A barista is a coffee sommelier of sorts learned in the history, chemistry, and finesse of espresso and latte art.

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Jordan Barber, barista of Cafe Grumpy in New York City. [Photographs: Erin Hulbert]

What does the term "barista" mean? We throw this title around like a beach ball in Daytona on spring break. Perhaps it's a term that the Starbuck's marketing team conjured up as a trademark in the '70s to sell more specialty coffee? Or maybe the label is synonymous to the title of summer job, part time college gig, or a place to work until you get back on your feet? No one actually wants to be in coffee, right?

For some this may be true—a coffee shop is an entertaining and engaging way to spend six months of your time while waiting for that big break on Broadway—but I speak for those who have devoted their lives to learning, practicing, and mastering the art of espresso. These are baristas.

The term barista originated in Italy, long before my time, and literally translates to "barman" or "bartender." Sound familiar? The Italian barista typically stands behind a counter and serves espresso and/or alcoholic beverages. He or she is a multifaceted and well skilled worker much admired and respected by his or her customers. A barista is a coffee sommelier of sorts learned in the history, chemistry, and finesse of espresso and latte art.

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Amanda Byron, Director of Coffee at New York City-based coffeehouse Joe.

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Latte Poured by Jordan Barber.

Today a barista's knowledge penetrates the industry even further by understanding the beans detailed journey from a seed in a specific farm in Nicaragua, to how and where it was roasted. Not to mention some baristas have traveled to these farms to get an even more skilled idea about what it is they are serving you. Can you imagine your bartender dropping into the distillery to learn more about the whiskey in your Manhattan, or popping over to the vineyard in France to advance their knowledge of the Cote de Rhone on their wine list? Well, baristas do.

We care about what you put in your body. We want you to experience the intense juiciness of a Single Origin Kenyan. We want to know your taste preferences so we can steer you towards your new favorite blend. We want to give you the best latte you've ever tasted adorned with a beautiful rosetta. All we ask in return is a kind word and a dollar in the tip jar, just like your other bartender.

About the Author: Erin Hulbert, a native Seattleite, has been in the coffee world for well over a decade working with and learning from some of the most influential coffee minds in the industry. She now lives in the West Village in New York City, where she teaches, consults, and recently finished her first book Finding the Grind: A Barista Guide, due out this year. She also can be found pouring lattes as one of three trainers at Joe on Waverly Place. Read more from Erin at her blog Finding the Grind.

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