What Is “Barista”?

The term `barista` is an Italian one, given to café workers who specialise in making the finest coffee for customers. Baristas are experts in handling espresso machines and preparing the perfect shot of coffee. There are degrees of barista skill, which depend rather on the type of machine that is being operated. With fully automatic espresso machines most of the skilled work is completed for the operator, but in manual and semi-manual machines it is up to the barista to prepare the shots, apply the right amount of pressure and decide the optimum brew time for the choice of coffee the customer has chosen. It is considered something of an art to get the perfect manual espresso and there is considerable competition between baristas to get the combination just right. In fact there is even a World Barista Championship competition, which is held every year in Norway.

Barista Training Courses

The Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma espresso maker makes a perfect cup every time.
The main skills are coffee centred and revolve around preparing the perfect shot. The barista must adjust the coffee grinder to the correct setting, according to the bean chosen. Next he must load the espresso basket and expertly tamp down the coffee, levelling it just right for the perfect extraction. These actions may sound straightforward to the uninitiated, but failure to complete one part of the process perfectly can result quite easily in a bitter, weak, over-strong and generally unpalatable extraction. Since it is a job that can only be perfected by experience, most baristas learn their art in the workplace, but it is possible to attend classes to improve technique. Barista know-how is passed on from shop owner to staff in most cases and a fair few espressos end up being thrown away at first. Over time, some baristas become so skilled in the process that they will adjust their machine several times a day, depending on the climate. Too much moisture in the air can affect the beans. The skills they possess are highly prized by coffee connoisseurs who will often discuss the coffee bean selection with the barista before settling on the right one.

Professional Barista Skills

With the recent introduction of `latte art` things have become even more complex in the world of the professional barista. There are many different ways of preparing milk for lattes, getting just the right amount of froth and perfecting the pouring of milk. Now there are magical ways of swirling the frothed milk to make intricate designs. The competition in this field is becoming more and more intense, particularly with the younger baristas. There is even a trade magazine for young baristas, which is packed with useful advice and news of competitions. A new generation of coffee lovers is springing up and with them a host of professionals who want to learn as much as they can about the art and skill of the top-class barista. With access to a social network of other baristas and the ability to source coffee beans online in order to experiment with different tastes, things have never been so exciting in the world of fine coffee.

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