baristas are getting older

But I think its a good thing. 

It feels like these days I’m in the middle of my year; traveling a lot and learning at a rate I never thought possible. I’m writing this from California’s sunny Hermosa beach after just coming from chilly Montreal to judge at the Canadian Barista Competition. While I ponder on my turning another year older yesterday, and where coffee has brought me to date, I can’t help but compare myself to my peers and observe how many baristas are now moving into new roles in the industry, often out from behind the bar.

Without wanting to criticise the other excellent judges in Canada, I couldn’t help but feel the judges who’d started behind the bar were that bit more attentive and aware of the flaws and attributes each performance brought. The question was raised if it should be baristas judging baristas in competition, or as an alternative, should every judge  be required to a quick run through regardless of their background. That may not be a popular idea and there is also the possible problem of bias in such a small industry.

I certainly don’t think the only good judges are baristas, and have judged with, and been judged by some truly stellar non baristas. But it has gotten me thinking about young baristas who are now looking to move forward in their coffee career. I know many who’ve gone on to do training, roasting, consultancy or even open up their own cafes, and when I was lucky enough to attend the SCAA’s Joint Board Committee Meetings last month, I was amazed at how many baristas formed the bulk of the volunteers. 

There is nothing really new in this, or controversial, but for me I think I’m a little excited about it all. We’re seeing more and more baristas move into prominent positions in the industry, positions where they can have a direct influence on how it develops. We’re going to see the job description of baristas change, and we will see people respecting it and paying for it; though how long God knows. 

I believe judges and associations should always hold a healthy mix of baristas, and the plenty of other necessary and important roles in coffee, but I guess I’ve been given a greater sense of perspective recently, which has really highlighted just how important the barista is. Again this may seem like something you’re all very much aware of, but there was a question raised at the SCAA event, asking why so much focus was being put on the baristas as opposed to say producers or roasters. Richard Rhinehart’s answer was something I knew but somehow hadn’t taken in.

In response, he more or less questioned how many times roasters or farmers had the opportunity to engage the end consumer and educate them; maybe 6 a year? maybe 20? maybe even 200? Compare that with how many hundreds of thousands of times a minute ‘baristas’, good or bad, are in a position to educate and garner respect for the drink and the work that went into it.

Its never been presented that clearly to me before. I’ve been so enamored by the agricultural side of coffee recently that I suppose I’d lost sight of the potential and sheer amount of work that needs to be done at the brewing point globally. 

I’m sorry if this sounds like a stating the obvious post, but its kind of whats on my mind right now, which I guess is the point of blogging nonsense. Or are you guys just reading for the giggles? I bet you are.

Any thoughts?


13 thoughts on “baristas are getting older

  1. Something that bridges the gap between barista and roaster for us at Tim Wendelboe’s is the fact that our roaster is only a couple of meters away from the espresso machine and half the people working here swap between roasting and being behind the bar… so the customers get a more informed, considered encounter, hopefully educating them along the way.

    If only we could grow coffee in the park across the road, then could we speak knowingly on growing coffee too… not likely though, it’s snowing in Oslo today.

  2. Ryan Brown and I were just talking about how crucial a barista is to the success of a producer’s coffee, how she is largely responsible for consumers’ total impression of the coffee being served. The barista is therefore a spokesperson not just for her respective shop but also for its producers and, moreover, for this young progressive movement we’re all a part of. The low-waged, snotty, hung over barista needs to go away. The difference should only begin with taste.

  3. We’ve a couple of plants in the window at TW’s, they are healthy but haven’t produced any fruit yet, once they’ve matured a bit more, i’ll pop them in the park across the road and let you know when the first TW microlot is available… come on climate change!

  4. Hi Stephen, Glad to see you’re making waves (big ones!)in the hot bevvy business! Belated congrats on becoming World Champion.
    I’m still stuck in boring old DIT trying to put a couple of notes together.
    Best wishes

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