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How to Design an Effective Barista Training Programme

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Training is an essential part of any business, and café ownership is no exception. There’s more to becoming a good barista than stepping behind a bar and learning by watching. A formal barista training programme can ensure that all of your staff members are capable and confident.

Read on to learn how to design an effective barista training programme with some insight from the professionals.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Elaborar un Programa Eficaz de Formación Para Baristas

Behind the bar at Lighthouse Coffee Brewery in Bandung, Indonesia. Credit: Handi Maharjana

What Should a Barista Training Programme Include?

It may seem overwhelming to plan a barista training programme, but there are some existing resources that you can use as a basis. The SCA Coffee Skills Program includes Barista Skills, Brewing, Green Coffee, Sensory Skills, and Roasting modules. Even if you aren’t planning to enrol your trainees in these classes, the topics are a good starting point to plan out your own training programme.

Dan Dunne is Head of Training at Climpson & Sons, a roastery in London. He says, “The SCA courses set a standard and curriculum that is shared throughout the specialty industry. Introducing levels or tiers is effective, as it gives baristas something to work towards and practice in between levels. It also sets the standards and expectations of the barista.”

But you should be sure to tailor your programme to the needs of your own business. Dan says, “What you include, leave out, or focus on more, really depends on the priorities and nature of the coffee shop.”

Regardless of what kind of café you own, there are some universal areas of education to include. Here are the topics you should include in any training programme.

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A barista behind the bar at Saint Espresso in London. Credit: Miguel Regalado

  • Coffee Knowledge

A good understanding of coffee, including the basics of production, roasting, and brewing, should be the foundation for any barista. This knowledge allows new baristas to understand how the industry works and why we perform some tasks in the way we do. For example, without an understanding of processing methods, a barista may not know which coffee to suggest to a customer looking for a specific profile.

Shaun Aupiais is a barista trainer at Red Band Barista Academy, a South African youth training initiative. He says, “At Red Band Barista Academy, the training programme includes a full day of coffee theory. We talk about coffee history and the way it has developed through the ages.

“We also cover everything from bean to cup. We talk about harvesting, picking, processing, roasting, decaffeination, cupping. We go through all the steps and expose the barista to as much as possible so that they get a deeper understanding of how coffee has evolved through the ages and the crucial steps that are involved in ensuring that coffee is made correctly.”

Training materials at Red Band Barista Academy. Credit: Shaun Aupiais

  • Technical Skills

A barista may be well-educated on the history of coffee and theory of brewing, but they’re only as good as their technical skills. As well as knowing how to make espresso-based drinks and pour overs, baristas should be competent in maintaining equipment and adapting to new variables such as different coffees and non-dairy milks.

Create a programme that teaches the theory but that also allows plenty of hands-on practice. Most key barista skills are best learned through doing, so provide time for a barista to practice making drinks and steaming milk without the pressure of a customer waiting.

Dan advises creating levels or tiers of training and including a practical test at the end of each one to ensure that baristas have fully understood and mastered the skills at that level.

Learn more in Tamping to Timing: The Technical Skills Every Barista Needs

A barista brews coffee using a Kalita Wave. Credit: Neil Soque

  • Customer Service Skills

Don’t be tempted to overlook customer service as common sense or secondary to technical skills. Baristas who aren’t able to interact with customers in a professional and friendly way shouldn’t be behind the bar.

Create a dedicated customer service component to your training programme and make sure to include real-life examples and shadowing of experienced baristas. Trainees should be educated on how to greet customers, what information to offer, and how to make suggestions to people who are new to specialty or undecided on what to order.

Remember to emphasise the importance of listening to customers, non-verbal communication, and knowing when to give your customers space.

Read more in When “Have a Nice Day!” Is Bad Customer Service

Coffee enthusiasts take part in a manual brewing training session in Depok, Indonesia. Credit: Handi Maharjana

  • Factors Unique to Your Coffee Shop

Formalising your barista training doesn’t mean it has to be generic. You’ll likely train many staff members over the years, so create a programme that is crafted to your specific business that you can use repeatedly. Are you training baristas to work in a busy city centre coffee shop or for a high-end restaurant? The needs of your business should inform the focus of your training.

Consider daily tasks such as cash handling, equipment maintenance, and closing duties. Include training on point-of-sale systems, stock rotation, and other operational tasks to ensure that every staff member can contribute to the efficiency of your business.

A child learns how to make espresso as part of a motor skills workshop at Lighthouse Coffee Brewery in Bandung, Indonesia. Credit: Handi Maharjana

Delivery of Training

Barista training can be done in-house or at a dedicated training centre. The advantage of in-house training is that the barista will be using the same equipment and space as in their daily job, so it’s an opportunity to become comfortable with it. But dedicated training centres can allow better focus without the distraction of customers. They may also have more equipment that will allow baristas to train in new areas.

Dan says, “Training in the middle of service is always difficult in my experience. Out-of-hours training or using a designated training centre is far more productive and effective. This way, baristas can fully concentrate on the training and aren’t in ‘work mode’ or preoccupied serving customers. Also, training during open hours can be disruptive to service.”

But training in-house is cheaper and allows your baristas to experience real-life busy periods. By being on-site they’ll learn how to respond to customer questions and handle unexpected everyday problems. Consider whether a training centre fits your needs and budget or whether you’d rather have new staff members learn their workspace by training in-house.

Baristas behind the bar at a café in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Ana Valencia

The Right Instructor

Experienced baristas, managers, or owners are the obvious people to train new staff members. They know the job, the particulars of the business, and any existing shortfalls in your training programme. But consider whether they’re most appropriate to train a new barista. If a senior barista or manager has learned on the job, they may have some gaps in knowledge. In this case, it may be worth hiring a trainer or enrolling baristas in a formal course with a dedicated instructor.

There is also an advantage to having training from more than one person. People pick up different information and have different skill sets. By providing two or three people to train new baristas, you’re expanding their opportunities to learn.

You could also consider bringing an experienced trainer to your coffee shop. Shaun says, “It’s good to have an outsider because it’s a new voice, a different opinion. Sometimes when there is training within an organisation, some of the team don’t respect certain individuals within the team, so there can always be a difference of opinion. If you’re a coffee professional or a barista trainer as a career, you’re more accepted and information is seen not as a personal opinion but as a professional view.”

Red Band Barista Academy’s training manual. Credit: Shaun Aupiais

Dan recommends seeking out roasters who provide training, such as Climpson & Sons. He says, “We offer complimentary training to all of our wholesale customers. We also offer additional SCA courses. We understand that not all cafés have the experience, facilities, or time for training and therefore it’s become a big part of what we offer.”

People have different learning and teaching styles. While one trainee may be a quick learner with written materials, others may learn better from hands-on practice and real-life examples. Try to offer a variety of teaching styles and be aware of where your trainee’s interests and strengths become apparent.

A coffee cupping at a café in Madrid. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre

An effective barista training programme is one that covers all the practical knowledge needed to get the job done well, but also one that prepares the barista to feel confident and capable.

Take a look at established training guides and consult with professional trainers to put together a programme, but don’t be afraid to listen to your baristas and learn from them too. Consider what works best for your business and staff members and make your training programme your own.

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Written by Handi Maharjana.

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