Coffee is serious business around the world, and the United States is no exception. In fact, the average American worker spends in the area of $1,000 on coffee every year. Buying coffee is a treasured part of a morning routine; seeing the familiar face of a friendly barista is a welcome part of the day. Serving coffee drinks has gone far beyond simply pouring some hot brew into a cup—it is now a true art form for some, one that can lead to global competition. Italy will play host to the annual World Barista Championship in 2014, where baristas from around the globe will meet once again to show off their amazing talents. The following are some of the skills that will be on display, as well as some of the artistic techniques used by baristas:
The Coffee Competition
Competitive baristas face a daunting challenge during competition, whether it is local, statewide, national, or global. Baristas are challenged to produce four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four unique drinks in just twelve minutes. These drinks are then tasted by one or more panel of judges, who assess each individual drink for overall taste, appearance, consistency, and aroma. Judges expect each drink to meet an incredibly high standard; even the slightest mistake rarely goes unnoticed. In addition to the drinks, competitors have their equipment, coffee grinds, and overall work station closely inspected and judged—everything counts.
The Barista Personality
Starbucks and other chain coffee retailers put particular emphasis on barista customer service training for a reason—the personality and attitude of a barista can significantly boost business. Baristas in the aforementioned contests are required to maintain small talk or answer questions while making their drinks, emulating the natural coffee shop environment. Having the ability to interact with customers while making multiple—and often complex—drinks separates the ordinary barista from the best. Conversation can be an art form, and the best baristas tend to put it on full display.
Latte Art—The Genius in Pouring
Baristas have taken the simple act of pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso to dramatic heights. It is not a coincidence that latte drinkers often see the same design on the foam on top of their drink everyday; this is the result of a specific skill. The most talented latte artists pour the steamed milk in a similar manner as one wields a paint brush, creating seemingly impossible designs. The results are astounding: fire breathing dragons, intricate leaves, a teddy bear, a glowing heart, and even 3D foam creations. These designs are so astounding that one might hesitate to ruin them by taking a drink.
The Art of Precision
Avid coffee drinkers—particularly fans of espresso drinks—often have strict demands when it comes to their brew. It is not unusual to hear a customer ask for their drink to be a specific temperature or for it to include precise amounts of ingredients. Making one of these peculiarly specific drinks is no easy task. Meeting this demand requires total mastery of the techniques and ingredients involved in the process, and to use them with a Zen like focus while multi-tasking—it is a true art.
Learning the Arts of the Barista
While there are barista classes available in many areas, one does not have to receive formal training to learn the arts of a barista. Professional baristas learn their skills on the job, but the average home brewer can learn many skills on their own via the web or a book. Serving a plateful of perfectly made and styled coffee drinks is sure to wow houseguests, and learning to make a coffee shop quality drinks at home can save one a significant amount of money. Above all, the key to mastering the arts of the barista comes down to loads of practice—imagine how many drinks the average barista makes in single week.
The world runs on caffeine, and the local barista is a key part of that. Growing global coffee consumption has created an entire culture around the drink, and no culture is complete without having its fair share of artists. Baristas take their art to incredible levels, with some traveling across the globe in search of competitive glory. The respect for these artists has led some to be in high demand for public displays of their skill and art as guest baristas, performers at events, and as hired help at private parties. With coffee being as important as it is, there are even people who have their own private baristas to meet their caffeine needs. As with any art form or skill, the world of the barista is sure to continue to grow and amaze.