What is a barista?
If you have ever been to a specialty coffee house where every beverage (as well as the cup size) have strange names, you will likely have seen a barista at work already.
To answer the question of what is a barista simply, a barista is a bartender that works in coffee bars and specializes in making espresso-based coffee. You will find them most frequently in specialty coffee outlets.
In order to become a barista, you’ll have to master making various kinds of coffee drinks, besides learning how to add artistic touches to the presentation.
Literally speaking, barista is Italian for ‘bartender’. Baristas in Italy serve all sorts of drinks and aren’t restricted to coffee.
However, the barista job description, as seen in the rest of the world, is indeed limited to serving specialty coffee beverages.
The majority of coffee shops serve espresso based coffee beverages. Espresso isn’t a special kind of coffee beans or roasting method (i.e. how they are cooked). Rather, espresso is a particular way in which coffee is brewed.
Espresso is a particularly concentrated kind of coffee which is made by forcing steam and hot water under pressure through densely packed coffee grounds.
It was invented in 1884 in Italy, when the first espresso machine was patented by Angelo Moriondo.
- 1 What is a barista?
- 2 Do I need formal training to be a barista in the United Kingdom?
- 3 Qualifications available in the UK
- 4 Conclusion
As opposed to regular coffee brews, espresso is both thick and intensely flavored. Although there are those who prefer plain espresso’s taste, it can be made milder by mixing it with milk, water and other liquids.
For instance, cappuccino is made by blending a third of espresso, a third of steamed milk and a third of microfoam. Microfoam is the name given to steamed milk which develops as a very thin foamy layer when created using a special espresso machine. Coffee drinks are often topped with microfoam by baristas, to create artistic (but temporary) finishing touches.
Another type of barista coffee is a latte, which is like a cappuccino with the difference that it is created using equal portions of steamed milk and espresso. As per the customer’s liking, a latte could include a fine microfoam layer.
There are those who hold the belief that espresso gives an extra boost since it has more caffeine per unit volume as compared to plenty of other drinks. However, a standard two oz. serving (i.e. double shot) of espresso, contains an amount of caffeine similar to that in a normal six oz. cup of regular coffee.
If you’re considering becoming a barista, be sure to ask those who work at your nearest specialty coffee houses. There are plenty of coffee shops that hire workers and provide them barista training over time.
You may also come across ‘coffee sommeliers’, in some bigger cities. These are professional baristas with specialized knowledge about the history of coffee, the various types of coffee beans, roasting methods and brewing techniques, and latte art. You’ll have to work and study coffee making very hard for many years before earning the right to be called a coffee sommelier.
Basics of becoming a barista
As mentioned before, baristas prepare and serve in coffee shop chains, restaurants, hotels and cafes. Working as a barista, you will utilize a coffee machine to make espresso coffee and create lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos from it. You may also be serving light snacks and meals.
Getting into this work requires well developed customer handling skills, as well as the ability to work both independently and in a team. If you want to work in a fast-track environment and enjoy the smell of freshly made coffee, this is the job for you.
Having passed the GCSE exams may be helpful, and work experience in a field such as catering, retail or customer service will certainly be. If there is an apprenticeship scheme available near your location, it may let you enter the field of coffee making.
What will you be doing?
Working as a barista, you will be doing jobs such as serving customers and filling their orders. Your role will be to ensure that your customers enjoy their food and beverages in a warm, friendly environment.
Typically, you’ll be doing tasks such as:
- Getting the coffee shop ready for opening time.
- Receiving orders and payments from customers.
- Grinding coffee beans.
- Making and serving cakes and sandwiches.
- Tidying up work areas, coffee machines and other equipment.
- Creating stock displays.
- Checking stock and ordering more when needed.
- Giving the coffee shop a clean-up before it closes.
You may choose to serve at an independent coffee house, or a major retail chain.
Working conditions and time
As a full time barista, you’ll be working 35 to 40 hours each week.
Part time jobs may also be an option.
You will normally work in a shift system to cover opening hours in the early morning as well as the late evening. You may also find yourself working on certain bank holidays and weekends.
It can be a physically demanding role since you will be standing for most of the day so you need to be in reasonably good shape. Your immediate work environment will likely be hot, noisy and busy.
Certain employers may also expect you to wear a uniform (which they will provide).
What should your interests, skills and qualities be for this job?
In order to become a good barista, there are some general traits that should be present in you:
- A sociable personality.
- Remarkable customer handling skills.
- Able to work under pressure.
- Work well without guidance (eg. Independently).
- Pay attention to detail.
- Enjoy working in hot, steamy conditions.
- Be aware of basic hygiene, safety and health rules.
Do I need formal training to be a barista in the United Kingdom?
Let’s discuss prerequisites first. Even though a good general education will aid you in landing a barista job e.g. GCSE grades, particularly in math and English, it is by no means necessary to have any specific qualifications in order to start a barista career.
A college qualification such as a Level 1 Award in Introduction to Employment in the Hospitality Industry or a Level 2 Award in Food Safety in Catering, will definitely help.
You can also choose to train as an apprentice before becoming a professional barista, where you will pick up skills while getting paid. An apprenticeship will normally take a year to complete.
However, this barely scratches the surface of the coffee making industry. Taking formal coffee training is the most straightforward way of becoming a barista. You can opt for apprenticing at a local coffee house, but this might be difficult if you don’t have any prior experience in coffee making.
With formal barista courses programs, you can start learning about coffee from scratch and go on to acquire official validation as a barista, which will open up avenues for you at specialty coffee shops.
You can pursue various coffee making courses from coffee schools all over the UK such as VRQ City & Guilds or SCAE diploma, both well-recognized qualifications, as well as courses on setting up your own coffee shop, basic barista, intermedia barista, advanced barista, milk chemistry, latte art, professional cupping, milk chemistry, roasting etc.
Qualifications available in the UK
As already mentioned, there are plenty of certifications/qualifications available for professional baristas in the UK.
The Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) is the world leader in the promotion of excellent quality coffee, combining professionals from all over the coffee industry.
The SCAE’s purpose focuses on the improvement of coffee standards by advancing education and knowledge, and it aims to do so through its Coffee Diploma system.
All trainers for SCAE courses are required to be certified by the SCAE and have finished a SCAE approved training program.
There are three tiers of courses for the SCAE diploma
- Foundation Level: The foundation level courses provide a preliminary taste in a specific coffee discipline. It is a good way to gain basic insight into the skills required for your chosen coffee-related field, and will help you decide whether you are cut out for it or not.
These courses require no past experience, and can run from a half day to a full day. They count 5 points each towards the overall diploma.
As a prospective barista, your focus should be on the Basic Barista course, although other courses such as Introduction to Coffee, Roasting Skills, Sensory Taste and Green Coffee are also up for the takings.
- Intermediate Level: This tier is suited to those who have already begun work in their field and have a sound knowledge of the basics. The courses last between 1 and 2 days, and award 10 points each towards the diploma.
Barista Skills should be the course you should focus on, and others include sensory taste, green coffee, roasting skills and brewing.
- Professional Level: The professional tier is meant for those who are looking to acquire specialist knowledge in their particular field.
Succeeding at this level will be an indicator of your competency as a skilled employee. You’ll be required to have some serious experience in your field before you attempt this level. Intermediate qualification in the attempted modules is also a requisite. Professional level courses last at least 2 – 3 days.
The courses you can pursue include barista skills, roasting skills, brewing, sensory taste and green coffee.
The London School of Coffee, one of the most prestigious barista training institutes in the UK, offers a comprehensive set of courses, aside from the SCAE diploma, for coffee lovers looking to become pros. Here are some of the most important ones:
- VRQ City & Guilds: This barista certificate has a course lasting three days. It provides detailed training / education in barista techniques, ranging from history of coffee to customer handling. The qualification has accreditation from both the Beverage Service Association (BSA) and City & Guilds.
With this course, you will learn
- Coffee origin – the plant, processing and distribution the world over.
- An understanding of coffee – de-caffeinated, blending and flavors.
- Espresso; how to make the perfect coffee shot.
- Coffee grinders, their working and how to utilize them for brewing the best espresso.
- The milk steaming process, producing microfoam which makes the drink sweet, delicious and fulfilling.
- A menu of coffee drinks and ways to attain a balance of appearance, consistency and taste while serving the customer.
- The origin of tea from oolong to green. This is an important part of barista training which is often overlooked.
- Filter coffee, the various brewing techniques and tastes involved in it.
- Filtration and water quantity, an essential part of the coffee making process that needs understanding.
- Smoothies, their recipe and method.
- Origin of cocoa – its plant, harvesting and processing which results in chocolate.
- Professional customer handling – managing your customer’s requirements, requests, complaints and complements.
The good thing about this qualification is that it encompasses various parts of the coffee making industry, product & service which are normally overlooked by baristas. A knowledge of these parts will be a huge advantage, besides the fact that you’ll be officially accredited to work with leading cafes, bars and restaurants around the country.
Not only this, the VRQ qualification is recognized in 79 other countries as well, so you’ll basically be training to become an internationally accepted professional barista!
- Basic Barista Course: This is a single day course geared towards both home enthusiasts and those looking to work in the coffee industry. The course teaches the art of making the perfect espresso as well as the beverages that go along with the base. Basic Barista is perfect for coffee house staff that have just started handling espresso machines, making sure that they have a thorough understanding of both coffee and the process that accompanies it.
The course will teach you
- Botany of coffee, Robusta and Arabica beans, process and preparation.
- Roasting coffee, preserving freshness, storage, life.
- Proper methods for utilizing espresso machines and grinders.
- Setting the grinder, dosage and pulling an espresso shot.
- Taking care of problems, spotting bad coffee by taste, smell and appearance.
- Steaming milk, preparing micro-foam – the shiny, silky milk with a wonderful taste.
- The coffee menu – the difference between flat-whites, lattes, cappuccinos and more.
- Cleaning the espresso machine and keeping surfaces and equipment in your work environment spot-free, to make sure that your drinks are top-notch all day long.
The Basic Barista course will provide a good insight into the proper process for creating the base of all tasty coffee beverages – espresso. Once the course is over, you’ll be able to steam milk in a perfect manner and make all the drinks on the coffee menu.
- Intermediate Barista Course: The Intermediate course is meant to build upon the knowledge you’ve gained through the Basic Barista course. It also last for one day and covers topics such as latte art, milk types, cupping coffee, espresso trends and grinder models.
The course will teach you about
- Cupping several coffees, discuss single origins and blended coffees.
- Types of grinders, getting the most out of them and extending their life.
- Trends in espresso, how to fine tune the espresso shot, as well as pulling ristrettos.
- Grind settings and tamping methods and the affect they have on the taste of the coffee.
- Milk steaming methods, working with several orders, various types of milk, and milk consistency.
- How steaming skimmed, semi, full fat and soya is different.
- Selection of jugs and free pouring from several different jug sizes.
The course is ideal for those who already have basic experience and understanding of making coffee, but want to enhance their skillset. It will provide a great start for you in the specialty coffee market, and will enable you to have a meaningful opinion in coffee related discussions.
- Advanced Barista Course: This course is aimed towards those with a strong understanding of coffee, who are looking to take their skills to new heights. This course involves tasting several different types of coffee, and will definitely involve the consumption of a large amount of caffeine. It is recommended to have some past experience in tasting e.g. wine, chocolate, cheese, tea or coffee.
The course will cover
- The history of coffee and how it is affected by botany, altitude, growing conditions, harvest, roasting and processing.
- Sampling roasted green beans and learning about roasting stages; observing first & second crack as well as developing coffee roasting profiles.
- Tasting Robusta and Arabica coffee from several different origins in parallel. Flavor profiles will be discussed and recorded.
- Roasting profiles for washed, pulp natural and dry process coffee.
- Examining the working of various espresso machines, boilers, group heads, heat exchangers and pressure values.
- Progressing to pressure profiling, PID control, flushing cycles, temperature control and pre-infusion.
- Analysis of grinders – consistency, quality and speed of grinds. Also covering maintenance and burr replacement.
- Quality of water – PH levels, filtration methods, TDS metering and testing results.
- Refinement of flavor through grinder adjustment, dosage, temperature, and shot volume.
- Chemistry of milk, as well as analyzing the factors which contribute to making the perfect milk.
This course is quite extensive and will cover many technical aspects, which is why it is recommended that you bring your pens and notebooks. It is ideal for those who want to work in high-end barista jobs, among other coffee related professions such as tasting, roasting or green coffee purchasing. The experience you gain will enable you to enter barista competitions.
- Latte Art Course: This is a practical course that will teach you the art of free pouring incredible latte art – you’ll learn how to make rosettas, hearts and leafs, and will also be introduced to etching.
The course is divided into two parts in order to appeal to both starting and professional Baristas.
Those who are starting out as Baristas can attend the full day program which is specifically meant for those who have limited barista skills and are unfamiliar with latte art. The process of latte art will be broken down into stages. You will learn how to perfect your milk technique and understand milk chemistry, both of which are involved with the creation of amazing latte art.
These stages will be combined by the afternoon to let you create free pour leafs, hearts and rosettas. This is a practical course which will give you ample time to test out what you learn. Steaming and texturing milk properly using the correct technique will also be taught to you to make you adept at creating latte art.
A three hour portion of the course is dedicated towards those baristas who are confident about their technique and already know how to correctly steam milk. It will focus on free pouring latte art, and nothing else. You will be taught everything required for creating latte art in the form of hearts, leafs and rosettas. Once you’re done, you can start putting your knowledge into practice and wowing your customers with your amazing barista skills.
Even though a certain amount of formal training is essential, you will also be learning a lot of stuff on the job
- Varieties, flavors and origins of coffee.
- Cleaning and using a coffee bean grinder.
- Cleaning and using an espresso machine.
- Adding foam and texture to milk.
- Latte art, adding designs to your coffee.
On the job training will give you only a basic idea of coffee making, you will need to take professional courses in order to learn coffee making as art. A large part of your training (both on-job and formal) will contribute to a Level 2 Award in Barista Skills, as well as a customer service qualification.
After you have completed training, you can apply for a role as a store manager or supervisor, which will open up opportunities to earn qualifications such as:
- Level 3 Award in Supervising Food Safety in Catering.
- Level 4 Award in Managing Food Safety in Catering.
You can check with the Hospitality Guild’s online site to find out more about courses related to a barista job.
Barista Salary Guide
When you start out as a basic barista, you’ll likely be paid hourly, making between £6.50 and £7.00. After you’ve gained experience and training, you can become a barista supervisor making £8.00 to £8.50 hourly.
A permanent staff member, packing supervisory experience and training, will earn an annual salary of £15,000 to £17,000.
If you’ve gathered some serious experience under your belt and get a job at a high end hotel or restaurant, you can earn as much as £ 20,000 annually.
Barista salary will be considerably dependent on the kind of coffee shop you’re working in, as well as its location. Certain employers may pay more for overtime and shiftwork.
You will find your services required in coffee shop chains, hotels, restaurants and small independent coffee shops.
Large coffee shops also have branches overseas, so there’s also the chance of being able to get a job in a foreign country.
Experienced baristas have opportunities to progress to positions such as store manager, and after that, regional manager.
You may also choose to be self-employed and start your own coffee shop.
The following table summarizes the salary breakdown for various barista jobs
The barista sector has a 13% skills shortage, meaning there is considerable room for skilled baristas in the market. The employment forecast for the sector shows a positive trend, with employment figures steadily going up from 2015 (~2.21 million) to 2018 (~2.22 million), and then increasing quite sharply up to 2020 (2.25 to 2.26 million).According to information acquired from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, as well as the Office for National Statistics, 5% of all baristas are self-employed, whereas 41% are full time employees and 54% are part time employees.
According to information acquired from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, as well as the Office for National Statistics, 5% of all baristas are self-employed, whereas 41% are full time employees and 54% are part time employees.
The barista sector has a 13% skills shortage, meaning there is considerable room for skilled baristas in the market. As previosuly mentioned, the employment forecast for the sector shows a positive trend, with employment figures steadily going up from 2015 (~2.21 million) to 2018 (~2.22 million), and then increasing quite sharply up to 2020 (2.25 to 2.26 million).
What these numbers mean for those who love to make coffee, and want to make money doing so, is that becoming a barista is a great choice of career in the hospitality industry, and as their demand increases, so too will the salaries.