So you’re interested in plunging yourself into the world of coffee as a barista, eh?
As someone who was a barista for two years and a manager/trainer for one more, I’m so glad you’re exploring ways to prepare yourself for the position.
Being a barista is rewarding on so many levels. It’s great to create drinks in craftsman style that people will love. Putting smiles on peoples faces is fulfilling. Befriending daily regulars is deeply satisfying.
But it can also be extremely challenging.
I want to help you be as prepared as you can, technically and emotionally for the challenges you’ll face behind the bar. I don’t want you to just be acceptable - I want you thrive.
Let me share five ways you can prepare yourself to do that.
1. Wash Dishes By Hand
I’m completely serious.
Being a barista, unless you work in a crazy busy cafe in a major city that has dedicated dishwashers, means dishes. Lots and lots of dishes by hand.
Get over it.
Accept the challenge to be the quickest and most thorough dishwasher on your team. There are going to be times when the dishes are so piled up that you just want to go home. You’re going to be grateful you learned to suck it up and wash them with rapid speed early on.
No, it’s not glamorous. For most cafes, it’s one of the worst parts of the job. But it’s a small price to pay for the rewards of being a barista.
2. Read Up On Coffee Fundamentals
If you go into your first few weeks of training with a strong foundation of coffee basics, you’re going to progress faster and more smoothly than others who come without researching things beforehand.
There are many things about coffee that you can learn on your own time before you start, and taking the time to work through them yourself can save a lot of time behind the bar.
Now, there’s no need to go crazy with the research and learning (though I know how captivating the rabbit hole can be). Your trainer will teach you everything you need to know. It’s just nice (speaking from a training perspective) if you already understand some things.
Here are some articles I suggest reading at least once before your first day of training:
- Why You Need To Be Drinking Coffee Black (And How To Start)
- Why Your Grinder Is The Most Important Piece of Coffee Gear
- The Difference Between Light, Medium, And Dark Roast Coffee
- How To Read Coffee Packaging Like A Pro
- Why Fresh Coffee Is The Best Coffee
If you look at any of these titles and think, “Nah, I already know that”, read it anyway.
I cover these topics in depth from a specialty coffee perspective. I try to go deeper than most, without losing touch with reality to give you an ultra-clear and effective understanding.
3. Look Out For Great Hospitality
Next time you’re out at your favorite cafe or restaurant, pay attention to the customer service you receive. Ask yourself these questions:
- How did it make you feel when the barista said that?
- Did the waiter do or say anything that made you feel special?
Be mindful of great service.
Let me share with you two customer experience I’ve had.
First, the bad customer experience.
I was sitting at a table, reading a book and drinking coffee. The barista made the last drink for a group, set down his gear, and plopped onto a couch nearby. He pulled out his Nintendo DS and started playing Pokemon.
Now, I loved Pokemon growing up, but seeing this skilled barista put Pokemon over cleaning up the workspace put a bad taste in my mouth.
It made me feel like he was, frankly, lazy,
Don’t ever make your customers feel like you are lazy. That doesn’t generate loyalty or warm feelings.
A great customer experience.
I was enjoying a mug of coffee at a table. I had gotten a glass of water from the self-service water counter, but it was nearly empty. I could see the baristas carefully cleaning their workspace to my left. It was clear by how they spoke and moved that they were intentional and professional.
One of them walked around the counter with a pitcher of water and started filling glasses. When he filled mine, I asked why he was doing that since water was normally self-serve.
He said that he just loves putting a smile on people’s faces, even in small ways like that. He did something he didn’t have to in order to make my life easier. It made me feel cared for and valued.
You’ll learn a lot about hospitality on the job very quickly, but go ahead and start learning from your own experiences.
4. Taste Many Coffees
A big part of your job as a barista will be describing your menu to customers.
- How the drinks are different
- Why you make things certain ways
- What your coffees taste like
That last one will probably be the most important in your cafe. A barista that explains the coffee offerings well is professional, skilled, and captivating. A barista that can’t explain the differences between coffee seems lazy and unequipped.
Don’t be lazy or unequipped, be a barista that gets people excited about the coffee.
I strongly suggest trying out as many coffees as you can. Try coffees from around the world, with different flavor profiles, processed via different methods.
Expose your palate to many different kinds of coffees so you can process and describe your cafe’s coffee offerings quickly and accurately once you try them.
One of the easiest ways to do that is with a specialty coffee subscription. For example, our JavaPresse Coffee Club sends you freshly roasted, specialty-grade beans every other week. We source coffees from farms around the world that are ethically-minded and quality-focused.
Joining the club is a great way to discover a variety of coffee beans, learn to taste them like a pro, and boost your understanding of how great coffee can be. This will lead to you being a more competent barista.
I’m excited for you.
Being a barista is, in my humble opinion, possibly the best retail job in the world. Yes, you still have to face the ups and downs of retail, but you’re doing it alongside incredible coworkers, delicious coffee, and befriended customers.
Good luck and happy brewing!