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How to be a Gun Barista - Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 5, 2004


Bean Scene Issue

How to be a Gun Barista

Baristas vary in ability but few can claim to be a “Gun Barista”. You have to be energetic, technically proficient, creative and multi-skilled as well, explain Matthew Gee and David Gee. Here's their guide to being the best of the best…

We took over four espresso bars in Brisbane a few years ago. One of them had several staff members who had been working there for the past year. They were lazy, scruffy-looking people who were more interested in chatting about rave parties than making coffee for customers. They pleaded with us to keep them on - said they were “gun baristas”. We decided to put them to the test and asked them to prepare some coffees for us. Mmmmm. We figured that Ordinary Coffee with Bad Attitude didn't look good on the menu board so we “released” them and enlisted a new, largely inexperienced group who would later develop into our “gun baristas.”

It's an oft-asked question - “What is it that makes a gun barista?” - because some are great, some are just OK and others would be better off pumping petrol than working an espresso machine.

So over the years we have compiled a list of essentials that we think go into making a “gun bartista”.

Proper Training
All gun baristas have had proper training and have become technically proficient. You don't just develop the skills 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. It's like learning to drive -better to learn from an accomplished teacher than from Uncle Ted who is likely to pass on decades of bad habits.

Gun baristas will have a heightened sense of awareness. There are several key areas of concern for the barista standing at the espresso machine as the order is being placed .These include milk type, the need for chocolate powder if a hot chocolate or caffe mocha has been ordered, the need for decaf coffee grinds if a decaf has been ordered or the need for syrup if a syrup has been ordered. The gun barista should have prepared all of these things even before the official order has been passed to them by the cash register operator.

A gun barista will also be aware of his or her fellow workers and will have developed a clear delineation between the various roles in the cafe. They will not try to do everyone else's jobs as well as their own but nor will a gun barista be slack and never leave the espresso machine at the expense of the overall efficient running of the café. A gun barista doesn't only make superb coffee, he or she also knows how to load the dishwasher and mop the floor.



A Love of Coffee
You have to love coffee to be a truly great barista. We don't know about you but we've never met a successful salesman who hated selling, a successful mum who hated children, an award-winning author who hated writing or a top rock band that hated performing. So too with coffee - you have to drink the stuff and love it to fully understand and master it.


Gun baristas will have a coffee every hour or so. If you don't drink it regularly it's impossible to keep your finger on the pulse (temperature, milk, espresso- they can all vary throughout the day). For example, how will you know when the thermometer needs recalibrating or whether the coffee tasted different to its usual taste if you don't drink what you serve?

Bosses that make their baristas pay for their coffees need change their policy because encouraging the drinking of multiple coffees per day will greatly improve product quality.

Looking the part
For the feet, this means not wearing clogs, Hush Puppies, thongs, slip-ons, sneakers or sandals (unless this is the “feel” of the café). If there is no uniform, one can't go wrong by wearing black and it looks smart. Investing in some nice black polo shirts or something like that doesn't go astray but baristas should steer clear from the tattered, old, faded black Bonds T-shirts that they have been wearing as pyjama tops for the past two years. Blazer, Polo, Nautica or Country Road make smart long black pants (if you are a guy) and we're sure there are great equivalents in the female pants department. Clean aprons are always a plus. We've never seen a gun barista with an apron on that has a week's worth of spilt milk and coffee on it.

Gun baristas also know that wearing a name badge isn't necessarily daggy – it helps people remember their name.

Knowing your customers
Gun baristas know not only what their customers drink but they actually get to know them. For budding baristas just starting out, we advocate starting by memorising the names of five new faces each week. By using their name every day they come in and trying to memorise their standard order, by the end of the week the customers' names and orders will be part of the barista's stored memory. Using associations where one can will often help but there is a real danger in falling into the trap of knowing customers only by what they order. For example, “strong flat white guy with nervous laugh” or “soy latte with nutmeg sprinkle lady” may be endearing ways to remember some regulars behind their backs, but gun baristas understand that their customers want them to actually remember their name as well as their order. We always think of our cafes as the Boston bar Cheers – a place where everybody knows your name. Cafés are havens from the stresses of the shopping centre or the workplace. People unwind in cafés and are generally nicer to those around them. In other words, the environment is ripe for niceness so the barista should capitalise on this.

Gun baristas will also ask questions of their customers where appropriate and where time permits, such as “What did you get up to on the weekend, Jan?” or “Did you watch the Wimbledon semis last night, Bob?” Over time they will know where their regulars work and what they do with their spare time and they will tailor their conversation accordingly rather than asking broad questions.

Having an ability to multitask
It's essential that baristas do more than one thing at once with espresso making to ensure a smooth flow in the café or restaurant that they are working in and so that coffees are delivered as quickly as possible after they have been poured. Gun baristas ensure that they have milk in their jugs before they dose out the coffee into the group handle, tamp it, insert it into the machine and then press the volumetric button. Whilst the espresso is pouring, the milk should be frothed then the steam wand cleaned. The milk should be poured as soon as it has finished being frothed. The espresso should be ready at this point. If there is ever a period where the barista is waiting for espresso to stop pouring, benches should be cleaned, saucers with spoons prepared, finished coffees cleaned before they are taken out and fresh milk poured into waiting jugs. Drip trays need to be cleaned often as well so that the bottom of cups don't gather the wet, ground coffee that ends up on customers' saucers.

Establishing signals with waitstaff
In our barista courses, we flag the importance of developing signals with the barista's waitstaff and signature signs to improve efficiency. It's a simple thing but it comes as a revelation to a lot of people who hadn't thought that a few simple signals can save a lot of misunderstanding, mis-communication and forgetfulness by staff. We're talking here about doing things like having a system in place whereby a decaf drink is denoted by an overturned spoon, a cappuccino by three chocolate stripes of chocolate sprinkles on top, a hot chocolate by a zig-zag design of chocolate sprinkles on top, a caffe mocha by a half-covering of chocolate sprinkles on top, skim milk by an additional straight line of chocolate sprinkles on top etc. As you can see, any system of differentiation is fine so long as everyone in the café or restaurant knows it. It just helps when the poor person taking the order out to a group of customers knows exactly what each drink is. Without a system in place some drinks look the same. Having the wrong drink being given to a customer can cause chaos and wasted time.

Making coffee with flare
Gun baristas never send a coffee out that hasn't first been decorated. 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! Gun 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.

Knowing the mantra and living by it: the customer is always right
We once knew a barista that argued with a regular customer every time he came in. “Flat whites have 2mm of froth, so don't ask for a flat white without froth!” he would say. We used to tell him that the customer was always right but he thought he was the ultimate authority on coffee and couldn't be told. He works behind a check-out now at Target. You get the point.

A knowledge of blends and degrees of roast
People are becoming more educated about coffee. These days it's hard to open the newspaper or a lifestyle magazine on a weekend and not read about coffee. This transforms into more questions at the espresso machine when customers are waiting for their coffee such as “Where are the beans from?”, “Is it a dark roast or a medium roast?” and “Is there any robusta in this coffee blend or is it all arabica?” Good baristas may know whether the blend is a full or a medium roast simply because the label on the bag of coffee beans may tell them but a gun barista will know the answers to all of the above questions and will be able to talk on all these topics will authority.

Any barista in the dark about the blend/roast being used in the café should ring up their coffee company and get them to sit down with them next time they're in or get them to post or fax information which explains the nuances of the coffee beans in use.

A knowledge of domestic espresso machines
Bad baristas warn people off buying domestic espresso machines and say that they make poor coffee, are too slow and are difficult to clean. Good baristas know that there are many on the market and offer advice such as “Buy the most expensive one on the shelves and you generally can't go wrong.” Gun baristas will tell people that they must decide whether to go automatic or manual and if manual, whether to go for a machine with a grinder attached or to buy a separate grinder, what to prepare first in terms of espresso and milk and what sort of coffee to buy to satisfy the particular taste profile of the customer. They will also offer advice on the different espresso machines and be up to date on things like Choice Magazine comparisons.



We all know that there are plenty of bad baristas out there who churn out ordinary coffees day after day. Why they still have jobs is beyond us. We waste our $3 every time we go into one of their cafés. There are also plenty of good baristas who manage to get by because of a lack of alternative. And then there are the gun baristas. Being a gun barista is a learned skill but you also need to be open to new techniques, be willing to learn, enjoy talking to people, be able to multitask, enjoy working in a team but take charge when necessary. And last but not least, you must have a passion for coffee and its presentation.


David Gee - Barista Basics Coffee Academy

Gee Brothers

Ó & Ô 2004 David Gee

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