Labor is a very expensive line item in the operations of any retail company and specialty coffee is no exception. I’m not just talking about hourly expense, which probably needs more attention then what it’s getting, but I’m mainly talking about training cost.
There are lot of things a barista needs to be trained on but I’ll focus on three main elements: Register/Brew Coffee, Pour Over, Espresso.
For sake of simplicity we can consider this as level one. A new employee will first learn how to charge customers for all the drinks and/or food that is offered while serving them drip coffee brewed in mass. Understanding the menu is not an easy task as drinks for customers can be very unique and customized to their taste (16oz three shot vanilla no foam latte, for example). Charging the customer a price they are familiar with while marking a cup the barista can actually read is a skill that takes practice and time to get comfortable with.
I combined register with brewed (filtered) coffee because if you order a black coffee or house coffee the register employee will usually pour the coffee for you. They are also responsible for making sure the carafe is full of freshly brewed coffee. This means learning how to grind coffee, weigh coffee and clean the equipment used to brew coffee. Training is imperative to maintaining a consistent representation of the coffee shops brand to customers that come in every morning to start their day.
Shortly after level one is mastered an employee will look to master the art of a pour over. While this may only make up a small percentage of cafe sales it’s still a skill that, if not performed correctly, can cause bottlenecks in a line and create frustrated customers who pay more for such a hand crafted beverage (a pour over typically costs a dollar more than just a drip brewed coffee). This skill requires the barista to know how to brew a particular coffee. Different coffees may require different brewing techniques (how much coffee to water ratio, how fine or coarse it’s ground, etc). The coffee used for this method is usually a roasters finest and if it is wasted means more money poured down the drain.
The final skill a barista can master is the espresso bar. This is usually a craft that is considered the master chef position in a cafe. The barista at the espresso bar needs to know everything above mixed with how to pull a shot of espresso (which in a specialty coffee shop is not just pushing a button like you’ll see in a Starbucks or Caribou), steam milk to right temperature and texture, pour the correct ratio of milk to espresso while crafting all the ingredients as requested by the customer.
Latte art is part of this skill and helps showcase the barista’s ability to free pour the milk onto the espresso while maintaining the correct milk to espresso ratio (a cappuccino requires less milk and more froth while a latte requires more milk and less froth). So when you get a cappuccino with a leaf or heart you are getting a hand crafted beverage from a barista who takes their skill seriously.
Last thing I want to mention, which should be a part of a company culture and not just a training program, is everyone employed by the cafe should practice the art of customer service. Sometimes the job can be demanding and demeaning. Not all customers are polite or respectful to their baristas.
So, the next time you are at your local specialty coffee shop and you receive a delicious beverage with great customer service don’t forget to tip your barista.