Sunday, July 09, 2006

Barista as a profession?

So,...I've been thinking,.... If, like me, you pay attention to all the online chatter, the various coffee podcasts and all the hype surrounding competitions, you're probably aware of the clear message trying to promote the barista craft, with many attempting to get it a respect equal to that of a chef or a sommelier (depending who you talk to). We all want better pay for barista's and also for more communication between the growers and the brewers. Read any issue of baristamagazine to see examples of this. While I would be the first to preach the importance the barista plays in the chain of seed to cup, I don't however know how much I'd recognise it as a full blown profession. For me a 'profession' suggests something a person could happily do all their life, but do we really think many barista's out there still want to be barista's in ten years time?........... I'm not so sure. I understand this depends greatly on how we define a barista and whether their skills can be compared to that of a chef or rather a technician instead. And yes, if we define it as incorporating roasting, cupping and engineering skills, then I suppose such a job would prove a sustainable source of interest for many years. Sadly, very few barista's are exposed to these avenues in coffee. Even for those that do, and who want to learn more and develop, they'll usually find themselves experimenting with roasting and cupping extensively, so much so that they spend less and less time behind the bar. So if they're not working behind the bar, are they still a barista? Have they surpassed that level as a professional in the coffee industry? Can we then look at a barista as an entry point into the world of coffee? Or should it be held in high esteem as the role of the true coffee professional? I find it hard to imagine a place in today's speciality coffee society for the professional barista of 30 years experience. The general absence of roasting gear and pricey new brewing equipment, in the majority of the world's cafes'. would suggest there is only so far a professional barista can develop in that limited environment. Vancouver is known for its higher number of quality focused cafe's and while here I've met many working baristas who've been exposed to the latest technologies, roasteries, and indeed some of the world's best coffee's available. But this is not the norm, and even if it were, I would question still whether these baristas would be content in their current roles 10 years down the line. If the WBC continues with its message and gradually raises the bar for specialty coffee around the globe, I'm sure we will see standards improve in all our cities. But do we really expect each city to have cafe's capable of feeding the knowledge hungry barista? It is almost a case that as we try to educate and inspire barista's, they will only want to move beyond the role. I'm just wondering lately whether its too much of a romantic notion to idolise the barista as much as we do in the industry. thoughts?

8 Comments:

At 7/09/2006 10:48:00 a.m., Blogger jim seven said...

Billy Wilson recently wrote a very similar article for Fresh Cup, in the 9 bars section.

It is a very valid point. The career barista is laudable but unlikely.

 
At 7/09/2006 02:09:00 p.m., Blogger The Krow said...

Career barista.... you've got my attention and support to push for this. Curently I'm learning the ropes; the deeper I get into coffee and hte fine art of a good cup the more I crave a career as a barista. I liken myself currently to an artist, each cup is a exquisit piece of art to be enjoyed. Viva La Barista!

 
At 7/09/2006 03:06:00 p.m., Blogger flyingthud said...

Is that article online Jim?

 
At 7/10/2006 10:33:00 a.m., Blogger Phil said...

Excellent post and very valid. Part of the reason should be obvious, a chef is the sole artist in the creation of food, and the art he/she produces are far more varied than the art of a barista.
In coffee you have two artists, a roaster and a barista, and also the growers play a FAR more important part in the quality of the end product.

So a career coffee professional is probably as plausible as a career chef, but a barista is somewhat limited

 
At 7/10/2006 12:21:00 p.m., Blogger Stephen Leighton said...

I agree excellent post thought provoking and very well thought out good stuff.

 
At 7/23/2006 06:36:00 a.m., Blogger seattlecup said...

you know steph, I was just asking myself and you for that fact where and what is the next step for me, there's bound to be a peak at one level and then a push to the next phase. Perhaps ownership, or consulting...but then again if the pay was competitive and kept up with my "needs" and some of my "wants"...I may stick to it. dunno, but well written stuff Irishman.

 
At 7/29/2006 10:40:00 p.m., Blogger Sé Gorman said...

Hi Stephen Hope you are having fun out there. will catch up when you get back.
Yes you can be a barista in your later years!!! I saw an even older barista than me working flat out in the market in the Ramblas in Barcelona he must have been 70 and was producing astonishing lattes at speeds you'd be proud of. In terms of recognition a sommelier is comparable but a chef must work with a much greater number of ingredients so his skills may be percieved to be much greater. Slán

 
At 8/18/2006 05:22:00 a.m., Blogger blanco said...

sommelier is more akin to barista than chef. i would say if specialty coffee continues apace--what with $50/lb green beans and all--the role of the barista will become as vaunted as that of the sommelier. more so, since all the sommelier does is uncork and serve what everyone else has already done. the barista still has to "make" the beverage.

 

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