Befriending Your Barista

by laura everage on February 4, 2013 · 2 comments

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The barista is often the final hand that touches your coffee, serving as your contact with the world of specialty coffee. The barista is also a treasure trove of information. But all too often, the only communication we have with a barista is when we order our drink, pay for it, and mutter a ‘Thank You’ when it is served.

If that is the case, then you are missing out on an opportunity. Worldwide, the barista is gaining recognition for the job that he/she does. Many barista even train for competition in the World Barista Championship, an international coffee competition focused on promoting excellence in coffee, advancing the barista profession, and engaging a worldwide audience. Each year, champions representing 50 nations compete to be named the Word Barista Champion.

With such a great treasure trove of information and expertise at our fingertips (or across the counter), we thought we’d ask a couple barista to divulge how we can better utilize our barista to bring us closer to the coffee we love.

How would you suggest we build a better relationship with our barista – and why should we?

Robbie Britt, Dynamite Coffee, Cape Girardeau, MO

 Maybe this is too simple, but I would suggest planning a little extra time in your day for a trip to the local coffee bar. This would allow for some interaction outside of the exchange of money and coffee. A great place to start is to ask about any educational events they may offer in their shops – coffee tastings, brewing methods, etc. If they don’t offer those, I would recommend taking the risk of letting the Barista recommend a coffee to take home. Ask for some advice for better preparation. Use that experience to come back the next time with something to talk about and build upon. I must add that this is based on the assumption that your local Barista is friendly and provides excellent service.  If not, shame on them. If your barista isn’t friendly, I would advocate finding another shop. The bad experiences out there are few and far between, so know that there are numerous baristas out there doing great things in our industry, and we want to serve you. I would recommend building a relationship with your local barista, because if you love coffee, preparation of coffee is their profession. If you want the best coffee experience possible, your local barista wants that too. They will do whatever they can to help you create that at the coffee bar, or at home.

Robbie Britt is the owner of Dynamite Coffee, a coffee cart in Cape Girardeau, MO. After nearly a decade in Specialty Coffee, Robbie still is amazed and humbled by how much there is to learn about coffee. He has now worn many hats in the industry including: Barista, Barista trainer, Equipment Sales Associate, and Cafe Consultant. One thing that still occupies Robbie’s spare time is Barista Competitions, which have been the single greatest way for him to improve as a Barista. One day, Robbie will put content up at about.me/robbiebritt, so be sure to check there for time to time for updates, or to contact him.

Terika Raak, Caffe Ladro, Seattle

I would suggest asking questions. Ask about the coffees they they are offerings, ask about brewing methods, ask what the barista’s preferences are. Any questions along those lines should open up a conversation quite easily. If the customer shows that they are truly interested in coffee (and not just the same drink that they order day in and day out), the barista will recognize that, and will continue the conversation whenever new coffees are expected by the customer. Once the dialogue is opened, the barista will be willing to educate the customer if the cafe is highlighting a new brewing method, or even provide a suggestion to try something new one day. All in all, it will result in a better experience for both the barista and the customer.

Terika Raak is currently a trainer for Caffe Ladro in Seattle. Previously, she worked at the Midwest Barista School and a whole bunch of coffee shops. Raak grew up in Washington where she fell in love with the coffee culture, went to the Midwest for college and grad school, and was able to pursue her passion for coffee throughout that time. Now, she is back in Seattle and loving it!

Joshua Boyt, Victrola Coffee Roasters, Seattle

The biggest barrier between the barista and the customer is time. Not only do the best baristas consistently showcase and educate about the coffee they serve, but they also (hopefully) engage their customers on a personal level to create relationship. The problem is that there is so much information to convey in a short period of time. Not to mention, I would say a vast majority of baristas are educating to assist a new customer in how to order, unique brew methods, and other basics, which leave much more in-depth exchanges  for potential future visits.

The hope would be, through initial engagement and quality of product, a customer would return and a barista would be able to progress the relationship, the education process, and the overall coffee experience.

The best thing a customer could do to create a relationship with a barista is to ask questions and show interest. Any barista worth a darn is going to be at least relatively passionate about the medium of their craft. Certainly, there are better times than others to try to ask about the difference between syphon brewer and Chemex extraction. If there is a line out the door, I would try to time the more in-depth conversations to a time when there is a lull, or ask when would be a good time to talk about coffee.

Many cafes hold community cuppings or home brewing classes. These are also great times to dig deeper. Plus, just hanging out in a cafe, being a regular, is going to give you special treatment.

The specialty coffee industry has been captivating Joshua since 2001.  He has worked as a delivery driver outside sales rep, and sales manager, for Atomic Distributing, an espresso supply and equipment distributor in the Northwest. When Atomic Distributing was absorbed by it’s parent company Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Joshua traveled countless times across the country and globe supporting and developing business from one location to 100+ location chains. After 10 years with Dillanos, it was time to leave and put all his experience to the test. Boyt opened Metronome Coffee, his own retail concept, in Tacoma Wa. After a year of establishing solid growth and momentum in his own cafe, Boyt has turned his industry experience and passion back upstream, partnering with Victrola Coffee Roasters as their Director of Sales and Marketing. Read here for Joshua’s full bio.

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