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Top five things I learned as a novice barista

Last month, I gave you my novice view of the wonderful world of coffee tasting (check this post). The only possible next step was to better understand the noble calling of the barista. Thanks to John, and the other awesome staff at his store, I got my chance. If you visited the store recently, you may have encountered a baffled, white-haired Englishman. That was me. Hello.

Here are the top five things I learned in my first week as a novice barista, conveniently listed by day.

Day 1: There is a lot to learn!

I don’t know if I had given enough thought to how much there is to working in a coffee store. Even more so, a specialty coffee store like John’s, which prides itself on its expertise and professionalism. Frankly, after spending a week with them, I’m in awe.

On my first day, I was positively overwhelmed.

Learning how to open and close the store, use the various shiny machines, the till, that was just the start. Making coffee, real, specialty coffee in all of its myriad forms, that takes some learning too. There are options I’ve never even tried before, exciting new coffee experiences to discover.

And my knowledge of our beans needed work. I know our Sidamo coffee is a delicious bean from Ethiopia, lightly roasted for a floral, fruity flavour with a full mouth feel, perfect for pour overs or espresso. But I know that in a writer’s way, backed up by checking our website (here). Being able to recall such details when talking with a customer is a whole other thing.

Day 2: The subtle skill of steaming milk

Steaming the milk is fundamental to delivering a perfect Cappuccino or Latte. I spent two full days doing only that, learning then practicing the technique. I only burned myself a couple of times. The less said about the time I tried to take the milk away before turning off the steam, the better.

There is some fascinating science behind the art. At the risk of showing my hand as a fan of James Hoffman, he has a great video on the subject here.

Still, the repetition and drills paid off. By the end of day 2, I made my first flat white for a customer, carefully watched by one of the established baristas. The customer seemed happy. The barista said I did okay.

Victory!

Not my Latte art!

Day 3: You guys are great

Still not ready to fly solo, but day 3 we decided I was ready to talk to customers. And that was a real delight. I’ve met some people who clearly know more about coffee than I do. Making an iced latte for someone who was herself a professional barista was a little nerve-wracking.  But every single person I’ve spoken to at the store has been wonderful, and really patient with my slow methodical style.

Part of my goal for being here is to practice my Finnish. It’s interesting, and something of a relief, that about half of our customers at the store default to English. And for those that don’t, thank you for putting up with the terrible things I did to your language.

Day 4: Details matter

At John’s Coffee we want you to not only have the best possible coffee, but the best possible coffee experience. John himself gave me some great insight to some small details that in my frantic first days had been next level. How to hold the coffee while preparing it. Presenting the cup the correct way. The enthusiasm he has for all of these extra flourishes is infectious.

It all adds to the list of things I need to learn if I am to live up to our brand.

Day 5: Opening the store

An exciting day, day 5. I was deemed ready to open the store solo. There’s a lot to do. Grinding the beans and making the day’s filter coffee. Preparing the storefront so that it is clean, tidy and welcoming. Making sure that we have everything we need to give you the best service possible.

And the last part of opening the store this morning, an order for coffee beans to be delivered through Wolt. Did you know we are on Wolt? We are, and you can order beans for delivery whenever you need them (as long as the store is open, anyway).

Conclusion

So far it has been a fascinating journey. At times frantic, overwhelming and stressful, certainly. But it’s an exciting world to be a part of it, and I couldn’t ask for more knowledgeable and dedicated experts to show me the ropes. Thanks to the staff and customers of John’s Coffee for being amazing.

I’m going to continue my learning and journey a little while longer. Perhaps soon I can consider myself more than a novice.

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