Oh, how bad do you want that?

 

 

This is a blog post about love. Not the love for coffee but for those who pull the shots for my espressos every time I walk into a cafe, the baristas.

If you’re a coffee drinker like me, I can make good bet that you have your favorite kind of coffee and your favorite coffee shop that you will always tip your cup towards.

The front line of that coffee experience is the skillful baristas who fill our mugs and make this city come alive every morning.

To baristas everywhere, I love you from the bottom of my cup.

Sometimes nameless, but certainly not overlooked and faceless, baristas are overworked and underpaid, and they deserve every tip they get. After all, they are makers of the essential elixir of my life.

I have been fortunate to know a few of them and can tell you that each barista – each one of them – has a story. Some of them are students – others are musicians, artists, DJs, parents, beer brewers, and business owners. Each of them has arrived to baristahood in Seattle through a variety of pathways – all of which are interesting.

Baristas matter. And in a town like Seattle, they matter even more. But how much do they really matter?

The quality of the coffee matters less than whom it’s made by.  (Gulp. Yes, I said it.)

I would rather take a cup of mediocre coffee by a friendly barista than a great cup of Joe served with angst and vitriol.

Good café managers understand this.  Baristas make the coffee world go round.  “Our customers want to interact with them,” Ellie Chin, Fonte Coffee’s General Manager had told me recently. “Many of our baristas and staff in general are artistic, in theatre, and have personality.”

No doubt, Ellie is right. Baristas are often essential and unique personal points of contact in our day-to-day lives – a great interaction with anyone of them can either start your day off wonderfully or turn a crappy day around in the mere time it takes to make a double shot of espresso.

Certainly, by simply the sheer numbers of baristas in this city – all of them can’t be perfect all the time. Nor should we expect them to be. Sure, some of them would be better suited for a career as a mortician, but the overwhelming majority are simply great to interact with.

Over the last few months, I had wanted to ask a few cafes and baristas what exactly makes a good barista, well, a great one.

As you will see, the responses from Fonte Coffee, Espresso Vivace, Caffe Ladro, and Caffe Vita are all different, but one vein runs true through all of them: If you want to be a truly great barista you need to be passionate about coffee and have great customer service. When it comes to baristas, the greatest of the great swim in that sweet spot – in that nexus of artisan skill, personality, and a passion for coffee.

Fonte Coffee, Espresso Vivace, Caffe Ladro, and Cafe Vita Weighed in at the Seattle Coffee Scene:

 

Fonte Coffee (Read Related Post Here)


Caio Bella Fonte!

 

Fonte Coffee who has been roasting coffee for twenty years is well known and served in exclusive five star hotels across the country. They only have one very beautiful café – also full service restaurant – here in Seattle.

I spoke to Ellie Chin, Café General Manager at Fonte Coffee near Pike’s Market and peppered her with questions about baristas.

Surprisingly, she told me that her café doesn’t hire baristas. The folks they hire start out as servers where customer service is perfected and then they are trained to be baristas.  

So, who do they hire? “The first requirement they have to have a passion for coffee… WE can teach anything, but it’s really based on their personality and a willingness to learn the Fonte way,” Chinn tells me while my eyes off the coffee art, I was just served.

“Everyone here does everything, our goal is to the best job we can do, and deliver an experience that shines through.  We take pride in everything we do and permeates through the company as a whole,” Chin added.

 

Espresso Vivace (Read Related Post Here)


Espresso Vivace's coffee art makes me happy…

 

Espresso Vivace has actually written the book on barista skills (Get the book here). Their influence on the Seattle Coffee Scene is certainly monumental. I recently asked Kasey Frix, Espresso Vivace’s manager about baristas.

 In your opinion, from a business and customer perspective, what makes a great barista?

 A great barista has attention to detail and listens to the customer

 In a city like Seattle, how much does your business rely on the service of your baristas?

 The best coffee isn't enjoyable if customer service is lacking.

What qualities, experience do you look for when you hire a barista?

 A thoughtful, artistic person is always nice to have on staff.

 What qualitative traits (things you can really measure on paper) do you look for in your staff?

 People have different qualities they bring to the table so you can't really measure it in that way.

 With experience and talent being equal, how can a barista stand out in a crowd of job candidates?

 It's really helpful if a person has a strong work ethic and realizes there's always more to learn.

 For you and your business what does a typical interview and hiring process look like?

 Our interview process involves all three store managers and the owners in a conversation with the applicant.

 Any advice for those interested in being a barista?

 Read David Schomer's book “Espresso Coffee Professional Techniques”.  It's such a valuable tool to begin to understand what goes into making a good drink. (Get the book Here)

 

Caffe Vitta (Read Related Post Here)

 

That's Caffe Vita with two Fs, baby.

 

Caffé Vita is one my favorite places to grab a well-made espresso. They have made their mark on Seattle’s coffee scene doing it their way – which is always good to see. Having recently opened a store in New York and Los Angeles, they are exporting Seattle’s best commodity. I wanted to see how a growing business like there’s maintains the quality of baristas on their staff. I recently sat down with Jamie, one of the Caffe Vita’s baristas who shared a few minutes with me.

 “Great baristas can be encouraged if you believe in what you are doing and happy in your environment. What Caffe Vita does so well is that it creates a workplace you want to be in…can feel good in,” she tells me.

Baristas are trained or re-trained extensively before going behind the bar and they learn quite a bit out the beans that they roast.

Jamie understands that baristas and customers are consistently engaged with each other and points to a mutual respectful relationship. “Baristas will always come out on top when “you are true to yourself , always genuine, and recognizing everyone deserves respect, consideration, and friendly service,” she adds.

  

There are a lot of exciting things happening with Café Ladro these days. They have refocused and retooled to roast and source their own beans. During any part of the day you will be able to find a great cup of coffee sourced from a variety of different regions. Caffe Ladro's manager Jared Linzmeier:

In your opinion, from a business and customer perspective, what makes a great barista?

A great barista needs to be dynamic and charismatic, with the ability to strive under pressure and the enthusiasm to engage with all varieties of customer.  Our cafes all have rush periods where a barista must maintain composure with twenty people lined up, while also timing and periodically tasting the espresso to make sure it's where we want it.  While cranking through this line, a great barista can chime in on the farming practices, varietal, processing, or roast info to complement that tasty cup.  Great ones see a long line as an opportunity to challenge their skills and make some tips with great attitude.  Jack Kelly, CEO and founder of Ladro, told me he used to bet people fifteen or twenty back in line that he'd get to them in under ten minutes or he'd buy them their drink!  That's fun for everyone.  A great barista is also respectful and commands respect, without being arrogant or pretentious.  Of course, knowledge of and appreciation for good music, food, and other liquids also helps.  

What qualities, experience do you look for when you hire a barista?

This part really gets left up to the managers of each store; they all have a puzzle they are trying to put together to fill certain shifts, balance out personalities, bring in talent, and so on.  Our managers know the neighborhoods around the cafes extremely intimately, so they know best what kind of individual they need to excel with the customers and existing staff.

 With experience and talent being equal, how can a barista stand out in a crowd of job candidates?

 A prospective barista hire can stand out by being a regular and knowing our business.  We pride ourselves in having a unique type of company culture—a very eclectic one—and someone who can speak to that will stand out.

For you and your business what does a typical interview and hiring process look like?

Once again, each manager has a great deal of autonomy to run this part of the process how they see fit.  Usually we have a bank of resumes at the central office that Jeff, our Director of Operations, keeps track of.  Managers will typically check in with Jeff to see if he's got someone good to fit an opening.  If it looks like it might be a good fit on paper, or if someone made a nice first impression in person, then we'll sit down and chat some more to see if there's a fit.  Then it's like starting any other relationship: good communication, benefit to both parties, and all that.  

 Any advice for those interested in being a barista?

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