by knowledgeable people, numerous machines that you have no idea how they work, and a very cramped space (which is about every coffee place in America).
However, you’ll have a knowledge of how espresso is brewed, the temperature ranges for milk froth, acceptable food storage temperature ranges, and so on.
Perhaps you will not know the specific Bunn grinder that’s being used or the Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. However, learning the configuration and user interface of those machines will not take long.
Certification will give you the confidence and knowledge to make a truly great cup of coffee.