Seven Things Every Barista Needs to Know

by Tanner Sheffield

Know your coffee

You’re working at a coffee shop (or hopefully will be starting soon!).  You need to know your coffee! Some of your customers are going to come in and order their "flat white, one ristretto, extra hot every day."  Some people are going to come into your coffee shop for the first time ever and come to you with all their coffee questions! You need to know the difference between an Ethiopian bean and a Colombian.  You need to be able to explain the difference between a wet and a dry cappuccino. Do yourself a favor and educate yourself.

If you’re already working at a coffee shop, great!  Make sure to taste everything on the menu. I mean really taste it.  Was that blueberry or plum that you were tasting in the Ethiopian? Take your time and really break everything down.  Ask your coworkers the difference between a wet and a dry cap, and then taste both of them side by side to see which ones you like more!  You are the face of your shop. Be an expert!

If you’re an aspiring barista, that’s great too!  Head down to your favorite shop and chat with the baristas already working there.  Talking about coffee is one of our favorite things to do! Come with questions, an open mind, and an open palette.  Who knows, maybe by getting to know the baristas and the coffee, you might help your chances at landing a job in your favorite coffee spot.

Know your milk

Okay, this one is so very important.  The milk affects the flavor of your drinks as much as the espresso you put in them, sometimes even more.  You might know that milk scalds at 180 degrees F (82 C), but do you know what that feels like in the pitcher?  Do you know what that tastes like or sounds like? Know what temperature your shop wants you to steam the milk to (mine shoots for 140-150 degrees) and double check you’re doing it right with a thermometer every so often.  

Know your customer

Not every customer is the same.  Some people want to stumble through at 0 dark 30 in the morning, grab their rocket fuel, and head off to work.  Other people want to chat and tell you about their day with a coffee on the side. Take the time to listen to people’s tone and body language and meet them where they’re at.  You want to give every single person the best possible experience, and that’s going to be different person to person.

Present yourself well

You are the face of your coffee shop, and everything you wear, say, and do reflects on that.  Give yourself extra time in the morning to dress well. Even if you have a uniform, still take it upon yourself to wear it well.  Make sure you don’t come across as grumpy or rude when speaking with a customer, and always smile!

Clean as you go

I kid you not, this is one of the most important things you can do to be a more efficient employee.  That extra 2 seconds you take to wipe a counter or do a few dishes makes a world of difference. A little cleaning between orders goes a long way to help make sure the shop isn’t thrashed at the end of a rush.  Even if you have a line of tickets from the time you clock on to the time you lock the doors, make sure you always keep your station clean.

Know yourself

Just like the customers who come through your shop, every barista is unique. Everyone is going to have their strengths and weaknesses. Are you super bubbly and fun and thrive while working register?  Can you knock out 72 drinks before anyone blinks? Do you have the most beautiful and consistent latte art in your shop? Know yourself and focus on what you’re good at.  Try to grow a little every day. Even if you’re new and trying to learn as fast as you can, there’s a lot you can contribute to the shop. Be yourself every day, learn, grow, and have fun while you’re at it!

Love what you do!

That brings me to my last point.  Love what you do. Working at a coffee shop is a great experience.  There’s so much to learn and so much to do. Whether you’re a latte artist who takes pride in their tulips and swans or a coffee connoisseur who just can’t wait to try the new Burundi bean that’s arriving in your shop next week, love it!  Take pride in it! It truly is a gift to be able to work in such a great environment.

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