Barista as a career

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Barista as a career

Postby coffeetaster on Wed Dec 21, 2005 7:30 am

After reading the posts on the "SCAA" thread, it was about time to begin this as an individual topic.

I began my coffee career as a Barista - back in the day when the term was not known or used. Philadelphia in the early 1990's was not a specialty coffee hub.

Throughout my career I have always remained close to my roots in coffee preparation, while learning coffee commodities, manufacturing, quality, product development, marketing etc.. You get the point! I am very proud to say that my career has gone full circle and I am now very heavily involved in Barista skills and Barista training once again.

My perspective on the term Barista is very similar to the term "Chef". Anyone can make coffee, but making coffee does not automatically qualify you for the title Barista, an individual employed to cook is not automatically a Chef. The titles of Barista and Chef are professional designation used to recognize skill, knowledge, leadership, and responsibility - combined. The kitchen manager at McDonalds is not a chef because they are in charge; they are a kitchen (or production) manager because they are in charge but may not have all the skills and knowledge required to be a Chef. Get it?

A career as a Barista does not necessarily mean that you will always be the one pulling the shots behind the counter. A career as a Barista means that your skills and knowledge in the art and science or coffee service is a central focus of your career and employment. A coffeehouse manager or coffee bar owner can also be a Barista. A green coffee buyer can also be a Barista, and a corporate trainer for a coffee or allied product company can be Barista too. However an employee at a retail location brewing and serving coffee may not be always be a Barista.

These are only my opinions and thoughts on the subject.

Cheers!
Spence
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Postby nick on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:07 am

This whole semantics discussion that's been ongoing for some time about the word "barista" is a fascinating one. It's ultimately another reminder about the (I know this sounds cheesy) dynamic, living nature of language and that words have meaning only so much as people come to some consensus about that meaning.

The classic example of the problems that language can cause that I've observed for many years is the statement that some African-Americans have been known to say: "Black people can't be racist." That often leads to a heated discussion/debate/argument, with the counterpoint saying that the claim is absurd and that all people are guilty of being racist. What's lost in the discussion is that the two people are talking about two different things... to the first person, "racism" is exercising power (economic, political, social, etc.) over another race, with blacks not having that power, thus can't be racist... whereas the second believes "racism" to mean prejudice based on race. A very important distinction.

Anyway, I digress.

Let's look at the various definitions and/or usages of the word "barista"
1) a person who's job it is to prepare espresso coffee
2) a person who's job it is to prepare coffee (doesn't have to be just espresso)
3) a person who prepares coffee/espresso (whether it's their profession or not)
4) a skilled crafts-person, having trained for many years, with a comprehensive understanding of coffee preparation and presentation
5) a brand-name for a line of Starbucks retail products (espresso machines, grinders, etc.)
6) a person who (merely) works at a coffeeshop (a.k.a. the "PBTC")
7) an Italian person who's makes espresso (if you're not Italian, you can't be a 'barista')
8) a person who works in the coffee industry who's job it was a #1 or #2 at some point in their career
9) a #1 who works on a semi-automatic or lever (never super-auto) espresso machine
and on and on...

That's an off-the-top-of-my-head list of definitions that are based my recollection of various discussions and points-made around various discussion forums. Some are similar, some are very different.

So what do we do? Will that definition be sufficiently promoted by our "good works" in coffee? Do we need to take a more active role in establishing and promoting a particular definition of "barista?" How important is establishing a particular definition? Do we need to coin a new term to more accurately reflect a growing disparity between the general definition of "barista" and what we want to promote (whatever that means)?

*shrug*
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Postby nick on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:29 am

Oh... one more thing...

I posted these to CoffeeGeek, but I'll post them here too. These are two emails I got from some guy who somehow stumbled upon my "Barista Code of Conduct" article on CG. Hate to say it, but it just goes to show that there are misconceptions out there (albeit apparently among total assholes).

From: "m. getman" <mucksterg@yahoo.com>
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 06:34:45 -0700 (PDT)
To: Nick Cho, <aaronlws@yahoo.com>
Subject: The Barista Code of Conduct

I have to say that someone sent me your article to point out how ridiculous it is and it amazes me that someone like yourself actually believes that they have some worth in this world. You work at a coffee shop. You can call yourself a "Barista" if you want but the fact is that a monkey could do your job and probably be better at it. At least he wouldn't be out writing articles and thinking that he has some self-worth. Shut up and make the coffee you glorified Dunkin Donuts cashier.

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Later that day, without any response from me:
From: "m. getman" <mucksterg@yahoo.com>
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 08:07:21 -0700 (PDT)
To: aaronLewis <aaronlws@yahoo.com>, "Nick Cho"
Subject: Re: The Barista Code of Conduct

I hold animosity towards anyone with an inflated sense of self-importance. I never heard the term "barista" before and I certainly don't know what a sommelier is but I can guarantee you this - because both professions have terms that sound fancier than what the actual profession is, a) they are getting paid too much money and b)they have an over-inflated sense of self-importance. I mean, to be so inept as a writer as to believe that he must define the word "besmirch" because it's so deep as to elude the average vocabulary!!! THE SWEAT ON MY BALLS WRITES BETTER THAN THAT!!! Next thing you know he'll be writing about a coffee nightmare that he had only to wake up in a cold sweat and be relieved that everything is actually ok!!! People like this should be murdered only so that we can use the tops of their skulls as nut dishes (or candy dishes if you prefer).

Don't get me wrong, I believe strongly that the world needs coffee in as many forms as can be profitably marketed. The world needs ditch-diggers too - but I don't see any ditch-diggers writing articles about the "Ditch Diggers Code of Conduct". Do you know why? BECAUSE THEY'RE FUCKING DITCH DIGGERS. These "barista" assholes should take a cue from the ditch diggers of the world. If they don't, then they should become much more closely acquainted with the ditch diggers.

bar-is-ta (n) - The Getmanictionary defines "barista" as homosexual male coffee shop worker who writes sub-par articles because his boyfriend stopped fucking him in the ass.


Two apologies: to Alistair, sorry for the expletives... feel free to edit/censor... and to Spencer and Rob Stephen... sorry about the Dunkin Donuts reference :wink:. Just remember that I didn't write it.
Last edited by nick on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Jeff Givens on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:29 am

I didn't know that Barista was a professional designation or title(like Chef de Cuisine).
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Postby coffeetaster on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:33 am

Nick -
No apoligy necessary - based on my working definition there are no Barista at Dunkin' Donuts.
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Postby trish on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:40 am

nick, are you sure those emails aren't from those guys who like to heckle you?
Seems like a lot of energy put toward something that means so little to him.
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Postby Marshall on Wed Dec 21, 2005 10:04 am

Well, if the other thread made anything clear, it was that there is no commonly understood definition of "barista" in the coffee industry. Or that there is a commonly understood definition, but that the people most involved in upgrading barista skills and prestige are trying to expand that definition. As we used to say in college, "before we begin this argument, let's define our terms." :D That's when you often find there is no argument.

Tim Castle gave a terrific presentation at the 2004 SCAA Consumer Homecoming about the results of emphasizing "quality" at every step of coffee growing, roasting and brewing and how it results in a better life for everyone involved in the process. He compared, for one example, the opportunities available to someone in an entry-level position in a kitchen at McDonalds with the kitchen of a fine restaurant. The worker in the fine restaurant kitchen learns the value of his work, develops his skills, can advance to other positions in the kitchen and can, if he or she chooses, wind up a chef or restaurant owner. The person turning burgers at McDonalds will learn to ... turn burgers. He (and I) thought a quality-oriented coffee industry will offer the same opportunities to anyone who enters it.

Marshall
Last edited by Marshall on Wed Dec 21, 2005 10:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby malachi on Wed Dec 21, 2005 10:06 am

Nick... it's a troll. And I'm afraid you bit.
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Postby phaelon56 on Wed Dec 21, 2005 11:52 am

Oh my goodness... Nick may have bit on the troll's bait but I sure got my laugh for the day.

Especially this part
[quote]I never heard the term "barista" before and I certainly don't know what a sommelier is .....

..... I mean, to be so inept as a writer as to believe that he must define the word "besmirch" because it's so deep as to elude the average vocabulary!!! [quote]

Let me get this straight.... he's never heard the terms "barista" or sommelier" but he doesn't need "besmirch" to be defined for him? I guess if I spent as much time as he does besmirching peopel I wouldn't need it defined either.

And I think it might be nice if there was an industry standard certification program of sorts for barista's. Something that assured potential employers that the prospective hire had, at a minimum, displayed a certain level of knowledge and skills. Just as with many certifications it would be no assurance that they might make a stellar employee it wouild at least confirm a certain level of possible potential.

Then again... any hack can throw OJ and vodka in a drink and call themselves a bartender or even a mixologist. But a true mixologist has a acquired a level of knwoledge and experience that differentiates them from 99.999% of the other folks out there who mix and serve drinks.
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Postby barry on Wed Dec 21, 2005 12:36 pm

Marshall wrote:The person turning burgers at McDonalds will learn to ... turn burgers.


poor conclusion. ;)

a sharp cookie at mcdonalds will learn lots about managing systems, processes, and people, skills which are readily adaptable to other businesses/industries than flipping burgers.
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Postby Marshall on Wed Dec 21, 2005 12:54 pm

barry wrote:
Marshall wrote:The person turning burgers at McDonalds will learn to ... turn burgers.


poor conclusion. ;)

a sharp cookie at mcdonalds will learn lots about managing systems, processes, and people, skills which are readily adaptable to other businesses/industries than flipping burgers.


That's only in the sense that every job teaches some transferable skills, if only the importance of showing up on time. I was making the point that a quality-oriented coffee shop will provide valuable coffee training way beyond basic PBTC skills. I would expect your staff learns an encyclopedia's worth of coffee information from you, if they keep their ears open.

Marshall
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Postby Jimmy Oneschuk on Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:15 pm

holy ...crap.

My favorite part is how this person begins with:

I hold animosity towards anyone with an inflated sense of self-importance.

And then continues to express exactly that sentiment towards Nick!

Not to mention beginning an argument by qualifying their ignorance:

I never heard the term "barista" before and I certainly don't know what a sommelier is...

Can we hire some goons for this guy?
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Postby Keith on Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:27 pm

If we had goons to hire we would send them after Scott Welker.
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Postby Jimmy Oneschuk on Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:36 pm

One distinction, I'm not sure it is entirely accurate to consider someone a barista who is no longer places coffee preparation as the number one part of his or her craft. In this sense, and with all due resepct, a green buyer is a green buyer. If he or she works a few bar shifts now and then, then yes, this would qualify him or her as a barista.

An example: I'm taking a year off from cycling, therefore I can no longer call myself a professional cyclist, or olympic calibre cyclist, or whatever.

Just as since I am not working behind a bar right now, I am not really a barista, but rather a coffee consultant, barista trainer, but not a barista. When our shop opens, and I start pulling shots for customers - then I am technically a barista.

As for the English/Italian origins of the term, barista is not entirely alien to english phoenetics:

BAR: indicating the English bar-style drinking establishment

-IST: in English, the suffix -IST is given to indicate a word describing a person. Therefore:

-anarchist
-feminist
-sado-masochist

However, the Italian suffix has connotations native to the Italian language. Even how you accent a word, such as placing emphasis on the suffix, instead of the first syllable, as is normal for English, changes the meaning and impression of that word.

It's definetely a fun topic. Exploration of the meaning of the word ends up becoming a pretty interesting dissection of the profession, not to mention societies and world cultures!
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Postby Jimmy Oneschuk on Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:42 pm

Scott Welker?

btw, I didn't say what these goons would do...

I was thinking these goons would sit this individual down and engage in a nice educational session.
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Re: BARISTA as a career

Postby Marshall on Wed Dec 21, 2005 2:13 pm

According to the L.A. Business Journal (hey, I don't frequent these places!), vodka martinis have hit $14-18 at L.A.'s top bars. Their owners and managers say the customers aren't complaining and, in fact, barely seem to notice. I understand the situation is pretty much the same in N.Y. and Chicago.

If a coffee bar can capture even half of that, there's your business model for a career behind the La Marzocco with good income and benefits. The downside, of course, is that these velvet rope places are pretty much off limits, except for celebrities and other beautiful young people with high incomes. I'm not sure that fits well with the third wave philosophy. :D

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Postby Mark Prince on Wed Dec 21, 2005 2:31 pm

barry wrote:
Marshall wrote:The person turning burgers at McDonalds will learn to ... turn burgers.


poor conclusion. ;)

a sharp cookie at mcdonalds will learn lots about managing systems, processes, and people, skills which are readily adaptable to other businesses/industries than flipping burgers.


Totally agree with What Barry wrote.

In the new year, I hope to have a cafe owner on the CG Podcast who's going to talk about the fact that she has almost no employee turnover except for moving reasons; and one of her secrets is, a) she doesn't hire "coffee geeks" or rockstar baristi, but does definitely look for people with McDonald's experience in their younger days, esp. those who progressed to some sort of management position.

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Postby Alistair Durie on Wed Dec 21, 2005 5:19 pm

i don't think that person deserves his name or writing in print. he was acting sensational and looking for a response and you're all giving him great satisfaction spending your energy with him.

better to discuss conceptions and be progressive rather than waste your time with this slander.

misconceptions will flourish until we develop the respect coffee and barista's deserve.
this is one of the best mandates of the Barista Guild.

a.
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Postby nick on Wed Dec 21, 2005 5:53 pm

Oh... lest there be any misunderstanding...

I posted that email to both CG and here, just for informational and entertainment purposes. I never wrote back to him. I never got "worked up." What would be the point?

Just thought y'all would get a kick out of it. I did.
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Postby Alistair Durie on Wed Dec 21, 2005 6:24 pm

i'm sure he gets a huge kick out of the repost.

far more than he deserves.
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Postby Brent on Wed Dec 21, 2005 6:59 pm

MarkP wrote:
barry wrote:
Marshall wrote:The person turning burgers at McDonalds will learn to ... turn burgers.


poor conclusion. ;)

a sharp cookie at mcdonalds will learn lots about managing systems, processes, and people, skills which are readily adaptable to other businesses/industries than flipping burgers.


Totally agree with What Barry wrote.

In the new year, I hope to have a cafe owner on the CG Podcast who's going to talk about the fact that she has almost no employee turnover except for moving reasons; and one of her secrets is, a) she doesn't hire "coffee geeks" or rockstar baristi, but does definitely look for people with McDonald's experience in their younger days, esp. those who progressed to some sort of management position.

Mark


I have a friend who started out as a whatever at McDonalds, went onwards and upwards, showed some initiative. When he left the McD franchise, the owner made an offer of work if he ever wanted to return to the city.

He went on to be national operations manager for a small multi national, and wound up setting up operations in a start up country, then headhunted to a competitor, now runs their national operations.

If he hadn't taken that part time job...

Food may suck, but the training in systems is great!

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Postby Ric Rhinehart on Wed Dec 21, 2005 8:55 pm

I think the comparison speaks to what the two environments actually are focused on producing. McD's is concentrated on creating a highly repeatable and affordable group of foods with as little labor cost as possible. Now matter how you feel about the foods produced at McD's, they are affordable and consistent, and they have achieved their objectives.

The fine dining experience centers around creating a unique and memorable gustatory experience. Cost containment often is confined to the minimum amount necessary to allow the business model to function (and more often than not fails to reach even that mark).

Thus, McDs produces people who do an excellent job of working with cost effective systems that produce highly repeatable results. Fine dining produces people with poor financial skills but good culinary skills. Hopefully our industry is skewed more towards the culinary scenario than the repeatability scenario, but you can reach your own conclusions.
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Postby James Hoffmann on Thu Dec 22, 2005 1:24 am

What about barista as a direct translation - a barman? All the Italian baristas I worked with in Italy, including one guy who won Young Barista of the Year, not only made phenomenal coffee but knew their way around the rest of the bar as well. Coffee wasn't seperate, just a very important part of their job. Furthermore they all were definately fitting the description of a host, which I believe is central to the job.
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Postby Peter G on Thu Dec 22, 2005 2:15 am

As usual, I agree with Spence. (and lots of others too)

The comparison with the word chefis apt. Of course chef comes from the French chef de cuisine which simply means, "person in charge of the food". As has been correctly pointed out, barista is an Italo-Anglo hybrid, most closely approximating "barman" and "bartender" in English. Of course, because espresso coffee is essential to the the Italian bar, and not the American, we use barista for a coffee bartender and "bartender" implies alcohol only.

Now then, we have incorporated such words as chef to imply a more specific skill set than simply "the person in charge of the food". Also, we have incorporated other "chef" words, in the typically American fashion: sous chef, pastry chef, executive chef, Iron chef.....Chef Boyardee.....

I threw in those last ones as examples that even though the word "chef" can have a more or less strict meaning (a highly trained and accredited professional cook) it is often used (or abused) in other contexts.

And so it is with Barista. I use the term (in English) for a person who is skilled in the craft of coffee preparation, and for whom it is a central skill in their professional life. For this reason, I believe that one does not need to be "pulling shifts" to be a barista, especially if barista training, pulling shots as a quality control or equipment analysis function, etc. is a part of one's job. As an analogy, a chef remains a chef even if he is running the restaurant, menu planning, or teaching other chefs. A medical doctor is still a MD even if she is writing books, teaching at a medical school, etc.

In other words, the skill set and the use of this set as a part of one's job is the important thing, not the daily practice of the individual in question.
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Postby Jimmy Oneschuk on Thu Dec 22, 2005 11:31 am

Peter, from what I understand, you are proposing a professional distinction not unlike a sommelier or MD?
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