While it might look simple, not just anyone can make a killer latté—it requires training, patience and craftsmanship. And executing a successful pour-over coffee is an exercise in patience and technique. And that’s where a modern education as a barista comes in. Today’s coffee culture has created a market for high-quality, labor-intensive coffee-making ability. While landing a job in a café was once as simple as filling out an application and a good smile, employment as a barista is now a respected, full-time profession.
The first step toward barista proficiency is certification in one of many programs currently offered, such as The Barista Guild, a national organization under the umbrella of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). Eighteen hours of training in the SCAA’s Barista Pathway education nets students a coveted certificate endorsed by the Guild.
Courses And Costs
Beginning students can expect to cover a range of fundamental skills and topics—milk steaming, espresso preparation and customer service. More advanced students tackle the finer points of the barista world, such as latté art, advanced espresso brewing (one curriculum brochure lists a class named “Grind, Dose, Tamp, Extract”) and preventative maintenance of espresso equipment. Students at all levels learn the importance of the history and philosophy of coffee— how and where it is grown (origin), modern concerns about sustainability and fair trade for coffee farmers, and the role coffee plays in the world economy.
Many established coffee shops have come to realize the advantages of training their own baristas, and require new employees to complete a basic training program. This not only tends to cover universal skills like pulling shots of espresso, but also allows for some customized instruction specific to the café itself. For example, a certain café might pride itself on—and enjoy a history of increased business due to—its baked goods, and new hires would learn the secret recipe for its popular cranberry scones.
Anne Nylander of the SCAA remarks in a 2014 Specialty Coffee Chronicle article that "the term 'professional barista' simply did not exist in coffee 30 years ago.” The SCAA also discovered, in a 2014 study of the industry, that graduates of their Barista Pathway courses have the potential to earn $200,000 more over their career lifespan than uncertified contemporaries. And there are other perks. Baristas are regularly quoted in magazines and even occasionally achieve celebrity status by winning national or international competitions, like 2016 Barista World Champion Berg Wu of Taiwan. Clearly, today’s aspiring barista can view her training not just as a bonus during the hiring process, but as a long-term investment.