Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Ideal Barista

Bullet points on becoming a Spro Barista.

Over the years, I've enjoyed the opportunity to train baristas near and far, for my own companies and for others. Training can be fun and exciting, but it can also be challenging and frustrating. Whether it's to my own standard or someone else's or to a more general standard, the training environment is always interesting and unpredictable, though I do find it a bit more difficult training people to a standard more open to interpretation, like the SCAA standards.

Within our own world, the standards become more defined and the sway room more narrow. When training to a specific standard, one can be more rigorous and exacting and I kinda prefer it that way.

However, standards do change from time to time and year to year. The more we learn, the more we refine what we do and that standard changes. It's most evident in my own baristas - whether from Jay's Shave Ice or Spro. Now that I've got eight years of training experience behind me, I can look back on our baristas and see the evolution of our style and standards.

While we continually push ourselves to become better and we retrain certain aspects of technique, I can look upon each barista and see details of their style and technique that says what era of our company they learned the craft. Perhaps it's a little flair here, or a particular tamping style there, but it's obvious to my eyes.

The interesting thing is that while the techniques may have evolved, the general base standard for preparation has not. Whether we're talking 2004 or 2010, we're still looking at a base standard espresso of 1.75-2.0 ounces, delivered in 25-29 seconds. The goal remains the same while the way we reach that goal has evolved.

Jeremy teaches Mia and Mia the AeroPress.

I got to thinking about this the other day after I had assigned the training of new baristas to our current baristas. Our new training program now begins with 20 hours of basic instruction and then a minimum 20 hours production experience before a candidate will be eligible to take the barista examination - a four hour marathon of coffee making that comprises both oral and practical skills.

After the new candidate's first day, I was working in the lab the next morning when I noticed the notes written on the white board.

I've long pondered exactly what the baristas I instruct learn and pickup. While I may talk about hospitality, accommodating the customer, hyper-excellent quality and doing whatever it takes for the customer to leave feeling "stoked" about visiting us, one can never be sure if they're absorbing it verbatim (as much as I would prefer it to be digested verbatim) of if I'm missing the boat completely.

The notes on the white board were a fascinating journey into how one barista has internalized, digested and then communicated "our way of doing things" to the next generation of barista. In reading the notes, part of me is touched, part of me is amused, part of me is honored and even a part of me is a little bit horrified. "Is this how they are interpreting my words?" Yet, I'm assured on a regular basis by customers that indeed they have digested my teachings while interpreting it through the prism of their own experiences.


Casella Brookins said...


chris said...

Being in Europe recently made me realize how big the problem we have here in the US is. The quality of customer experience in the coffee businesses that serve good to great coffee in the US is (on average) terrible. Sure, there are individuals who are great and even some businesses that are trying. But the average customer experience at one of the better coffee bars in the US is (at best) not painful. The coffee is great but DAMN do our people need to learn how to make it about the customer (not about their own needs / ego / issues).

Ryan Soeder said...

I've been mulling over training regimens for the past week or so and this really helps sum up many of my loose ends. The idea that, as long as exacting ends are being met, certain variations (or "flares") in preparation can be forgiven is a very wise approach and one that will keep baristas from feeling like trained monkeys. Thanks for the great read.