Monday, November 20, 2006
  Barista Training - The Whole Team
Me and my baby

The mission: To train all the Baristas of an established coffee shop, and the G.M too.

The complication: Six of the Baristas, with experience ranging from 3 years to 3 months, have been working on all the equipment, having been trained in the "sink or swim", learn-through-osmosis tradition. The other 3 are new, thankfully, and will be the proverbial blank slate.

The problem with re-training Baristas who believe they have already been trained is that they believe they have already been trained. The ones that have been there the longest also believe that they know what's what, and have seniority. Salt is added to the injury in the fact that I have only been working at this shop for 7 months, and I only work on Friday nights. I try, however, to keep my mind open to knew knowledge and techniques. If something comes along that improves freshness, quality, increases public education, or in some way advances the industry, I would like to think that I will check it our and verify for myself before either incorporating it into my mental model, or writing it off. The average PBTC, I have noticed over the years, will accept certain things as truth from the beginning without having any understanding of why it is the truth. This can and does lead to a wide variety of myths and fallacies passed on from one Barista to the next. Let me illustrate with a "humorous anecdote".

Mama Jones teaches her daughter (son) how to prepare the Christmas (Passover) ham (Matzah balls, or ham, like my Jewish vegetarian friend Jonathan). Little Debbie (insert non insulting yet ethnic sounding name of either gender here) asked her mom why she has to cut three inches of ham off the end, and she says:

"My Momma always made it like that".

In a puzzled state of confusion, they called Grandma Jones to ask why, and her response was,

"My Momma always made it like that".

This was no better, so they called Great Grandma Jones to ask her.

"Great Grandma" they questioned, "why do you cut off the last three inches of ham?"

Her answer was simply this:

"I could never afford a lager pan, I cut off the part that didn't fit".

Baristas who are not given an understanding of why they need to perform certain procedures a certain way can and will propagate a habit to other Baristas without explanation. It seems that there are only a handful of Baristas who have the wherewithal to ask why. I have noticed that some will give reasons that make no logical sense, but that is what they have been told by others. I have also noticed that some Baristas will deliberately make up reasons because they have a hidden agenda, and they want things done their way for their own reasons.

It is a delicate task to cut and paste new information into an existing set of mores. One cannot expect to rush in and proclaim ultimate control of all procedures. New ways of doing things will be balked at. In cases where it is more convenient for the Barista to do the less fresh, lower quality procedure, there will be turbulence. The funny thing is, they will blame the customers buy saying if it takes longer to do something the customers will complain and become impatient. I wonder if they will be able to see the flaw in the philosophy of convenience before quality.

"If you can wait one minute, I'll have a perfectly fresh cup for you, thanks."
"I knew you would be in a hurry, so I had the closing staff grind all the coffee last night, it's all stale, but I'm saving you 30 seconds of your valuable morning."

It is true that specialty coffee shops are held in a dualistically oxymoronic view by the general public. We are supposed to provide them with a gourmet product of the highest quality. They expect a certain level of culinary achievement and an atmosphere of culture, all with the efficiency of the MacDonald's drive through window. At least once every Friday night I hear a customer plead with me for their drink while I am delivering someone else’s beverage to the counter.
"Excuse me, I had ordered the triple pumpkin spice skinny mocha."

I check my list of tickets, and sure enough, it will be one of the next two drinks to make. The problem is that they ordered the drink four minutes ago, and it is not ready yet. They automatically assume I lost the ticket. So there is a two fold educational journey upon which I must embark. The Baristas need to learn how to draw the best shots and build the best drinks without compromise. The customers must be brought into the fold and made to understand the caliber of beverage they are receiving. It is an entierly different thing to teach someone how to spark the imagination of a customer. There is a certain "je ne sais quoi" in the way one can talk about coffee to a customer that conveys a sense of passion and enthusiasm and love for the product. The ability to pull someone into the vortex, and grab them by the buds, is perhaps more of a chracteristic than a skill.

I don't expect everyone to be trouble, but I know there will be some problem areas. I fact, I know some of them are excited about getting things going towards a higher quality of product. The training process will go on for months just the get everybody in the shop up to snuff. By then someone will have gone back to school, taken another job, moved out of town. Then the knowledge will be passed on to someone new. I don't mind, I asked for this.

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Location: Garner, North Carolina, United States

Born in a cabbage patch, raised on a raddish farm, trained in the marshall arts, graduated like a pitcher, I cut my teeth on an Ohio Scientific Aardvak.

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