17 February 2017

The best baristas - you know the ones that throw mean latte art, know the latest brew methods, can talk for days about provenance and process - these folks are universally obsessed with the craft and keep learning throughout their careers. It’s impossible to be the link between professional coffee world and its consumers without up-to-date knowledge. But also by being the person who actually brews coffee and serves it, the barista is given a unique chance and responsibility for giving the final shape to the fruit of coffee farmers’ work. Even the best coffee may not work without the suitable presentation.

Coffee skills take practice to develop. There are several decent paths to quality barista training, even if coffee isn't part of your professional life. You can speed up the learning process with a trainer’s help or that of a fellow barista who can help push you to challenge yourself. If you work in a cafe, the roastery you use may also be able to help. If you’re serving Volcano in your cafe or restaurant you’re very lucky here, as we are known for delivering professional training tailored for specific cafe needs as a way to support our wholesale clients. For the most official form of training, you may consider taking up the SCAE diploma which contains six modules: Introduction to Coffee, Barista Skills, Brewing, Sensory Skills, Green Coffee and Roasting. The actual certification is issued when the required total of points is earned so you can choose the modules that you are interested in. If you’re unsure about your coffee career path, it’s good to begin with Introduction to Coffee as helps clarify where your interests may lie.

Thankfully you don’t need a professional lab or a lot of kit to excel as a coffee expert. Great coffee is all about tasting and making adjustments for the best flavour. To practice cupping or even brewing a Chemex, you don’t need the most expensive grinders or filtration methods. Use what you have on hand and experiment a bit to make the most out of it.

If you need to improve your commercial coffee skills, first take a look around your coffee shop to understand the workflow. Can anything be improved or rearranged to prepare great coffee more efficiently? Try a few changes. Are there any new baristas who are just learning the basics? Some of them may want to become your new trainees. When you help others by training or coaching them, you not only help to expand the specialty coffee scene but also giving your own abilities a stronger foundation that will help you enjoy coffee more and take it even further.

Technical ability is not everything. Great baristas shouldn’t forget how important it is to be sociable and curate a relaxed atmosphere. Without that, the quality drinks or great knowledge alone may not be enough. People go to cafes to be somewhere outside of their day-to-day experience and have a great time. Perhaps you've come across a grumpy barista at some point and you remember how it affected your cafe visit. It is crucial that a good barista doesn’t give attitude to his or her guests or other staff.

Other people’s passions can fuel us to do even more, so it’s very important to engage with and be a part of the coffee industry. While working in a cafe you probably chat with coffee geeks everyday, but still it’s worthwhile to go to as many cuppings and talks as you can. Sign up for a latte art or Aeropress competition - they are probably easier than you think. If you like to organise stuff, maybe you should hold a Latte Art Smackdown in your cafe?

Regardless of your abilities and knowledge, there is always much more to learn and explore as the industry grows and conducts more research and wacky experimentation. Don’t let yourself stagnate and get stuck with thinking you have learnt enough. Keep on finding ways to improve, help others to nurture their passion and share your own!