Baristas clad in their signature black aprons are a familiar sight now in coffee chains and kiosks, thanks to the immense popularity of coffee. More and more coffee-enthusiasts prefer to get their caffeine-fuel from the best source, resulting in thrice as many people visiting coffee shops on a near-daily basis, as when compared to the footfalls in 2009.
With the growing network of coffee chains like Tesco, Starbucks and Safeway on one end, and rise in specialty cafes and niche coffee bars which promise to make each coffee experience memorable and remarkable for their sophisticated and cultured patrons on the other end, it is safe to say that the demand for baristas will continue to be high in the coming years.
What is a Barista?
A barista refers to “bartender” or “barman” in Italian. The term was adopted into English eventually, wherein the meaning it entailed also changed slightly. While the baristas in Italy serve all kinds of drinks, most English-speaking countries refer to a barista as a “coffee artist” or someone who prepares and serves espresso and espresso-based drinks on a professional basis, generally in a coffee shop.
Interestingly, the word barista made its way into the German vocabulary with the same meaning, wherein a barista is a man or woman who works at a coffee shop and specializes in taking orders for coffee and serving the same to the customers. Although the term barista is technically in reference to an individual who holds professional training in making espresso, baristas are expected to specialize in executing a wide range of espresso-based drinks – right from simple presses to more sophisticated drinks like espresso, pourover, drip coffee, French press, cold brews, lattes and cappuccinos.
In addition to solid understanding of coffee and coffee-based brews, people skills and effective communication form the core of a barista’s responsibilities. A good barista should be able to describe the flavor profile and aroma notes of various coffee offerings available on the menu, thus helping the customer arrive at a preference they wish to order and are excited to try.
What are the Skills Needed to be a Good Barista?
While the job of a barista may sound rather effortless, commercial coffee-brewing is much more complicated and intensive than home-based coffee-brewing in a Keurig machine. Commercial espresso machines vary in their difficulty level.
Manual espresso machines require higher training, skill-development and aptitude towards understanding the properties of each new batch of coffee, and applying the same to fulfilling the customer’s preference. On the other hand, the automatic and super-automatic espresso machines can ease the barista’s work to a great extent, as these machines only require the beans to be loaded, and the push of a button does the rest.
The skill-set required of a barista changes to a great extent according to the espresso machinery setup and the extent of automation involved along the entire line, from the selection of beans to the final espresso shot.
A barista is supposed to be equipped with the following skills:
- Extensive knowledge about coffee beans, their origin and availability, knowledge about technical specifications like moisture content, rate of degassing, roasting needs, aroma and flavor notes of different types of beans.
- Expertise in carrying out a variety of coffee brewing techniques
- Knowledge about foaming, frothing, steaming of milk for espresso-based coffee drinks.
- Skilful customer service, friendly interaction with the customers.
- Effective communication with team members and customers alike
- Adhering to cleanliness and hygiene standards, aside from maintaining a sanitary workspace.
What are the Career Growth Prospects for a Barista?
The learning happens typically on the job – most baristas start working with a smaller skill set at coffee houses, where they are initially given smaller roles and responsibilities, and are needed to gather some insight into the business and work culture. Once they hone their level of understanding and show talent in terms of role advancement, their managers or business owners shoulder the responsibility of training them so they can be “put on bar” to grow into an expert barista eventually.
Some coffee chains provide access to advanced courses and formal training sessions to baristas once they show promise and gain some working experience in their outlets.
The majority of high-end coffee houses seek to recruit more experienced baristas to run their operations, which tend to be more specialized and niche-intensive job roles, like creating unique coffee blends, trying more advanced roasting techniques, novel brewing methods and offering distinct coffee drinks.
What is a Barista’s Job Description?
Roles and Responsibilities
- Greeting the customers, taking orders, answering any questions put across by customers in a patient, informative manner.
- Preparation of the coffee and coffee-based drinks exactly as ordered and as per organizational standards.
- Serving the orders in a timely and friendly manner.
- Sample new coffee beans, grinds and coarseness, brews etc
Sometimes, the baristas are also expected to carry the following tasks, based on the job description and industry needs:
- Accept and process payments at the cash register.
- Prepare foods items on the menu, like sandwiches, bagels, pretzels etc and serve the same to customers.
- Predict, assist with and manage inventory
- Observe day-wise consumption patterns, customer preferences and forecasting demand blueprint.
- Cleaning and stocking consumer area, before shop opening and after service closes.
How Much Does a Barista Earn?
The salaries, tips and profit sharing percentages vary according to years of experience, interpersonal skills, demand, the place of residence and employing company etc, but the following statistics can be used as reference.
The average hourly pay for a barista is USD 10.37, wherein the standard hourly rates can vary between USD 8 – USD 14. According to the data assimilated from 3527 individuals, PayScale determined that the bonuses can range from anywhere between USD 2 – USD 2367 and the profit sharing varies between USD 74 – USD 5,037. This results in the final annual salary (inclusive of hourly wage, tips, commissions, overtime, bonuses, profit sharing and any other cash earnings), or Total Pay ranging between USD 18,026 – 29,876.
Barista earnings are reported to be the highest in San Francisco, California (37% higher than the national average), followed by New York and Seattle, Washington bearing 27% and 26% higher than the national average respectively.
A study by Indeed reported that only 24% of baristas residing in the United States consider the pay levels sufficient for covering the cost of living in the area they live in. This signifies the need for career growth and gaining expertise as a barista for greater job satisfaction.
Safeway, Inc. is reported to pay the highest salaries in the industry at USD 12.51, followed by Peet’s Coffee and Target Corporation at USD 12. While the coffee chains like Starbucks and kiosks like Dunkin Donuts are more widespread and found everywhere, their pay levels are lower at USD 10.27 and USD 9.76 respectively.
How Does Pay Change with Experience Levels?
An interesting statistical study in United States reports that while nearly 16% of baristas are in the entry level right now, about 67.4% are in their early careers and 11% are serving in their mid-career stage. Only 5.4% of total baristas in the country are qualified as experienced baristas, where as about 0.5% are in their late career stage.
This throws light upon the fairly recent rise of coffee culture and the advent of large coffee-retail chains like Starbucks, Costa Coffee etc. While the presence of coffee pubs in Italy and other European countries dates back to 17th century or even earlier, the role of baristas in the modern times has somewhat been limited to offering specialized coffee drinks, which means that there is ample scope for growth and evolution for baristas in the times to come.
What are the Different Training and Development Possibilities for Baristas?
While it is possible to develop the skills needed for one to be a entry-level barista, most competent baristas gain proficiency while learning on the job, and as taught by their long-standing supervisors. Maestro baristas – called so owing to their expertise – pride themselves on the focused techniques and skills they’ve honed over several years to craft faultless coffee drinks.
The baristas with more years of expertise are often given the responsibility to train the new baristas. The training can vary as per need and demand, ranging from making usual coffee varieties, to creating specialized or artistic coffee drinks like latte. It could also involve the usage of sophisticated machinery, or invention of signature brews for the coffee shop.
Creation of specialty drinks is a sought-after skill in baristas, as more and more coffeehouses look for a way to innovate their offerings, as a response to the staggering competition from other coffee shops. While the heart and leaf motifs on the latte cups are a common sight, several experienced baristas are recognized for their ability to create artworks on a cup of coffee in a flawless manner.
Such creativity and flair has high demand in this field, as it takes much more than steaming and pouring milk on hot coffee – executing more complex designs require technical knowledge as well as several hours of patience and practice.