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What it really takes to be a great barista

Most people know a great barista needs passion for great coffee and a highly developed palate to fine-tune brew recipes. They also need to be meticulous with their attention to detail and highly efficient in ways that change from minute to minute.


Let’s consider a latte.

In a busy café environment, a barista needs to be able to make a latte in two minutes, while a great barista will be able to serve two lattes in under three minutes.


The challenge here is that, when you break it down and as long as everything goes perfectly, it takes three and a half minutes to make one regular sized latte.


A Simple Guide to a Great Latte

- Remove the portafilter from the espresso machine. Clean, dry and weigh it to check the scale reads zero. Load the portafilter in the grinder and grind the coffee.

Time taken: 30 seconds.

- Distribute coffee evenly in the portafilter and weigh it to ensure there is exactly 18 grams of coffee (not 17.7 grams)

Time taken: 10 seconds

- If necessary - adjust the weight of ground coffee (grind more or discard some, re-weigh and re-distribute)

Time taken: up to 20 seconds

- Tamp the ground coffee – as close to perfectly flat and level as humanly possible… and apply the same maximum pressure as the other baristas on your team. Ensure there are no coffee grounds on the outer surfaces of the portafilter.

Time taken: 15 seconds

- Get the cup, add sugar or flavored syrup as required.

Time taken: 10 seconds

- Load the portafilter into the machine and start the extraction within 2 seconds. Start the timer at precisely the same time as the extraction. Stop the extraction after exactly 22.5 seconds.

Time taken: 30 seconds

- Add 9 ounces of ice cold milk to the steaming pitcher. Purge and wipe the steam wand. Steam the milk. Purge and wipe the steam wand, again.

Time taken: 45 seconds

- Adjust the milk texture by swirling, folding and/or knocking and then pour the milk.

Time taken: up to 20 seconds

- Remove the portafilter from the machine, knock out the used coffee, clean the portafilter, re-insert it to the machine and flush through with water.

Time taken: 10 seconds

- Serve the latte (add lid and/or sleeve if customer asks for it)

Time taken: 30 seconds

TOTAL TIME TAKEN: 3.5 minutes


A barista achieves the impossible by making every second count.

In the 12 seconds it takes to grind 18 grams of coffee they fill the pitcher with milk, saving 10 seconds later on. In the 22 seconds it takes the espresso to pour, they start steaming their milk, saving a further 20 seconds. In the 10 seconds it takes the milk to finish steaming, they gain 10 more seconds by cleaning out the used coffee.


The true skill of a great barista is two-fold. Firstly, they are able to deeply understand this multitude of tiny tasks and multiply the gains as the number of drinks on order grows. Pulling two shots of espresso at once can take almost the same time as pulling just one. Steaming double the volume of milk takes less than double the time.


Secondly, they are able to do all of this while taking orders, selling baked goods and entertaining customers whilst remembering their names, drinks and important things about their lives.


If they do their job well enough you won’t even notice.

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