What is a Coffee Barista?

Melissa Neiman

The word barista is Italian for bartender. Therefore, a coffee barista is essentially a bartender who is skilled at preparing and serving a variety of coffee drinks rather than alcoholic ones. The term coffee barista can be applied to both male and female coffee shop employees. It may also be used to describe someone who has extensive knowledge about or skill in the preparation of coffee-based beverages.

Baristas are often tasked to make an espresso.
Baristas are often tasked to make an espresso.

People seem to love — and often heavily rely upon — their coffee. This is evidenced by the overwhelming number of coffee stands, shops and espresso bars in business today. With such stiff competition, these coffee-based businesses have to go the extra mile to woo and maintain a large customer base and remain profitable. Therefore many pad their menus with a myriad of choices including baked goods and other food items as well as cappuccino, specialty espressos and flavored coffees. Preparing these beverages takes a certain degree of knowledge and skill. Enter the coffee barista.

Anyone who serves coffee can call himself a barista, but training among coffee baristas varies. Some receive on-the-job tutorials whereas others attend special schools that provide in-depth instruction on coffee basics and preparation. For example, a barista-to-be may be sent by his company to attend a one-week coffee school that offers classes and seminars on coffee history, grinder basics, machine maintenance and how to steam and foam milk for cappuccinos. At the end of the week, he may receive a special barista certification.

In addition to being able to brew a good cup of Joe, a coffee barista must demonstrate excellent customer service skills and work well with other members of his team. Coffee houses have become popular meeting spots and for some patrons, customer service is as important, or more important, than the quality of the coffee. In addition to greeting customers, a coffee barista may provide them with a description of beverages, recommend beverages based upon their preferences, offer samples of beverages and demonstrate how beverages are prepared.

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Coffee baristas may also perform tasks unrelated to preparing and serving coffee. These include wiping down tables and chairs, sweeping and mopping the floor, washing dishes and other general cleaning procedures as well as stocking store products and performing check-out transactions.

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