A great wine has taken its time becoming great. That heady scent as you first close your eyes and breathe in the hillsides and sunshine through flared nostrils is the same if the bottle was handed to you by a harassed shopkeeper or by an expert in a specialist wine shop. The wine is the same if you pour it, a friend pours it, or you drink it in a private club gracefully decanted by a flannel-footed major-domo.
Yes, the setting may change how well you appreciate the wine, the atmosphere may help you relax and fully enjoy the moment, you may even detect different tastes and aromas, but the wine remains essentially the same.
Not for coffee though. When you next order a coffee you should look closely at the barista making your drink because in every sense possible, this person really does “make” your coffee. A farmer with generations of experience in a far-flung corner of the world grew and prepared the green coffee beans, the beans were then sailed across the world and delivered to a roaster whose artisanal alchemy produced the finished beans ready to release the full splendour of their taste and aroma potential. All this is for nothing without a skilled barista.
First you need to know your beans: are they best as an espresso or a filter? Let’s just consider the implications if you are using the beans for an espresso. The beans have to be ground but how finely or coarsely you grind them has to be decided, the right weight of ground coffee for a shot needs to be chosen, how long the right extraction should take, the perfect pressure and temperature maintained and checked. This isn’t all done once a week, or once a day: it has to be checked and rechecked regularly throughout the day and can have to be altered to take into account the temperature of the espresso machine, the weather or even whether the shop door has been wedged open for a while or the air-conditioning has been switched on.
The science to all this is immense, and it really is a science. A blog about the work of a barista could easily be filled with graphs and numbers and tables and we haven’t even touched on milk. In a world of speciality coffee where some baristas can trace their milk to specific farms and sometimes even specific cows, milk is never just milk. We have all seen latte art and even this flourish which seems so irrelevant to the coffee itself, is the far end of an understanding of how the sugars and proteins in milk behave with the application of heat and creation of texture.
You probably remember learning to drive, and you are probably still a good driver…but do you still keep your hands in the 10 to 2 position, do you travel down the gears as you come to a stop or have you started to rest your hand on the gearstick, do you slip out of gear, disengage the clutch and let your car coast to a stop and have you stopped checking all your mirrors constantly? You have let these skills and techniques slide and your life and the lives of others depends on them! So, do you think that even the most committed barista can keep all their skills at their absolute sharpest every day?
Not driving as well as you might, generally doesn’t cost a life but results in nothing worse than a chorus of tutting from the passenger seat like a teenager on a shopping trip with his mother. Having a barista whose skills are not as sharp as they need to be, potentially loses a customer with every coffee sold. Only with regular training to refresh their skills, to sharpen them and to acquire new skills can a barista continue to produce the best coffee. Not only does this training contribute to their skills but it also shows your barista that they are appreciated, valued and worth investing in and can help rekindle the passion which is so important in this industry. This training allows you to develop your own staff into fully fledged baristas by giving them not just a job, but a skill and a profession and ensuring that you can produce consistently high-quality coffee for your customers every day and every shift. So training your baristas truly is crucial to maintaining and improving the quality of your coffee.