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Effective Barista Training, Tea and Coffee Asia, first quarter 2006

Appearing in Tea & Coffee Asia

1st quarter, 2006


                     Effective Barista Training

Imagine walking into a hospital to have open-heart surgery and having a plumber perform the task or walking into a financial planner and getting a hairdresser to give you investment advice. You wouldn’t be too happy, would you? Yet thousands of café owners around the world have unqualified people driving their espresso machines and they still expect their operations to succeed. The location might be great, the fitout mind-blowing and the equipment brand new but without a properly trained barista you can forget about gourmet coffee and the profits that come with it. Professional barista trainers Matthew Gee and David Gee give us their views on effective barista training and what it should entail.

[1] Start on a Theoretical Level

Nobody should work behind an espresso machine without a full knowledge of how coffee is grown, harvested, roasted and blended. They should also know about the particular blend they are serving as customers will come up and ask from time to time about the coffee that is being served. They should have knowledge of the origin of the beans in the blend, whether there is a mixture of arabica and robusta beans in that blend and what degree of roast the blend is. This type of blend-specific information can be obtained from your coffee supplier but the underlying information of how and why coffee is blended can really only be conveyed by effective barista training.

We’ve spoken to some so-called "baristas" who swear that their beans are grown in Italy (coffee cannot grow in Italy as it is too cold), some who think that coffee beans grow in the ground (they don’t, they are the seeds within a cherry that grows on a tree) and that all coffee beans roast for the same amount of time (they don’t – it depends on their size, moisture content, hardness and density). The information they therefore give their customers is completely without foundation in fact.

Apart from all of this background information about coffee being interesting, it surely must be regarded as essential information for the passionate barista who wants to know everything about the product they serve.

[2] Get Technical

Milk Texturing

Effective milk texturing is one of the most important aspects of coffee-making. If you cannot get the milk right, you cannot pour nicely presented coffees, the coffees will not taste good and creating latte art will be an impossibility.

One of the key areas of focus in good barista training is the creation of smooth, silky, creamy milk (milk that has thousands of densely-packed bubbles that are almost invisible to the naked eye). The froth should "hold" in place without deflating or imploding.

The three main areas that need to be focused on are:

[1] Temperature – how using a thermometer will help the barista to achieve the correct temperature in their milk every time (65 degrees C/150 degrees F).

[2] Swirling – how obtaining and maintaining a circular motion of the milk in the jug at all times is vital in creating highly-textured, velvet-like milk.

[3] Stretching – what you need to do to "stretch" the milk to obtain more creaminess. Listening out for the right "hissing" sound is vital in helping students hone their stretching skill.

Most people making coffee who have not had effective barista training produce old-fashioned, dry, aerated "froth" which is tasteless, does not blend in with the crema on the espresso and sits as a completely separate layer to the milk below once it has been ‘spooned’ on top.

Espresso Extraction

Not all coffees have milk in them but all coffees have espresso in them which makes espresso extraction arguably the most important thing that a barista needs to be trained in.

There are lots of variables that come into play when espresso is created from a commercial espresso machine. Great barista training should focus on how coffee is dosed out of the grinder into the waiting group handle, how coffee is tamped properly (the correct technique involves the right amount of pressure being applied in the right direction) and how to insert the group handle into the machine.

Most people making coffee in cafés at least know the above, but probably 90% do not know how regular adjustment of the grind (ie. particle size of the coffee) can ensure a consistent extraction of the espresso.

If you haven’t heard of the 30ml-in-30 seconds rule in relation to espresso extraction, it is probably time to sign up to get some barista training. The 30ml comes from correct programming of your machine and the 30 seconds comes from having a coffee particle size to suit the weather conditions at the time of pouring. For those of you out there who believe that the grind should never change, try ensuring your espresso comes out in a beautiful 26-30 seconds when the humidity level in the café is constantly changing. If you are happy serving coffee that is either too weak or too strong and believe that this is the result of factors outside of your control then proper barista training will definitely enlighten you.

Pouring Correctly

A great espresso and finely textured milk can combine to make a horrible coffee if the barista’s pouring is not executed in the right way. Again this is where proper barista training can help.

Take a caffe latte for example. If this is poured out too quickly, the barista will get too much textured, creamy milk into the glass and they will also dissipate the crema, making latte art impossible to attempt. If the barista pours out the caffe latte too slowly, they will not get enough textured, creamy milk into the glass and may not end up with any creaminess on the top, making latte art similarly impossible to attempt.

Presenting with Flair

It is rare to find a trained barista that has not in some way decorated his/her coffees. This actually includes takeaways, even though some customers will immediately spoil the design by putting a sugar in their coffee or by putting a lid on it! Top baristas go the extra mile and spend an extra 2-3 seconds giving the coffee a signature that no other barista uses. As a barista, making quick patterns on coffees makes your life interesting and gives your customers a kick.

Proper barista training will take accomplished baristas to a higher level by teaching them etching and free-pouring skills.


Training is therefore essential for a barista to become technically proficient. Skills don’t just develop naturally. And don’t listen to people who think coffee is some sort of "artisan craft" that takes decades to master. It’s not rocket science but in some ways it should be treated as a science. You need to know about the 30ml shot and that it should come out at or very close to 30 seconds. You need to know that milk should be heated at or very close to 65 degrees Celsius. You need to know about water temperature, overextraction, underextraction and water pressure. The Ferrari racing team only allow elite drivers to race their F1 cars. Espresso bar owners should think similarly when deciding who will drive their machines.



Matthew Gee and David Gee currently run a wholesale coffee business in NSW and a barista training school called BARISTA BASICS Coffee Academy that operates in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle. They have also owned four cafes in Brisbane (still own one), have been partners in a specialty coffee roaster, have written Australia’s first textbook on coffee (bean there, drunk that...), produced several coffee training videos on commercial and domestic espresso machines and are currently producing a book focussing on domestic espresso machines.

Last year Matthew and David appeared on Bert Newton’s Good Morning Australia and Channel 9’s Fresh with Jeff Janstz. They have also worked as official espresso tasters for Choice Magazine’s 2004 and 2005 review of home espresso machines. They also periodically appear on Ella James’ Saturday night radio program on Sydney’s 2UE. In 2005 they appeared on Mornings with Kerrie-Anne Kennerley on Channel 9 and Today Extra with Nat Jeffrey on NBN3.

Ó & Ô 2005 David Gee and Matthew Gee

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