I am at the Hotelympia show at the moment having a great time. Yesterday I was talking to John Gordon and Gwilym Davies about coffee and all the usual stuff baristas talk about. It got me thinking a little about what a good barista is and what it takes to become a good barista. Are the people who compete in a championship and do well good baristas? Simply because they know how to make a good cup of coffee? Does it mean that when you can do latte art you are a good barista?
The answer for me has come to me yesterday. For the last few days I have poured every drink right in front of the customer, as close as possible. I made Gwilym a coffee and he came really close to me to put a bit of pressure on I guess (it made no difference as my hands were shaking anyway because of all the coffee I drunk that day :) ) It was great and got us talking about latte art. Pouring latte art is great but ONLY if you can do it right in front of the customer. Pouring latte art on the back counter out of sight just doesn’t have the same impact. And pouring it too perfect will make your customer think that it was the machine that did it. Does it make you less of a barista if you can not pour it in front of your customer? No, I don’t think so.
Many people often ask me to make them a coffee. Especially when I go visit them. The problem is that I have no idea how the machine or grinder is calibrated, how old the coffee is and how the coffee is behaving. You can’t just simply walk up to a machine unknown of the coffee and the settings and make a great cup. A good barista knows how to calibrate a machine, not just how to make a cup of coffee. To me, this is one of the most important things that a barista should know: how to calibrate a machine (grinder, espresso machine etc.). This is why it takes me sometimes 10 minutes to make the first cup, and sometimes 30 minutes if I have to clean the machine first.
Another very important factor that makes a barista good at his/her job is the ability to talk. To me it is so important to talk to your customer and to bring across what it is that you are doing. Simply making someone a great coffee is fine and the coffee will surely taste good. If you can make it into a show somehow then the coffee will suddenly become wonderful. I learned this the other day when Colin came for a training course. Colin is a magician and did some tricks on me that I still don’t get :). He pointed out that it is not so much the trick itself but the presentation around it. And I so agree! A barista becomes a lot better when he can make a big show out of whole thing.
So, don’t simply pour some latte art but show it off, right under the nose of your customer. Start a dialog and get your passion across. Know how to calibrate your equipment, know your coffee and be able to make the coffee taste anyway your customer likes. Do all these things, and of course SMILE, and in my eyes you are a great barista. (don’t worry though, I love anyone who is interested in learning more about coffee).