Baristas: The Coffee Sommelier

La Salita Cafe Barista

Becoming a barista could be harder than you may think. While Sommeliers from across the world are highly respected and also heavily paid, most baristas are not so handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Many of the complex flavors that can be found in wine and wine pairings can also be found in different types of coffee. While it’s much easier to break into the marketplace as a Barista, they still need to commit to constant learning as well as plenty of hard work when it comes to developing their coffee palate as well as figuring out all of the different brewing techniques that can be used to unlock the flavor profiles in each bean.

Coffee sommelier… but it’s just coffee some say. Firstly, the coffee profession has many different paths, from roaster to coffee journalism to green coffee buyer. But probably the most common is becoming a barista. It’s a respected, full-time profession with passionate, smart, dedicated people. A standard Barista job description is: Prepare quality drinks consistently and quickly without excess ingredient waste, maintain a clean and efficient station, explain the coffee menu, make recommendations and otherwise interact with guests. But, it goes FAR beyond just that.

Now before we tell you about the special people that respect the farmers’ product, let’s talk about the bean basics itself. Coffee is actually a seed that comes from the Coffea fruit, sometimes referred to as a cherry but is actually a type of berry. The pulp taste is somewhat sweet with a similar pasty texture of quenepas. Although coffee plants grow quickly (within 6-12 months) from seed to fully established plant ready for planting, a coffee farmer will usually have to wait three years for a newly planted tree to fruit properly.

Coffee is a very chemically complex product to work with; the chemical reactions that occur in the coffee beans at certain temperatures of roasting is what creates the aromatics, acids, and other flavor components that are balanced or altered in a way to build the perfect flavor, acidity, aftertaste and body of the coffee. This chemical reaction is what makes your coffee taste and smell so good! There’s the Maillard Reaction, the Caramelization, The First Crack, The Second Crack and the Pyrolysis

An incredible amount of time, hard work, effort and passion goes into growing, harvesting and producing coffee. It’s a luxury product and should be respected in that way. Specialty coffee in particular is a truly luxury product, it is not a commodity one like that ones you find in your local grocery shelf for anywhere from $4-6 a pound or your typical gas station coffee, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts. Specialty Coffee and Craft Roast is premium coffee.

Then there’s the premium specialty coffee. The one’s ranging from upper $40-$60 for a 12oz bag. The bean fragrance/Aroma, acidity, body and finish are distinct. This craft coffee grain is a micro-lot of the entire field, a very unique coffee and very little of it is grown in a season. It’s hard to get to, it’s hard to pick, it’s the best of the best and then there’s the craft roaster that roasts this specialty coffee. It’s worth every penny, I mean, quality costs more.

Most Baristas have their entire career fueled by a love of coffee instead of pure monetary gain. The passion in this profession creates an incredibly infections community, unity and comradery, coming together and sharing knowledge, techniques and best practices. Baristas dedicate hours, years, their entire careers trying to achieve the perfect cup of brew, a nearly impossible feat but the journey is an exhilarating one! The quality of work and love the baristas put into serving each cup of gold is accentuated by their effortless yet superior service and hospitality skills. A barista is an artist, a chemist, a sommelier of all sommeliers! A Barista will happily tell you the differences in different coffee’s, what they’re going to taste like, how the coffee is grown and processed, the different roasting styles. The passion they harness is felt and they warmly welcome anyone to the community open to learning more.

It can be argued that coffee is indeed more intricate than wine. Although it doesn’t always require the extensive aging process or fermentation process. The growth, roasting, transport and brewing of coffee, its sheer chemical complexities can all vary by regions and add distinct and original tastes. A good Barista will know how to dial-in and unlock the best flavor profiles of any particular origin/growing region, processing, blend, roast, packaging and preparation or brewing method.

Making espresso is an art and a science. There is an art to pulling a perfect shot of espresso. But, that’s just the espresso, then there are all the other exciting brewing methods like French Press, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Chemex, Siphon or Vac Pot. With the different brewing methods go the different coffee-to-water ratio, coffee grind that corresponds with the corresponding brewing time & method, optimum brewing method, proper brewing technique, good-quality water, and an appropriate filtering medium. Impressed yet? Oh, did we mention the milk steaming, pouring, milk alternatives and latte art? This too takes a whole lot of practice to perfect! If you’re at a place that does latte art and you don’t get a good art, that means your drink is not well made. Either the shot was not pulled well or the milk consistency is off.

A barista is a trouble-shooter. Heat, dryness, moisture and air temperature – to name a few – can all wreak havoc with coffee beans. Other things to consider: is it the equipment (water temperature, pump pressure, boiler pressure) or Barista (dosage, tamp pressure, volume, flow time).

A barista holds the standard for “the customer is always right”. I mean, whom else would not laugh and instead professionally explain to you the different coffee drinks or simply just serve you your requested ‘Starbucks invented’ Iced Caramel Latte Macchiato drink with a smile?

Where’s the Michelin star for the Barista’s and true coffee shops?

Last words, respect the farmers, the drink, the barista and tip well.