What It Takes To Be An Apotheos Barista
So you want to be a barista for an Apotheos coffeehouse? You better be ready and willing to learn.
That's because an intense barista training program awaits all our newbies It's in place to ensure that every drink we serve our community is as delicious and as fresh as possible. Let's take a deeper look at one of the most central roles to our success.
What is a barista?
Technically speaking, the barista is the person who operates the espresso machine, and mixes drinks for the customers. The term is fairly new here in the States, but in Italy, it's been the standard title for espresso makers for years. (Baristaliterally means bartender in Italian).
At our coffeehouses, barista is the title we bestow on one particular employee who has perfected the ins and outs of the espresso machine. Our greeters, cooks, assistant baristas, and cashiers are all invaluable members of our team, of course. But only those who have achieved our highest in-house standard of excellence can proudly wear the title of barista.
So what does it take?
Typically, our baristas are employees who have already been part of the team. There is so much to learn about our unique coffeehouses, it's best for team members to master the day-to-day before they start training for the most prestigious role.
When I start prepping our baristas-to-be, I always lay out the story of the coffee bean for them. I tell them to think about the seed planted in the ground in Guatemala, and the arduous work it took to cultivate the plant, to harvest and dry it, the journey it takes across the world to land in our roasters, ultimately ending up in our espresso machine. The barista is the very last person who interacts with the coffee before the customer finally gets to drink it, which is no small responsibility.
Packing it in
The biggest task in our 8 to 9 hours of training is learning how to use the 2-group espresso machine, which makes two shots at once. First, prospects are taught how to grind the coffee to the perfect espresso size, since coffee that is too coarse will not do. Then we spend a lot of time talking through tamping—that's the process of packing ground coffee into the portafilter. The next part of the process is the need to apply 20 pounds of pressure to the coffee once it's in the filter. Sounds easy, but most people have no idea what 20 pounds of pressure even feels like. For that reason, we use a scale to help the barista learn how much pressure is just enough.
When the setup process is done perfectly, the barista can hit the water switch, and within 28 to 32 seconds, hot, fresh espresso will pour out. But the training process is all about avoiding common rookie mistakes. If it takes close to a full minute for the liquid espresso to drip, the barista has ground the coffee too fine or has tamped it too compactly. If it comes out in a quick 15 seconds, the barista has likely ground the coffee too coarsely or has packed it too loosely. Trainees who can figure out what went wrong are usually the ones who make for the best baristas.
Mixing it up
Once they've mastered the espresso machine, the training shifts focus onto the variety of drinks we make. If you want to be a barista at Apotheos, you need to know your lattes from your cappuccinos from your macchiatos. We'll sit down at a table with all the requisite ingredients and varying cup sizes to go over each beverage, one-by-one. Committing the recipes to memory, so they're second nature, is the key for peak hours, when the barista has to make many drinks under pressure.
We also go over the artistic side of the barista biz. Even if you've never seen latte art in-person, you've probably seen it online. Latte art results from pouring espresso over foamed milk in a beautiful design, each one a unique creation of the barista who made it. But latte art is not possible if the milk is not steamed perfectly, which is why we spend so much of our training focusing on milk. I tell trainees that if they've frothed the milk at the exact right temperature, it should look like creamy white paint.
Finally, we go over one of the most essential pieces of barista culture: customer satisfaction. Now, you may be thinking that every company tells its employees to smile at their guests, or to ask them how their day was. None of that is unique. But what you may not realize is that making great conversation with customers is quite literally a requisite for becoming a certified barista, at least it is at Apotheos.
This is such an important aspect of the work that there are international barista competitions where entrants have to engage the judges while preparing their signature beverage. Judges score the taste of the coffee as well as the barista's conversational skills. Without the ability to make customers feel at ease, they can never truly make it as a barista.
All right, so we've trained our baristas and handed over the keys to the espresso machine. So how do we make sure they're keeping up to snuff? A few weeks after a new barista makes their coffeehouse debut, we have them take a certification test—one I designed. The test starts with a handful of written questions about the barista basics to make sure they're employing everything they learned in training. After that, I'll ask them to prepare three random drinks, which have to pass my personal taste test. If everything meets the standard, they have successfully defended their position as an Apotheos barista. And we make sure that the standard is maintained, our baristas have to pass the test at least once a year, just to ensure we're keeping a tight ship.
Still, we never expect absolute perfection from any of our staff—only a willingness to improve. And part of that includes a willingness to fail. If our staff is always afraid to fail, they'll be too paralyzed to ever try something new. Though there is a limit, to know that mistakes are understood to be par for the course and that people should learn from their errors, is essential to doing better the next day. This philosophy has allowed us to serve the Atlanta community for almost thirty years, while constantly improving our craft along the way.