I’m sorry son, we don’t do that here…

I’ve got a few concerns about being a barista. Funny as it may seem, I find the reality of being behind the machine every day a very conflicting situation to be in.

The actual job itself is GREAT and I love it. There is so much about being a barista that is awesome, and here are a few things that I find to be most rewarding.

  • Technical skills and using them every day
  • Serving people
  • Getting busy and smashing out a morning rush
  • Building the shop’s business and popularity by making excellent coffee i.e. the validation of what I consider to be real value in my product
  • Feeling free of the bonds of ‘Nine to Fivedom’
  • Not ironing anything…

I’m finding it difficult to list the drawbacks to even out this equation, mostly I think because they are too complicated for my melon to shoehorn into a list, so I’ll try to explain them.

To me, the difficulties of being a barista are quite separate from the job itself. They are concerned with the handling and perception of baristas, the way in which they are hired and employed, and how people interact with them, both socially and professionally.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are significant career paths for dedicated baristas and lots of opportunities to be had, the problem is employers often don’t have the means to measure a barista’s career progress, they have no tangible milestones to compare and evaluate prospective employees with. The problem here is that the only real means of promotion is internal to the company the barista is working for. This situation has turned that particular job market into a sea of ‘everyone for themselves’, which is ok in itself but actually means there is little incentive to be extraordinary as a barista, because when interviewing for your next job chances are the boss a) wont know the shop or company you worked for, and b) wont care about previous experience or knowledge, probably using a variation of the age old ”because we don’t do it that way here.” cliche, its frustrating and damaging to the employees not to have some sense of progression or recognition of past efforts.

Too often it seems managers and owners are preoccupied with ”their way” of doing things that unless you know and follow their procedures click for click and tap for tap, in their opinion you cannot be making good coffee. I concede that this is not unique to the coffee industry, nor is it new, however it is a concern and when it is rectified the result will be happier, more dedicated baristas, making better coffee.

I recently moved from Melbourne to Canberra, having worked in coffee in both towns previously. What has struck me most about the difference between the cities is the glaring cultural void in Canberra where solid coffee culture should be. In essence, Canberrans are currently way less likely to embrace serious baristas as people with ‘real jobs’ than they are to entrust the treatment of their serious illnesses to an Inuit witchdoctor. I think this is both a symptom of how Canberran coffee shops roster their staff, and also of  the expectations of Canberra’s coffee customers. That is, they have been exposed to a coffee culture in which Barista’s were typically not very engaged or knowledgeable, thus an expectation of mediocrity has created less than optimal circumstances for modern, more capable professionals.

Small town mentality aside, its vitally important for baristas to be presented and viewed seriously. Thanks to cultural trends and good marketing this is slowly happening in the major cities, hopefully the smaller ones are about to follow suit. It’s also worth noting here that the specialty coffee infrastructure in Canberra is virtually non-existent, the AASCA presence here is minimal, with barely enough interest to run a competition, let alone any other community minded events or campaigns in support of the local roasters and their coffee.

Having attempted to set up a Coffee Professional’s guild or association for the ACT folks last year, and been met with a pretty tepid response, I’m trying to figure out a workable, practical and effective way of bringing about some change, interest and excellence in Canberra coffee and putting in on the map. Please leave your thoughts in the comments here and check out the proposal for the ACT Coffee Professional’s Group that I put to the people last year.



Also here are some pictures, in order they are; me pouring todays plunger – Columbia La Bella 29gms in water at 91 deg C, 6 Cup avanti SS plunger, the Columbian beans and my Iced coffee jug with 2 glasses, which has copped heaps of work this summer, iced plunger coffee…yum!


2 Responses to “I’m sorry son, we don’t do that here…”

  1. Stefan Says:

    Dude, we hear ya!
    There are people everywhere in search of a “Great Coffee”, and very few places to find it. I have often spoken to someone about bad coffee experience and had them tell me, they drank it, paid for it and left unsatisfied. Instead of letting someone in the company know that the coffee way WAY below par.
    Yet, those of us who actually care about what is in there cup and actively do something about it are looked at through glazed eyes… “What do you mean the coffee was average? That’s $3.50 thanks.”
    I have found that the only way to get a Great cup of coffee is to make it myself.
    If I can make a good cup of coffee from my Breville then I am damn sure you can make one from Expobar G-10!! If not – STEP AWAY FROM THE MACHINE!
    I will spread the word to my non-barista friends in Canberra about your plight and just maybe, someone might know someone…
    BARISTA – Def. NOT a 16 yr old who has made a coffee before and gives you a Ristretto when you clearly asked for a Double Espresso. “Is there a difference?”
    I promised myself I would not rant. D’oh!
    One too many shots…. again.

  2. Lincoln Says:

    dude, totally agree. The Canberran market is frustrating – there are heaps of reasons that I love being a Barista but with the current lack of support within the Canberra region, it definately seems the art of being a barista is lost behind cheap coffee roasted till charred and run through a un-maintained machine. The barista might build up the courage to say something to the owner and is met with a reply of – we only half fill the baskets because the coffee has gone up to $24/kg. and to top it off Baristas are often looked down on by a majority of the market as people that can’t get real jobs.

    Something has got to change…

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