What does it take to be a successful barista?

by | CAREER GUIDANCE, Career Paths

In the increasingly specialised world of coffee, skilled baristas are in high demand. But have you got what it takes? 

Single origin, gourmet roasts, fair trade, different types of milk and creative combinations; you may have noticed that even your local café offers an increasingly nuanced range of caffeine-laced brews prepared by skilled baristas. 

In recent years, the role of the barista has evolved from someone who could whip up a decent cappuccino to a coffee expert whose specialist knowledge and skills are in high demand in the hospitality industry. 

How to become a barista

There are certain characteristics a barista needs to be successful. 

First and foremost, a coffee expert must be a natural people-person. People order their morning coffee to set them up for their day. At other times we drink coffee as a ‘pick me up’, at social gatherings, or as a break from the routine. On both occasions, we wish to feel comforted and nurtured by the person who is making our cherished cup of jah.  

Large coffee chains understand the rituals and the emotional attachment we have to coffee. Starbucks is credited with revolutionising the culture of coffee with consistently welcoming environments and training staff on how to overcome our inbuilt racial, class and gender bias. (Their company’s foundational course ‘To Be ‘Welcoming’ is available free and online as part of the Starbucks Global Academy). 

The other ability a barista must have is to be able to work unfazed under pressure. That doesn’t mean that you will be juggling complex orders all day, every day. But certainly at peak times, such as mornings and post lunch, customers can get jumpy if they have to wait too long for their sacred latte. 

Practical skills include good numeracy for large orders, stock takes and replenishing.  An ordered mindset and ability to multitask also go with the job. 

Embracing teamwork is also essential, as coffee experts work closely with kitchen staff to ensure that coffee arrives at the same time as food orders.  But you should also feel at ease working autonomously at your coffee station too. 

A barista should also possess a natural curiosity about the trends and evolving coffee culture. A dash of creativity is appreciated, as nothing lights up a customer's face more than a personal touch to their favourite brew such as a flourish of  ‘latte art.’   

What are the advantages of working as a barista? 

Becoming a barista is a great entry-level job in the hospitality industry, as employees recognise that your skills and experience behind the bar are advantageous to other positions in the organisation, especially those that are client-facing. 

Many coffee experts report a good work-life balance. While early mornings are par for the cause, late nights and grueling double shifts are rare. 

In countries where coffee culture is elevated and has an important place in society, such as Australia, the US and Scandinavian countries, good baristas are in high demand and can command the same salaries as professional mixologists.    

For others, the pleasure of working in an alcohol-free hospitality environment is something to be cherished. 

But above all, what’s not to love about spending your working day immersed in the aroma of coffee? 

Training to be a barista

In the not-so-distant past, manning a coffee machine was considered non-skilled labour – suitable for college students and those who were simply passing through the hospitality industry and on their way to something ‘bigger and better’. 

And while it’s still possible to get a job making coffee with little or no experience or training, it will be difficult to be recognised as a professional in this increasingly sophisticated and competitive vocation. 

The word ‘barista’ has been used in Italy for over a century – and simply means the person who makes coffee. These days it implies a high level of professionalism and knowledge akin to that of a sommelier. 

Skilled baristas – the ones that command the best wages and can travel the world with their occupation – are not only adept at grinding beans and frothing milk, but also have good knowledge of providence, plantations, aromas, taste notes and the entire production process. 

Even if you have had some experience in making coffee in a hospitality setting, taking a professional barista course is a good idea to sharpen your skills, increase your knowledge and elevate your CV. 

Because ‘barista’ is not a recognised title, training tends not to be as lengthy or expensive as other food and beverage qualifications. Courses can run from a day to a week, but the pathway they offer to genuine career opportunities are endless.



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