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Coffee Careers: What Is a Barista?

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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Whenever you've visited your favorite coffee shop, I'm sure you've found your trusty barista, that whizz kid behind those perfect lattes, cappuccinos and espressos. But, have you ever taken a moment to ask: What is a barista?

Whenever you’ve visited your favorite coffee shop, I’m sure you’ve found your trusty barista, that whizz kid behind those perfect lattes, cappuccinos and espressos. But, have you ever taken a moment to ask: What is a barista?

Ask no more! Today, I’m exploring the ins and outs of this fun coffee career by diving into the world, skills and passions of the much-loved barista.

Trust me, after reading this, you’ll never look at your morning brew the same way again!

Overview: What Is a Barista?

It may interest you to know that I was once a professional barista. It was what got me enthused about coffee in the first place and got me started on this wild coffee journey. So, if someone asked me today: What is a barista? I’d say that they’re the unsung heroes behind your daily caffeine fix.

But barista-ing isn’t just about pushing buttons on an espresso machine. It’s an art form; a blend of skill and speed, and a deep, deep love for coffee.

The term “barista” originates from Italy and means “bartender.” This makes sense as Italy invented espresso and Italian Angelo Moriondo, the first true espresso machine.

Moreover, in Italian coffee culture, there’s little distinction between places that sell coffee and alcohol. Coffeeshops are actually “bars” and the word “barista” pays homage to the “bartender” who works behind their counters. Besides, the Italian suffix “-ista” denotes a master of their craft, hence “barista,” a master of the bar.

Cup of Joe Today

Since then, the job’s come a long way. The role gained steam in 1970s America with the advent of Seattle’s Starbucks and California’s Peet’s Coffee (now JDE Peet’s).

But it really took off during the 1990s third-wave coffee boom. Back then, a barista was a rare breed, found only in the coolest, niche coffee joints.

Fast forward to today, and being a barista is a bonafide profession. With the rise of specialty coffee culture and a general obsession with artisanal everything, the barista game has truly leveled up.

These days, baristas are the gatekeepers of espresso. They’re also the maestros of milk frothing and overall curators of coffee culture.

Modern-day baristas are also experts in coffee origins, niche brewing and customer service. As you can see, baristas aren’t just about making coffee; they’re all about crafting an unforgettable experience.

Barista Job Description

If you’ve ever wondered what being a barista is like, you’re in for a treat. 

Here’s the lowdown on what a barista does daily:

  • Pull ristretto, normale and lungo espresso shots with the perfect crema and brew coffee worth savoring every time.

  • Steam and froth dairy and nondairy milk to silky perfection.

  • What is a barista without latte art? Customers drink with their eyes first, so an on-the-money latte art game is a must for any barista.

  • Every coffee bean is different; a seasoned barista knows when to dial in the perfect grind size, and how to dose and tamp perfectly.

  • Serve up the smiles and small talk, as well as the coffee! Baristas build up a rapport with regulars and newcomers, making them feel welcome every time.

  • Keep workstations spotless. Baristas carry out regular cleaning and maintenance of equipment to ensure every cup tastes as good as the last.

  • Excellent food handling and safety skills. Baristas have perfected the clean-as-you-go motto to avoid cross-contamination and the proper heating of coffee and steaming of milk to safe temperatures. They also know the correct storage of perishable food items to prevent spoilage and maintain a high level of personal hygiene to avoid customers falling sick.

  • Managing stock and ordering supplies. Running out of beans or milk is a rookie mistake seasoned baristas can’t afford.

  • Baristas know how to hustle during the morning rush. Efficiency is crucial when there’s a line out the door and everyone’s jonesing for their caffeine fix.

What Makes a Good Barista?

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. What distinguishes a run-of-the-mill coffee slinger from a bonafide rockstar barista?

Well, it’s not just about pulling espresso shots or frothing milk to perfection – a whole lot more goes into making a top-tier barista. Let me break it down for you:


Milchschaum Cappuccino

First off, being a barista is all about passion. In fact, this goes to the heart of the question: “What is a barista?”

A great barista is obsessed with coffee. They know their single origins from their blends and Arabicas from Robustas. They can even tell you why that just-brewed Colombian tastes like a chocolate explosion in your mouth.

In reality, baristas are the sommeliers of the coffee world, constantly tweaking and perfecting their brews. More importantly, they’re always willing to keep on top of bean-to-cup advancements in the industry.

Top-Notch Skill and Service

Then there’s the skill. We’re talking mad skills with espresso machines, drip machines, milk frothing and nailing that latte art. Hearts, rosettas, tulips, you name it – once your barista’s done, your coffee should look almost too good to drink.

But it doesn’t stop there. A killer barista has that sixth sense for customer service. They remember your name, your go-to order, and how you like it – extra hot, half-caff, soy milk and all that jazz. Crucially, they make you feel like you’re stepping into your second home every time you enter their coffee shop.

Speed and Efficiency

Caffee Florian Venezia 1720

Speed and efficiency are also crucial to making a barista top-tier. A good barista handles the morning rush like a pro, whipping up quality coffee drinks with lightning speed. They’re multitasking ninjas, keeping the line moving and the vibe upbeat.

In all this, they keep tabs on the count. This includes the takings, inventory management and waste reduction. After all, a coffee shop is a business that must make a profit to remain open.

It’s All in the Attitude

Last but definitely not least, a great barista is all about the attitude. They’re friendly, approachable and maybe a little quirky. They have that jenesaisquoi, that special something that makes you keep coming back for more.

Importantly, a good barista will always bring energy and personality to the job. What is a barista, you ask? A barista is someone who, more than anything, makes your coffee run something to look forward to!

How to Become a Barista

With the advent of fourth-wave coffee, being a barista now has a real sense of prestige. These coffee-obsessed magicians are no longer just baristas – they’re coffee connoisseurs, pushing the envelope on what a cup of joe can be.

But how does one become a barista? Here are a few tips to get you going:

Embrace Coffee Culture

Firstly, you need to immerse yourself in the coffee scene. Hang out at local coffee shops and chat with seasoned baristas. Don’t be shy! Ask them how they got to where they are, as there’s no substitute for doing. Then, make it a point to learn about different brews, and get to know your coffee beans.

Next up, find out about those roast profiles. From New England to American and Vienna to French roast, make it your job to know a little bit about how coffee’s roasted. This way, you’ll learn which coffee flavors go with which preparations. Most importantly, you’ll familiarize yourself with the lingo.

Learn the Basics

Coffee for Espresso Machines Breville

Now, it’s time to get your hands dirty! Start with an entry-level position at an independent café or chain coffee shop. If you’re lucky, you’ll do everything from grinding beans and brewing a cup of joe to pulling espresso shots and frothing milk. After all, being a barista is all about practice.

Join a Training Program

Want to level up faster? Check out barista training courses, preferably Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)-certified. They’ll teach you the nitty-gritty of espresso extraction, milk steaming, coffee brewing and latte art.

You’ll also learn valuable food handling and safety techniques to protect customers’ health. Besides, a certification always looks sweet on your resume when you’re gunning for those barista jobs.

Master Customer Service

A top-notch barista isn’t just a coffee wizard – they’re a people person, too. As such, you’ll need to work on your customer service chops.

Remember regulars’ names and orders, keep things positive and make sure everyone gets the VIP treatment.

What is a barista without a killer smile and some friendly banter, huh? After all, it’s the little things that turn a regular coffee run into a special part of someone’s day.

Stay Sharp and Keep Learning

Coffee Gator Kettle Chemex

The coffee world is constantly evolving. Stay on top of new trends, try different brewing methods, and experiment with flavors. Additionally, join coffee forums, follow coffee gurus on social media, read coffee blogs like this one (wink, wink) and keep pushing your skills.

Barista Competitions

Once you’ve got the basics out of the way, you would do well to get into barista competitions. These events are the secret sauce to leveling up your barista game. How, you may ask?

  • What is a barista without a competitive edge? Competitions sharpen and elevate your brewing skills, and as the saying goes, learning never ends.

  • Barista competitions are a hotbed of talent. You’ll rub elbows with the best in the industry and pick up valuable brewing tips.

  • Winning or even just participating in barista competitions seriously boosts your coffee street cred. This may open doors to promotions and better job opportunities in the future.

Now that I’ve convinced you, here are a few notable barista competitions that should be on your radar:

Latte Art World Championships Open by Coffee Fest

This is the ultimate showdown for baristas to showcase their artistic prowess. The challenges involve creating stunning milk-based designs that are captivating and technically challenging.

To compete, baristas face off in a head-to-head bracket-style tournament. At the end, a panel of expert judges evaluates the art based on symmetry, contrast and design. Winners earn not only bragging rights but also cash prizes and industry recognition.

SCAA US Barista Championships

Barista Competitions

Our very own national showdown. Baristas competing here are one step closer to the world stage. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) hosts this annual competition, giving it credibility.

Coffee geeks compete by showcasing their skills and creating a range of coffee beverages. The competition winner gets to represent the US in the World Barista Championship. Oh, and there’s a juicy cash reward!

SCA World Barista Championships

This one’s for the world’s manual brewing aficionados. It’s all about showcasing different brew methods. The SCA organizes this international competition, also known as the “World Cup of Coffee.”

Various coffee-making preparations test a barista’s creativity, speed and precision skills. It’s no surprise then that winning here is like snagging the gold medal in the coffee world!

Final Thoughts: Baristas Are Coffee’s Ultimate Ambassadors

I think the biggest take away from this blog is that being a barista isn’t just a job; it’s a craft and a lifestyle.

Coffee Shop Culture in Japan

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s a downright calling! You won’t make a good barista if you don’t like coffee and never master the art if you don’t like learning.

So the next time someone asks you, “What is a barista?” tell them this: baristas are those unassuming magicians who turn beans into dreams. And remember, the next time you grab your morning brew, tip your barista well – they’re coffee’s true heroes!

Loved learning about the art and science of being a barista? Whether you’re an aspiring barista or a seasoned professional, I’d love to hear your opinions in our comments section below!

What Is a Barista FAQ

A barista is responsible for crafting a wide variety of coffee beverages. They also manage customer expectations, maintain a clean workspace, handle cash transactions and generally provide an exceptional coffee experience.

While a barista primarily focuses on crafting coffee beverages, they often prepare other hot and cold drinks including teas, hot chocolates and iced and specialty beverages. Many baristas also handle food items like pastries.

A barista’s job description includes preparing and serving various coffee, espresso-based and non-caffeinated drinks, handling food and pastries, maintaining a clean and organized workspace and providing excellent customer service. They also operate, clean and maintain coffee equipment, and educate customers on different coffee blends, brewing methods and coffee gear.

Generally, the term barista is non-gender-specific. But in Italian, a male barista is specifically a baristo (plural: baristi or baristos).

Your coffee expert
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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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