The very word conjures up images of caffeine artisans creating beautiful espresso drinks in small cafes in Italy. And well it should, since for generations Italy was the home of the “espresso bartender,” who tended to be a male, mentored and trained by other baristas to be a certified barista and held in as high esteem as the sommelier. But thanks to increasing global travel and the growth of the Starbucks Coffee chain, our seemingly endless love affair with coffee culture has seen the rise of the North American barista, especially in such centers as Seattle and Vancouver.
That’s good news for job seekers who are serious about espresso artistry. Just ask Stuart Ross, a champion barista in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, whose signature drink, the Triple Chocolate Maple Passion, put him on the map. After a career as a stock broker, Ross decided to open “Toronto’s first latte art coffee shop,” Bull Dog Coffee, on the site of a hair dressing salon, where he and two other baristas pull espresso shots for a crowd of regulars.
“Espresso is a whole body experience, from when you smell it to when it hits your tongue to when you taste it,” he says. As with other baristas, his passion has become a quest to practice, learn, create and introduce others to real espresso, created in the traditional way and not at the push of a button. “For me, it’s a dream come true, and I feel like I’ve won the lottery because now I’m a professional barista.”
Many serious baristas, like Ross, create signature drinks and go on to compete at regional and national barista championships. But for job seekers interested in becoming baristas, there are other options, too, such as working in restaurants and bistros, college libraries, local cafes and hotels.
Being a barista takes a lot more than pushing buttons on a machine or pulling espresso shots, if you want to make a career of it.
For Stuart Ross, who owns his own shop, open from 7 to 7 daily, the day starts early. The equipment needs to run perfectly before the first customer orders. “You end up throwing out your first few espressos,” says Ross, until after the espresso machine has been properly cleaned and “coated”. You need to ensure you’ve got all your supplies on hand: the right coffee, the right grind, the appropriate cups and saucers, and of course knowledge of how to create different espresso drinks. “You must have a passionate desire,” says Ross. From the first latte or cappuccino poured in the morning, Ross’s day flows like the coffee until his daily cleanup routine around 8 p.m. The days are fast-paced, but there’s great satisfaction in pouring the best espressos for your regulars.
Being a barista is both an art and a science. As with food recipes, anyone can cook; not everyone can be a chef. Take courses, do research, apprentice with professionals, practice at every opportunity. As Stuart Ross advises, “Always keep on your quest to be the best.”
Ross trained with one of the barista masters, David Schomer, at Espresso Vivace Roasteria, and an espresso maker from Bologna, Italy. Professional baristas teach both the science and art of espresso making – everything from machine maintenance, grind differences, bean knowledge and water temperature to the creation of award-winning latte art.
While learning one on one with a professional barista is still the acknowledged path for job seekers serious about their espresso, there are now courses offered by coffee academies, such as the Canadian Barista & Coffee Academy, which are helping to popularize the field.
And there are publications devoted to enhancing your coffee knowledge. Barista Magazine (www.baristamagazine.com) as well as online resources like www.coffeegeek.com and www.lucidcafe.com are just a few of the Bibles of the industry.