South of Metro | 5 Practices You Should Master to Become a Successful Barista | If you have just completed your professional coffee making course, congratulations! Welcome to the world of coffee making. You are on your way to becoming a great barista, making amazing coffee for all kinds of customers, and perhaps even winning some competitions along the way. But before you can accomplish all these, you need to improve the skills you have learned and do everything you can to apply them to your routine.
Courses and programs give you all the basic knowledge, but what you do with that knowledge is up to you. Working hard and practicing essential tasks will help you hone your skills and expertise and get your budding career off to a great start.
Experts from a barista training school in Dubai share their insights on what practices fresh graduates should work on mastering during their early years.
1. Enjoying coffee plain
It may be surprising to learn, but there are baristas who have never tried drinking coffee by itself, without all the cream, sweeteners, flavorings and other additional coffee drink ingredients. A barista who does not like drinking and learning everything they possibly can about coffee is at a disadvantage. It’s much like a mechanic who has never even touched a car.
Theory can only take you so far. Without knowing the taste of the product you are making for other people, it will be impossible to understand what makes a great cup a coffee. Furthermore, you won’t be able to distinguish the subtleties between the use of different types of beans, brewing methods, and other elements.
Coffee beans have varying profiles, depending on where they were grown and harvested, how you brew them, and what you mix with them. On their own, coffee beans have their own unique flavor, level of sweetness, and acidity. The only way you’ll understand this is to constantly sample a wide range of preparations.
Compare this to a baseball player practicing his pitch. Practicing and repeating the cycle makes him better. So, if you want to become an exceptional barista, start by drinking more coffee, and lots of it.
2. Becoming a continuous learner
What you learn during your barista course is limited by the amount of time you stay in class. Even with the tutelage of the most talented masters in the industry, you can only take in so much information in the allotted amount of time. Expand your knowledge by doing research, continuing your education and training, and exploring other potential sources of information.
Baristas are not just people paid to make drinks. They are coffee and beverage specialists. What you know, how much you know, and your ability to communicate with your customers will all go a long way in brewing the cup of coffee that will make them feel perfectly satisfied.
3. Developing a process for tasting coffee
At times, noticing the minute variations and delicate flavors in coffee calls for approaching it from a different perspective. Paying attention at all times to what you are eating or drinking can help.
Let’s take eggs, for example. Eggs can be cooked in a variety of ways: boiled, cooked sunny-side up, scrambled, poached, steamed, and many more. How you present them can also vary: served with bacon, mixed with vegetables, placed on top of an English muffin, baked in a quiche, and the list goes on.
The same goes for coffee. As mentioned earlier, the type of beans you use, their freshness, the tools you use, the quality and temperature of the water — any of these factors can change the taste and flavor of every cup you make.
When you take a sip, go beyond simply saying it’s tasty or delicious. What makes this cup satisfying for you, is it the aroma or the acidity of the beans? How is it different from the other cups you prepared and drank before it?
Sommeliers go through a similar process when they try to develop their palates and sharpen their skills in recalling wines and bottles. They have a method for analyzing vintages: look, smell, taste, then conclude. Each step has a purpose: looking allows them to observe the color and opacity; smelling lets them distinguish aromas, and sipping enables the person to take in the taste, texture, and length of the flavor.
Developing your palate for coffee can be done in the same way. Use your nose each time you prepare a cup. Professionals do it at specific phases: when handling whole beans, after the grind, when inhaling the pour-over bloom, and before taking the first sip.
Each step will evoke a unique smell. Once you get into the habit, your brain will become increasingly familiar with more sensations and profiles. Over time, you will notice the more minute differences between each cup, and even each step that was taken in making the coffee.
The process of sipping goes last. After each sip, observe the following aspects: sweetness, acidity, body, and cleanliness. Taking these factors into consideration whenever you have a cup will help broaden your understanding of coffee.
4. Experimenting with coffee
The world of coffee is vast. The different species, where the beans are grown, and the various processing methods can give the coffee a unique and distinct taste. This does not even take into consideration yet how you prepare and make your coffee.
Gaining exposure to different coffee varieties requires some effort. Know where to find different beans. Perhaps you may want to try ordering beans from Kenya, or Illy coffee in Saudi Arabia. By experimenting with different beans and methods, you can find one that suits your evolving taste and palate.
Remember that tastes can still change over time. You may like the soft, chocolatey taste of beans from Central America today, but who knows, perhaps tomorrow you may prefer a good Ethiopian roast instead.
5. Cleaning as you go
People who are strict about maintaining the quality of their environment will find joy in working as a barista. This is because experienced baristas know the importance of a truly spotless workplace.
Bacteria and germs are everywhere, and as with any dining establishment that serves food and drinks, having rigid sanitation protocols is a top priority to ensure that customers fully enjoy their experience of your service.
If your goal is to become a top-performing barista, being critical about cleanliness is one of the ways to maintain control in your workspace and to prepare an excellent cup of coffee every time, whether at home or at a cafe.
There are many creative and talented baristas all over the world, but innate skills can only get you so far. Mastering key practices and developing essential habits are just as important. This mastery allows you to practice and build on the skills that you have learned from your culinary school.
Build on the practices and habits listed here, and you can be on your way to becoming a successful barista.
Shanaaz Raja is the Course Director at International Centre for Culinary Arts – ICCA Dubai.