Once upon a time, long ago in cafes everywhere, the barista (if that term existed) was primarily constructing coffee, in whatever form was appropriate for the venue, and chatting to regulars. Those tasks are still required as part of the make-up of the new breed. In the modern world of specialty coffee though, the barista as he or she is known may wear thick-rimmed glasses, be a design student part-time, sport a beard, don a floral dress, or all the preceding. Slowly, quietly though, the barista has evolved for the most part into the consummate professional and the final Quality Control check, ensuring the discerning public get not only their fix, but high-grade coffee served in a manner that once was reserved for fine dining restaurants, all for only a few dollars!
What exactly do the upper echelon of baristas go through to ensure your ‘love in a cup’ is exactly how it should be? What skills do they need to acquire to reach these heights? How does this affect the other parts of the chain with their Quality Control?
Today’s barista has a strong relationship with roasters, often partnering with the best. It’s no longer the case that roasters are the only ones dictating terms and decisions. Good baristas will drive the selection process, liaise with roasters on harvest and shipping times, and keep an interesting array of rotating coffees that are fresh. It’s not unusual to find baristas using terms that are integral for keeping the quality at its best such as ‘current crop,’ ‘new harvest,’ and ‘latest to land.’ Understanding what coffees are on their way, the variety, processing method, flavour profiles and expected characteristics are key for articulating why the coffee tastes right
Baristas can learn how to make their role more focused on quality by taking steps to experiment and taste coffee in different ways, such as the following:
No.1 – Get to know harvest times
No.2 – Understand the roast degree of the coffee they are purchasing and match it with the appropriate brew method
No.3 – Brew according to suggested parameters, then adjust parameters and assess results
No.4 – Acquire some basic home filter equipment, such as hand-grinder, scales, filter cone, to continue learning outside the workplace. There is always more to learn about coffee nuance.
Approach you favourite local barista and ask questions. Most are happy to engage and genuinely excited to impart knowledge.
The barista role is no longer just about the interaction with the end user. The results and feedback of the barista and consumer make it all the way back to the roaster, importer and producer. Consumer preferences and observations on how coffee is performing and received have led to innovations in farming, processing, fermentation, packaging, logistics and clearly roasting.
The challenge now is for the barista to continue to strive for new methods of serving and assessing coffee, for those new to the game to take on these practices. The barista it seems will never again be just a humble server, at least not in ‘Specialty Coffee’, where we live. They are the final ‘Quality Control’ check and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.