A few years ago, almost nobody was asking how to be a barista. Coffee has gone through a very interesting set of changes over the last few years, however. Whether it’s due to the internet, the explosion of Starbucks, or the rise of a new generation is a mystery. No matter what the reason is, there’s no denying that we’ve seen an uptick in highly skilled individuals working at local coffee shops.
So how do you become one of these coffee superstars? Here’s a quick rundown on what obstacles you’ll need to overcome in your journey to become a professional barista.
What Is A Barista?
The technical definition of “barista” is “a person whose job it is to prepare and serve coffee.” These days, being a barista usually involves making lots of espresso and specialty drinks for customers at a coffee shop. Espresso machines are complicated instruments that require both skill and practice to operate. In order to draw a perfect shot of espresso every time, baristas have to practice for many weeks, months, or years. Despite this, it’s not too difficult to get a job as a barista with little more than a high school diploma.
Getting Your Barista License
In most states and cities there’s no need for any dedicated barista certification to work as a barista. You simply have to follow the normal laws and regulations for any job that handles food. This usually means that you can apply for a barista job right away, with no formal classes or schooling. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, however. Other applicants to the same job may have enrolled in professional training or have experience working at large coffee chains. Be sure that you have the right combination of enthusiasm and skills to make yourself competitive.
Starting Out Small
You don’t have to start working for the cool coffee stop at the corner right away. Many baristas get their start working for a large chain like Starbucks or Peets. These chains tend to expect less experience and knowledge from their new employees, making them an excellent way for you to get your feet wet. Even if you’re not a Starbucks regular, you’ll gain a lot of valuable insight into the process of making coffee on professional equipment.
It’s worth noting that getting a job at Starbucks isn’t the only way to get real-world practice on an espresso machine. Many higher-end restaurants have an espresso machine that they use for making coffee drinks for their customers. If you get a job as a waiter or waitress (or bartender) at one of these restaurants your duties might include pulling shots of espresso for your diners. Being a waiter is somewhat different than being a barista, but at some restaurants, it can pay much better due to tips. If you already have experience working as a waiter you might be able to simply move to a location with an espresso machine to get a bit of practice working with coffee.
Try Things At Home
If you want to be a full-time barista you’ll have to make a huge array of coffee drinks. The best way to practice is to purchase a cheap or used espresso machine and start making drinks for yourself at home. It won’t be quite the same as a real professional environment, of course, but you’ll be able to learn skills like tamping and practice your milk pours in a pressure-free environment. You can start practicing before you apply for any jobs at all or after you’ve started work — it’s your choice! If you practice before you start work, however, you’ll have a big advantage over other applicants with no experience on an espresso machine.
Turn To The Internet
The explosion of coffee’s popularity as an artisan drink has been fueled by easy access to information on the net. Take advantage of this and find free educational materials online in order to jumpstart your learning process. You can find lots of content from world barista champions, successful shop owners, and the companies that make espresso machines. You can also find free online courses aimed at both professional and home baristas. While you won’t get a certificate or license from doing this sort of online self-training, you’ll learn lots of things much faster than you would on your own.
Have Realistic Expectations
Before you dedicate your life to becoming a barista, it’s worth taking a few minutes to make sure you actually know what a barista does. Take some time to find out how much they get paid, what hours they work, and what dealing with a rush of customers is like. Being a barista is a rewarding, skilled job at times and a frustrating experience at others. While you’ll get to be around coffee all day and you’ll have wonderful times with your pleasant customers, your current education and experience may qualify you for a better paying job. Be smart!
Being A Barista
The most important qualities that coffee shops look for in baristas are their attention to detail, work ethic, and reliability. These factors all shine through when you examine the typical workday of a barista in detail.
The primary duty of a barista is to make drinks for customers. Baristas are expected to be efficient, accurate, and competent when it comes to this task. You’ll have to nail complicated customer orders while wrestling with complex equipment in order to produce a product that’s as much art as it is science. While this task is difficult enough on its own, you’ll have to do it many, many times under quite a lot of time pressure. You’ll have to clean up after yourself, too, so that the other people who share your work environment can make drinks for other customers.
Baristas often have to attend to a register, interact with customers, and clean up around the shop. This is no different from pretty much any other retail job, but it’s worth noting that you’ll almost certainly have to do all of these things at some point. Your boss will expect you to be both cheerful and diligent in all of these interactions.
Finally, the most important quality in any employee is showing up for work with the right attitude. Baristas can work some pretty gnarly hours in order to accommodate the early morning coffee rush. If you’re not a morning person you may want to make that very clear on your application or find a different job. As a barista, you’ll be expected to get up bright and early to open up shop and make coffee for everyone else. If you can do this while staying cheerful and competent you’ll have a big leg up on the competition.
How Much Do Baristas Make?
The amount of pay you’ll receive as a barista depends on where you work and how generous your customers are with tips. According to many surveys, however, the average hourly rate for a barista is about $10. You can expect to make an extra dollar or two per hour in tips and a few extra bucks with overtime hours every once in a while, but you shouldn’t necessarily count on it.
Of course, this varies quite a lot based on location and experience. Working at a high-end coffee shop in a rich neighborhood with lots of potential overtime can be very, very lucrative. It’s important to be realistic, however. If you don’t live near a coffee shop like this you’re probably not going to be making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
If it sounds like baristas don’t get paid a lot, that’s because they don’t! Before you despair entirely, however, bear in mind that most baristas work for chains like Starbucks. This means that there will be a strong skew in the data towards what Starbucks pays their entry-level workers, which isn’t much. Ask your local coffee shop how much they pay their baristas for a more realistic estimate.
Becoming A Barista The Right Way
While there’s no need for a professional license or barista certification to get hired by your local coffee shop, that doesn’t mean you can just walk in and get a job right away. The best way to become a barista is to gain some experience first. This might involve working at Starbucks (or another major chain), buying an espresso machine for your house, waiting tables at a restaurant with an espresso machine, and consuming lots of educational content on the internet. While you don’t have to do all of these things, performing some combination of these tasks will give you a big advantage over other applicants and give you the best chance of landing your dream job as a barista.