Being a barista is the most glamorous job in the coffee industry, and many people want to become baristas based on a romanticized image of what they think it’s like. It’s partially true, and the best parts of the job – brewing coffee, pulling shots, creating latte art – are fun and rewarding. However, there are many aspects of the job that people don’t consider when they decide they want to become a barista.
In this article, we’re going to pull back the curtain and give you a sense of what it’s really like to be a barista. We’ll cover the fun stuff and the not-so-fun stuff, so you have a clear picture of what being a barista entails, and we’ll also give you some concrete tips on how to become a barista if you think it’s the job for you.
What Skills Does a Barista Need to Have?
Suppose you ask someone what a barista needs to know to do their job well. The odds are high that they’ll give you a laundry list of coffee-related skills like mastery of standard brewing methods, knowledge of coffee origins and roasts, and familiarity with expert espresso techniques. Those are all important skills and information for baristas to know, but there are also a ton of non-coffee-related skills that most people don’t think about.
General Barista Skills
1. Customer Service
Baristas are sometimes the frontline employees in a coffee shop, and a customer’s experience is often determined mostly by their interaction with a barista. Smaller coffee shops don’t usually have dedicated staff running the counter, so baristas need to have well-developed interpersonal skills to ensure customers feel valued and that their needs get met.
It’s surprisingly difficult to keep a smile on your face when you’re having a bad day or when it gets busy, but it’s extremely important to be able to face every customer with a smile and make them feel special. Some people think that others are naturally personable and that it’s impossible to develop people skills. This is true to some extent, but everyone can practice and improve their people skills with dedication and patience, and it’s essential if you want to become a barista.
One of the best ways to make customers feel important is by remembering small details about them. Customers will talk to you, and if you remember to ask about their trip to Hawaii, that will go a long way to making them feel at home in your café. A great way to remember small details about your customers is to keep index cards for regular customers where you can jot important information about them to call back to later.
2. Attention to Detail
This is related to the last point but is more specific. Customers want what they order and tend to be unhappy if they get something else. When you’re trying to prepare several drinks at once during the busy morning rush, it can be extremely difficult to remember everyone’s order. You need to be able to juggle several orders at once without forgetting if the cold brew goes with the strawberry doughnut or the lemon cake.
3. Basic Maintenance and Troubleshooting Ability
If the grinder stops working in the middle of lunchtime, you need to be able to think on your feet and fix it if it’s a small problem. Of course, seriously broken equipment requires a professional maintenance person to fix, but small, easily fixable problems are often a barista’s responsibility, especially in smaller shops.
4. Sell the Customers on New Products
This is one of the most difficult skills a barista must have if they want to be successful. If management notices that revenue is down during your shifts, you’re going to have a tough time keeping the job.
There’s an incredibly fine line between introducing customers to new products they might like and pestering them with cheesy sales lines. If you want to upsell your customers, you have to be subtle and targeted. The best customers to upsell are regulars since you know what they like and can suggest they try something similar. Getting a feel for how and when to go for an upsell or push a new product takes a lot of experience and attention to detail.
1. Know the Equipment
Every coffee shop uses slightly different equipment, but the general pieces are always the same, and you need to know how everything works so you can use the equipment effectively and fix small problems when things go wrong.
Specific knowledge of individual machines isn’t necessary until you start working at a specific café, but having a general working knowledge of coffee grinders, espresso machines, and water heating systems is something that will benefit you while you’re applying. If you’ve only brewed coffee at home, you can get a leg up on other amateur baristas if you show you are familiar with the equipment you’ll have to use in a professional setting.
2. Brewing Skills
Knowing how to brew coffee in a wide variety of ways is probably not a problem for you if you aspire to be a barista. Still, there’s always something new to learn, and every barista has a favorite brewing method that they’re most familiar and comfortable with. At a bare minimum, you should know how to brew a basic pour-over in something like a Hario V60, how to make French press coffee, and how to make cold brew. These three brew methods are the three most popular ways coffee shops brew their coffee, and often cafés will offer all three on their menus.
How to pull excellent shots of espresso is something any barista worth their salt will know like the back of their hand. If you don’t know how to make espresso, you’ll be at a severe disadvantage when applying for a job as a barista. Espresso drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos usually make up a significant portion of a coffee shop’s orders, so it is vital that you can make them in your sleep. When the shop is packed with customers, you have to be able to make a cappuccino without referencing how much milk to use.
Espresso poses a real challenge for many up and coming baristas because most don’t have access to the professional-grade equipment they’ll be expected to use. We recommend you familiarize yourself with espresso as much as possible by purchasing an espresso machine in your budget and making as many shots as you can. It won’t be the same as using the fancy coffee shop machines, but it will give you general practice that will make learning on an expensive machine easier.
Deciding to become a professional barista is not something you should do lightly. It takes years of hard work and dedication to develop the varied suite of skills necessary to have a successful career as a barista. Besides the coffee-specific knowledge and skills you need, you also have to be a customer service expert and be able to act quickly to adjust to the ever-changing environment in a busy café.
If you choose to apply for barista jobs, you need to make sure you have the right mindset going in that can help you stand out from the crowd. Everyone who applies for barista positions loves coffee, so you need to show that you’ve prepared in other ways and that you have a deep understanding of all aspects of the job.
We hope this article has helped you gain a better perspective of what goes into being a barista and has given you some ideas on what skills you need to work on so you can be poised to land your dream job!
Featured Image: Porapak Apichodilok, Pexels