Barista was my entryway into the coffee world, and I worked at it for years. It is one of the most fantastic jobs in the world because you get to interact with hundreds of people daily and positively impact their lives. The repetitive nature of drink-making also appealed to my desire to work at something with steady improvement over time; I found it to be a zen practice in pursuing perfection. Making coffee is an easy part of the job and can be mastered through daily practice. However, the barista craft’s more challenging and valuable aspect is your social and societal role.
The need for new and improved barista tools is dwindling as most improvements have already been made. Any effort in the innovation of barista tools will be focused on automation. Thus, the top two things a barista should focus on to improve their craft and secure their position in coffee service’s future are sensory skills and solidifying their opinion. These may sound like esoteric must-haves, so allow me to explain.
All money and tech innovation are geared toward renovation and the exclusion of the human element; therefore, it is essential to improve the skills only a human can possess. Many baristas can create latte art, pull a decent shot and take your money; however, very few can dial in a coffee according to flavor and genuinely understand the difference a couple of seconds can make in an extraction. Even fewer baristas have enough understanding of the regional flavor characteristics of a single origin to have a point of view on how best to highlight the natural attributes of a given coffee. This skill can separate a good reliable barista from a stand-out barista who draws a crowd during their shifts. Taking these skills further and creating drink combinations and pairings adds more value to the customer experience. This brings me to my next point.
Having an opinion and a strong point of view as a barista is incredibly beneficial. The ability to interact with a customer and suggest a coffee or food pairing is crucial. Amazon can make recommendations based on past purchase history; however, a barista makes suggestions based on personal taste and experience, which is always more valuable. Humans buy from other humans, and they like the idea of taking an adventure based on a suggestion from someone they trust. So, make sure you taste all the food in your cafe so you can speak about it. Also, take the time to taste every coffee you brew daily to ensure it is brewed properly and you know best how to pair it. With these two skills, you will keep your position despite the rise in automation.
Barista has become more of a cultural position of importance, the same way a barkeep in Britain or a priest or rabbi is in many communities. If Mr Rogers made television for adults, he would have visited his local cafe and chatted up the barista more than he would spend time gabbing with the mailman. We are the people in your neighborhood.