What is a barista? This is a word that I hear thrown about quite loosely. I find it quite insulting that starbucks has chosen this term for all of their employees. Their massive influence on the public has yielded, that anyone who works in a coffee house is a barista.

To me this is just not true, I feel that to be a barista you need to be an artisan. Not only do you need to have strong knowledge of the bean but you also need to know your way around all of the equipment that you work with.

I do understand that most employees of coffee shop do not aspire to be lifelong baristas, and that some of the best baristas also do not share this view. It is also very clear to me that I could spend a lifetime in the industry and never learn half of what there is to know about the bean.

I am just interested at what point do you think that you became a barista, or is it just a catch all word that I am over emphasizing?

P.S. I did not label myself as a barista until after I had come back from my first regional competition and reflected on my standings in the community.

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Well, as an ex Starbucks employee, to there defense they train very hard their employees to know the beans they sell and all of them are required to work the espresso machine. I worked there before they got the new machines that pulls the espresso for you, although you did have to calibrate it. I felt that the new machine was cheating and took away from the fun of pulling the perfect shot. Starbucks taught me to appreciate the coffee. Before then I couldn't drink it ever without cream and sugar. Just sharing.
Latria, has a great point. In fact if you have a question about *$'s why not ask a *$'s employee or as in Latria's case a former...I'ts great to find former *$'s employee's here. *$'s is where I got one of my first coffee experiences so for many of us it is a standard we measure many coffee things by. My palate was originally conditioned / programed by *$'s.
Aside from my rambling above I agree wholeheartedly with Latria. First and foremost employees become Barista's. Then we learn how to mop the floor etc. I'm kidding but I'm not at the same time. Coffee service / presentation begins with this. We may not like some of *$'s ahhh roasting practices, but they know customer service. If your going to stay in business very long you better learn customer service from the ground up. (no pun jokes).
Cheers,
Joe

--
Ambassador for Specialty Coffee and palate reform.
Wow, what a great topic, and so beautifully articulated. I whole-heartedly agree with everything you just said, and it's very saddening to me to reflect on those 'baristas' that I've tried to train who really couldn't care less about coffee beyond getting a job to make money to survive. I mean, they could be slinging any product whatsoever, and it's completely irrelevant to them. With some, it may eventually click and with others, they'll just never get it or even notice they didn't get it, OR not even notice there was something there to get in the first place.
I have to admit that I was in that boat when I first started out! I was literally working my way down the block in my favorite part of town, going door to door, looking for a job. But that blase motivation didn't last long. In fact, my very first training session completely changed my perception of what I was doing (and why) for GOOD! I think I naturally possessed certain traits that lend themselves to the work (i.e. absolutely nutty perfectionism, a refined pallet- though still somewhat underdeveloped, a deep sense of the spiritual nature and satisfaction that comes from serving people and making them very happy, nourishing them in some way), so it wasn't much of a stretch to apply them to this particular industry. Even that sounds kind of generic and remote compared to how I feel about my vocation these days. But I think this paradigm shift was mostly due to the great, great person who trained me, and how he spoke about what he was doing. He created an atmosphere of complete reverance to the coffee AND to the equipment used, so that automatically set the right tone for how I approached my work.
I, myself, may never compete, but I take this endeavor and livelihood that I've chosen for myself with the utmost care and devotion (BUT, all the while, laughing at all of us for being such freaks and laughing at all of humanity for its numerous quirks and wrinkles, and just laughing in general for the sheer hell of it!). You've described what it's like to be a barista with beautiful style and grace, so thank you so much!

I think I'll go cry now...
Jennifer,
Thank you for Your articulation with this topic. I can only hope that someday I will be like the trainer you had for the first time. We loose track of how important that first trainer/teacher is when it comes to this. The impression they make on employees is timeless will last forever. Good or Bad. Hey, it's all about the passion here. You either have it or you don't. The student will not be a grasshopper for long. Lets do our best to get them on the right coffee path.
--
Ambassador for Specialty Coffee and palate reform.
LOL, I think I should probably learn to spell palate before touting my oh-so-refined palate!!

Jennifer Graham said:
I think I naturally possessed certain traits that lend themselves to the work (i.e. absolutely nutty perfectionism, a refined pallet- though still somewhat underdeveloped, a deep sense of the spiritual nature and satisfaction that comes from serving people and making them very happy, nourishing them in some way),
Don't feel bad, I had it wrong in my signature before someone pointed it out. I guess I have been moving to many 4X4 pallets in my prior life...<];^)
Joseph

Jennifer Graham said:
LOL, I think I should probably learn to spell palate before touting my oh-so-refined palate!!

Jennifer Graham said:
I think I naturally possessed certain traits that lend themselves to the work (i.e. absolutely nutty perfectionism, a refined pallet- though still somewhat underdeveloped, a deep sense of the spiritual nature and satisfaction that comes from serving people and making them very happy, nourishing them in some way),
In universities, professors of philosophy are called 'philosophers' sort of as an honorific, sort of as a cruel joke. After a few drinks, even philosophy graduate students get to call themselves philosophers. And in some restaurants, every cook is addressed as 'chef.'

The word 'barista' has a varying degrees of looseness in its usage too. When I train, I intend to make real baristas in the strict sense. But until they're ready to be released into the wild, I wouldn't hesitate from calling them baristas, even if only aspirationally.

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