What Is A Barista 

 February 10, 2018

By  Enda McLarnon

In its most simple form a barista is a person who makes coffee, primarily by using espresso as the base for all the many types of coffee drinks. In the United Kingdom this is the name given to people who work in coffee shops and have completed some form of training.

We will all be familiar with them as they work in shops like Cafe Nero, Costa and Starbucks to name but a few. Now to say that they make espresso based coffee is a very simple and very basic description, and like any job, it is of course more complex than that.

In fact if you offered this barista job description to any barista, they would feel insulted.

It is a bit like saying an engineer works with metal, or a carpenter works with wood. There are of course some very basic baristas out there who seem unhappy working in some of the chain coffee stores. I am sure that you have encountered a few of them from time to time.

The majority though, and I known a lot of them, treat their coffee making as a profession, and even an artful profession.

barista making coffee

How Long Do You Need To Train To Be a Barista?

I am probably going to upset some baristas out there by answering this question. It is certainly one of those questions that people take quite seriously.

Some people say a weekend of intense training can do the job. Personally I think that is ambitious. Starbucks baristas that I know do a 2-week training program, and also serve time in the store learning the skills.

The best way to describe this is that it will depend on many things. It will of course depend on the learning capability of the individual, their enthusiasm and their dedication.

It also depends on what is expected of them by the owner of the coffee store or chain. They all have different standards.

My best friend is a great barista, and her words to me were, " a good barista is always learning." I would have to agree with that.

Baristas do of course have regional championships, country championships and even a world championship. So many of these people are dedicated to their profession and some say art form.

The reality is that it depends a great deal on where the barista works and then their own dedication to become excellent at what they do. Many coffee shops these days do a lot more than just serve espresso style coffees.

Many shops offer a variety of filtered options, chemex brews, vacuum brewing, pour over and many more. Most of what a barista will learn will almost always be on the job training.

There is usually some type of training provided, but the real learning is done in the store.

Brief History of the Barista Name

The name itself originates from Italy. There it means a bartender, and one that serves drinks including non-alcoholic drinks such as coffee. It is not just about working a machine though and making espresso.

There are many types of coffee drink and a good barista also has to cater to the individual tastes of their end user. The general understanding in the UK, and indeed throughout Europe, is that a barista will use some form of commercial coffee machine to make a wide variety of coffee drinks.

Some people do make this into a career, but the reality is that this is never going to be a high paying job. Many students will do this as a part-time job and it is certainly an interesting one.

As I mentioned earlier the length of training will vary depending on the coffee chain, or the individual coffee store. Making the many different types of coffee drink, and presenting those properly is a skill that takes initial learning, and then a lot of practise.

Depending again on where a barista works, the range of tasks can vary from roasting coffee, grinding the coffee and all the way through to serving the finished product.

an expert barista

Why Do Baristas Say "Pulling An Espresso?"

It is a very interesting term, when most people would say pouring an espresso. The term "pulling an espresso," though does actually make more sense.

 It comes from the very early days of coffee machines, when a handle was pulled to help pump water through the coffee grains.

How Long Does it Take To Pull An Espresso?

Now that we know the term pulling, I guess the nest obvious question is how long does it take to make an espresso.

According to the best baristas in the world making the perfect espresso take between 23-28 seconds.

Do Baristas Weigh the Ingredients for Coffee?

A good barista will weigh every single ingredient. They weigh the coffee grains and they even weigh the water. The principle behind this is of course to make consistently good and high quality coffee.

Have You Ever Heard of a Ristretto?

The only changeable variable in an espresso is the length.

  • A ristretto is a short or reduced espresso
  • A Normale is a normal espresso
  • A Lungo is a long espresso.

Baristas adjust the coffee grind but pulls exactly the same shot for all of these types. As an example a ristretto would have an extra fine grind where the water would travel very slowly through the grains.

Grande vs Piccolo?

Many coffee buyers, and I was one of them, who believed that if I ordered a "Grande," I was getting extra caffeine. That is not actually the case and if you want that you should ask for an extra shot of espresso.

These bigger cup sizes simply leave more room for additional water or milk.

Enda McLarnon

Enda McLarnon has a Business Management Honour's Degree and applies his professional insight, to analyse and write helpful product reviews with tips and useful advice. I am also a coffee lover and enjoy tasting all of the coffee types the world has to offer.

Enda McLarnon

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