The Importance of the Barista: A Love Story
The dawn of “Fourth Wave” coffee is breathing down our necks. It seems as though every week now there is some breakthrough or some great new thing happening either at the farm level or in the cafe. When these things happen, it can either be celebrated or cause confusion and conversation from coffee companies as they figure out how to play catch up. It’s interesting however, that despite the trends that come and go in coffee there will always be one thing that stays the same, the barista is very important.
A little over a year ago, Collin Whitacomb wrote an article for the Specialty Coffee Chronicle titled, “Seeking Baristas: A Call to Action for the Coffee Service Professional” In this article, Whitacomb emphasized the importance of quality service in the cafe in order to enhance the overall experience of the customer. Well some time has gone by and that thought is more true now than ever before. Specialty coffee is growing and will continue to grow. As it grows, so will the number of cafes. Which makes the need for great baristas more important now than ever before.
In cities or towns that have multiple coffee options, I imagine the decision on where to get coffee can be quite troublesome. In Kansas City, there are many great roasters with great coffee offerings - How does one decide where to get coffee? It’s easy when you think about it this way: you need to find where your friends are…
In the first month of my first barista job with Kaldi’s Coffee, I heard Marcus Boni preach the message of extraordinary customer service. The idea of treating people well made sense to me right away. I learned that as a barista, taking care of customers and making them feel home was just-as, if not more important than, latte art or pulling espresso. I know this is true because around the time that I became a barista, I was becoming obsessed with the show Cheers. In the show, Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson) creates an atmosphere in his bar where “everybody knows your name.” I noticed when I called people by their names, remembered their drinks, or asked about their day the customers would come back day after day to get drinks.
I don’t say all of that to speak about myself. The point is that the barista is on the front lines of coffee warfare. At Messenger Coffee, a lot of work goes into sourcing the best coffee we can find and roasting it the best way we know how. But there comes a point in the week that coffee leaves our hands and is placed on a shelf in a cafe. When this happens, it’s up to the barista to convey the coffee experience. We try to remind the barista of their importance in the chain of coffee. To help with this, whenever we do barista training at Messenger, we give baristas a rundown of all the steps coffee takes as a cherry; from a shrub in Ethiopia all the way to being placed in an espresso blend sitting in a cafe in the middle of Missouri. The barista then has an opportunity that everyone else on the coffee chain doesn’t get to have: translating the joy of the farmer to the appreciation of the customer.
That translation must be done at the customer’s level, and that translation comes in many shapes and sizes. Because one thing I am not trying to say is that the barista has to know everything about the coffee. Drinking coffee is an experience and the farmer wants the customer to have a great experience when drinking their coffee. As a roasting company, I want the customer to have a great experience drinking coffee. The barista’s job is to create an atmosphere where coffee beverages are enjoyed. This is their sole duty.
This looks like:
- saying “Hello!”
- Stopping by tables to talk to customers about their drinks
- Knowing how to explain what and why they do things
- Having a love of coffee
- Having a love for talking to people
- Asking questions
- CLEANING THE CAFE
- making people feel welcome
- saying “goodbye”
We can crowd our baristas around refractometers and latte art videos but that will never make them great baristas. We need to understand that there are baristas and then there are people who happen to be good at making drinks. Being a barista is loving your community and creating an atmosphere for people to be happy over drinks.
If you are reading this and you have baristas working for you, tell them that they are important and remind them of their value. If you are a barista, I envy your daily opportunity to make people’s day better. Love people and love coffee, and people and coffee will love you back. (The proof is in the tip jar)- Montana Rex