Being a barista can be fascinating and rewarding. It can also be demanding and is often low paid. Many baristas see the job as a short-term career because it’s hard to support a desirable lifestyle on the wages, and there is often a lack of progression opportunities. So where can you go from being a barista?
Read on for some career development ideas.
A cortado and an espresso. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
Progression Within The Coffee Shop
Many people don’t understand how much passion, commitment, and skill baristas put into the job. Being on your feet all day, pulling shots, obsessing over quality and extraction, giving top-notch customer service, not to mention mastering that rosetta!
Most baristas choose their job because they love the craft, so why give that up to head to an office or elsewhere? If you enjoy what you do, but want a more professional (and better compensated) position, consider other career options in coffee shops.
Barista Elias Egholm at work in Denmark. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
As specialty coffee grows, there are increasing numbers of managerial and head barista positions out there. But you may have to move from your current café to a larger chain or relocate to a major city to move up.
Tim Sturk is Director of Coffee Education at Cherry Coffee Training and a licensed Q grader. He teaches numerous SCA courses. He says that “each individual has to decide what is best for them and this will have much to do with what is available to them. Anyone wanting to work as a barista in London has their pick of jobs, but perhaps this is not the same in other cities around the world.
“A skilled, talented barista will be sought after by employers, either to promote a brand, a business or to teach their staff. This will lead to other opportunities and therefore a career can open up without realising it.”
If you’re keen to stay where you are, talk to your manager about development opportunities and show enthusiasm to grow and learn. If they’re aware you want to stay but need new challenges, they may be able to give you more responsibilities or create a new position for you.
Scott Rao is a coffee consultant and author. He says, “Talk to your employer about your long term goal. Communicate instantly with your employer what your future hopes and prospects are within the company. How can your employer help you reach your goals?”
Baristas at a cupping session at Finca Puerto Alegre, Colombia. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
Training & Development
Moving up the ladder means you really need to know your coffee. One way to prove this is to take coffee training courses and wider professional development.
Tim says, “Certifications in any field show that someone is serious about their chosen path. The ultimate goal is that anyone with SCA certificates will be a valued and sought-after employee over someone with similar experience but no qualifications.”
Courses can be expensive, but if you’re already working as a barista, your employer might be willing to contribute to the cost. Ask around to find out which training courses professionals find valuable and which are less useful. General management or accounting courses may also be useful additions to your CV, depending on your end goal and the company you hope to work for.
Barista Elias Egholm behind the bar of ROAST Coffee, Copenhagen. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
Tim says, “I meet many interesting people all over the world who have super cool coffee jobs and many of them started as baristas… Usually there is a recognised pathway of education, practical experience, and perhaps on-the-job training. People will naturally gravitate to their own area of interest. A career will come out of a desire to know more and to further develop a skill.”
He says “My best piece of advice is to become the expert wherever you work… not through anecdotal information, but through proper learning. Challenge everything you hear about coffee.”
Participants in an SCA Roasting Foundation Course at CoffeeMind, Denmark. Credit: Simon Borrit / CoffeeMind
Agnieszka Rojewska is a professional barista and World Barista Champion. She says that “being a barista is not a very well-paid job in most countries. It doesn’t provide you with financial stability most of the time.”
She tells me that formal training can “help you to find a better job, and for café owners it helps to choose staff members with established knowledge. Certificates are necessary so that the industry has standards and can share values and approaches.”
However, Scott says that while he understands that people feel the need to collect formal certifications, he would always advise them to spend their money on something else. He tells me, “I would never hire people because of their certification, but because of their experience.”
Author and roasting consultant Scott Rao with barista Krista Alexandersdóttir. Credit: Johan Rutherhagen
Tim says that “if someone is motivated enough to become a skilled barista, they will inevitably be lured into further education, competitions, events and just the specialty coffee community itself. This will open doors and provide opportunities that you cannot predict.
“Opportunities come up as you explore the coffee world… Being a barista is the easiest way into coffee, but I just think it’s really hard to stay [in that position] because the industry is too interesting, there are too many other things to do.
“If someone is motivated and has intentions to work in coffee, being a barista is a vital step. I think everyone should work as a barista in their coffee career. Not only will they learn the basic skills needed, they will also experience customer service, workflow challenges, working within teams, basic health and safety and food safety. All of these areas are extremely relevant and necessary.”
Barista and roaster Jonas Wentzel Sorensen talks to a customer at Copenhagen Coffee Festival, 2019. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
So what other avenues could you go in? Consider where your enthusiasm lies and see what related careers are out there. This could mean looking for opportunities with a roastery, moving into importing, or even becoming a barista trainer yourself.
Scott suggests thinking outside of the obvious roles and looking for opportunities in your current role. He says, “Become a green bean buyer within your coffee shop. Say, ‘You wanna grow the company, let me do the green stuff – get that off your chest.’”
Go to community events such as public cuppings, trade shows, and industry meet-ups. And when you’re there, make sure to network and ask questions about both technical aspects and career paths.
Tim advises to “get involved in everything and anything coffee related” and Scott tells me baristas looking for new opportunities should “Network! Talk to people, listen to the older people, and ask questions. Go to coffee events, cuppings and fairs.” He says that by putting yourself out there, you might “get lucky – find the right person, that might be the person who hires you or becomes your mentor.”
Coffee brewed in a Chemex. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
Going It Alone
Maybe you want to make a career in coffee but don’t want to negotiate your way up in the industry. Many people choose to set up their own coffee shop.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but if you have the resources, the freedom and independence can be a great choice for some people. Owning a cafe will allow you to continue to work as a barista, learn more about sourcing roasted beans, and provide an opportunity to get to know coffee lovers and industry professionals.
But before you sign a lease on a coffee shop, make sure you’re prepared. Consider taking some business courses, put together a business plan, and know when to use a professional such as an accountant. Your town might have a small business centre that can help and for young people there are often national or regional support schemes such as the UK’s Prince’s Trust.
Barista Johan Rutherhagen shows green and roasted coffee beans. Credit: Krista Alexandersdóttir
It’s just as important to know your stuff and have a good work ethic when setting up your own shop as when looking for employment opportunities. As well as giving you confidence in your menu, a demonstrated knowledge of coffee will make you more appealing to potential investors or partners.
Scott says that “if your work your ass off and make a good case to investors, nobody owes you anything. Impress them with how hard you work. You can get investors if you just prove yourself.”
Baristas tasting and cupping coffee samples in Denmark. Credit: Joe Dennis
So, what will your next step be? Life as a barista can be tough, but it’s a great foundation for many other opportunities. Study from professional resources, ask more experienced professionals questions, and put in the hours behind the bar. It will pay off in the long-term.
Written by Krista Alexandersdóttir of ROAST Coffee.
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