Some might say that a barista is just another kind of food service worker, but if you’ve ever given it a try, you know that’s not true. Making the perfect cup of coffee is a skilled craft. That means that along with all the basic customer service skills that any public-facing job calls for, baristas need an entire skill set that will help them meet their customer’s needs.
Whether you’re a barista now, you hope to become one soon, or you just want to brush up on some skills for impressing guests, here are eight of the most important skills that any barista will need.
Top 8 Barista Skills
1. Learn to Talk Beans
Skill is a combination of knowledge and application—and that means you’ll have to have some base knowledge first. You don’t need to know everything about coffee to be a good barista, but you should know the basics of different types of beans and roasts, different processing techniques, and how those will affect flavor. This goes beyond just knowing what’s on your menu—if you have the background knowledge to talk to a customer who doesn’t know what they want, you’ll be miles ahead of your peers.
2. Make the Perfect Grind
Baristas are grinding all day. You’ll want to grind it as soon as possible before you brew it so that it has the freshest flavor. The perfect grind depends on the bean, the customer’s preferences, and your grinder. Calibrating a grinder is tricky, and you’ll probably need to adjust yours on the fly.
Tools are key here—a cheap grinder won’t ever get the uniformity needed here. If your coffee is too bitter, you’ve ground it too finely, while a sharp or sour flavor means that it is too coarse. You’ll also want to keep your hopper full—it needs the weight of a full load of beans to keep it feeding properly.
3. Know How to Tamp
Tamping creates a uniform surface that gives your brew the even flavor your customer is looking for. If espresso isn’t properly tamped, the hot water will seep through the less compact areas first, so it will brew unevenly. Before you start, take care in distributing your grounds. Then you’ll want to use a firm wrist and arm to compact the ground coffee. Start with light pressure, then increase the pressure and twist to form a solid, even puck.
4. Maintain Your Machines
There are all sorts of commercial coffee machines out there, and each one has its own needs. If you know your shop’s machines inside and out, you’ll always be invaluable. Learning more about the equipment you use will help you troubleshoot when something goes wrong and make sure that everything is kept clean and functional. Along the way, you can familiarize yourself with all the settings and options that will help you tailor the brew to your needs.
5. Build Your Mental Menu
As a barista, you’ll need to know how to prepare a staggering amount of drinks. If you’re constantly having to second-guess yourself or look up what goes into a less common drink, you’ll waste your time as well as the customers’ time. Each drink has its own components, including ingredients, processing, and pouring techniques. Whether you’re making something simple or complex, you’ll always want to make the task look effortless.
6. Build Up Your Latte Art Skills
Instagram-worthy latte art is a skill on its own and one that you should build up over time. Even if you don’t have the time to make an intricate portrait, you’ll still be able to pay attention to the aesthetic of the drinks you’re making. An even, attractive pour makes a big difference in the professionalism of the drink and beautiful, simple latte art can make you stand out from the crowd. Don’t try to do too much too fast—master the basics first and then expand your skills slowly over time.
7. Keep a Clean Workspace
Hygiene should go without saying, but in the rush of a busy morning, it can be hard to remember to keep a clean workspace. Every workspace has its own system, but a halfhearted cleaning job can have major consequences. You’ll also want to give the impression your café runs smoothly and professionally. A sloppy workspace—even one that technically meets safety standards—can turn off customers and erode trust in your brand.
8. Organize Your Tools
Having a well-organized workspace will make everything else run a little smoother. All of your tools—from your measuring cups and scales to your tampers and grinders—should have their own places. Just picking a spot isn’t enough—you should have things that you use often in easy reach, and organize in a way that’s intuitive and easy to keep up. If a system is too complicated or difficult, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll stop following it and make do without a system. Make sure that you always have everything you need handy so that you aren’t scrambling.
All of these skills are vital parts of becoming a barista, but if you’re just starting out, there’s really only one that’s crucial—an eagerness to learn and practice. Every skill comes when you combine the right techniques with enough practice to make it second nature, and these skills aren’t any different. No matter where you are on your journey, you should be pushing yourself to try new techniques, master weak skills, and level up your abilities.
Featured Image Credit: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock