The barista’s journey – and where many go wrong.


I want to talk about baristas.  I was a barista for two and a half years, so I think I’ve experienced the issue of “baristas going bad” in my own coffee journey and have seen it happen all over the industry.

I’m not talking about the come-and-go baristas (who are great in their own way!).  I’m talking about the real nerds here—the passionate folks who have gotten bit by the coffee bug and make coffee a career.

Coffee—as a barista—is a rabbit hole of endless learning, new techniques, myths, science, practice, competition, sweat, tired feet, and caffeine headaches.  In the pursuit of perfection, baristas that work in specialty coffee go to huge lengths to improve themselves and the product they serve.

There’s a pride to it.  I’m proud of my ability, and I’m proud of the craft that I’ve learned over the past few years.  I hope that I contributed to the craft in some small way. I respect the process—the farmers in lands I will probably never visit, the exporters and importers that bring the coffee to Houston, the roasters who are bent over fiery barrels of coffee all day, and the baristas who put it all together.  I think it’s pretty incredible, actually.

Pride, however, can ruin baristas.  So many baristas get caught up in getting better and making great coffee that they miss the point.  Coffee-making isn’t about baristas. 

Coffee-making is about the guests—customers in the café, loved ones at home, friends on a camping trip, and the feeling of genuine hospitality and family that should go with every cup. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Baristas that excuse poor quality with friendly service don’t get a free pass.  The key idea is this: The best baristas don’t confuse selfishness with pride in their work.  The best choose excellence and service; they choose to do things from the point of view of the customer and make coffee with an intention of hospitality, not personal pride—while holding themselves to the highest standards at the same time.

I want to quote one of our barista’s words to end this post.  Steven Garcia at Main St. summed it up rather nicely: “Watching customers get psyched about their drink is always a special feeling.  Try to remember that we are working in service.  Flip the perspective, give them your best, and there will be mutual respect.  It’s probably the longest running lesson I continue to learn.”

<3 Chris