How to talk to a barista?

Talk about your favorite cafes, local barista events, or plan your own get-together.
GDM528

#1: Post by GDM528 »

I've been periodically sampling espresso from local coffee shops to benchmark my home process. Exactly how they make their espresso seems pretty essential to understanding any differences, but I've been struggling with how to converse with the barista.

For example:
"What was the brew ratio for this shot?"

<blank look>

"Ristretto, Normale, Lungo?"

<still non-verbal, but their expression shifts to "uh-oh, it's one of those customers...">

"Short pull, long pull?"

<they finally speak> "Two ounces"

*sigh*... The only information I got was what I paid and how many ounces - I wish making it at home was that simple.

Perhaps someone on this forum can advise where I went astray here? It's occurred to me that the HB forums may have developed its own vernacular that baristas aren't privy to - are there other terms I can use? Should I even be asking baristas about their craft? I've found that bartenders will enthusiastically discuss their cocktails if you can demonstrate at least some level of knowledge and respect for what they do - I've yet to experience that with a barista, and I'm not ruling out the possibility that I'm being a jerk...

PIXIllate
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#2: Post by PIXIllate »

The honest answer is most "Baristas" are kids who don't know what good espresso is let alone know why they're doing what they're doing when it comes to pulling a shot. Of course there are exceptions but for the most part commercial espresso is about speed of service and milk drinks.

Find another café or a different Barista. Some people are just jerks or are covering up their own incompetence and ignorance.

SutterMill

#3: Post by SutterMill »

I've found it's usually due to the person behind you ordering a "half double decaffeinated half caf with a twist of lemon"
and the teenager behind them ordering "a strawberry frappacino, but without the coffee."
"So a smoothie?"
"No, a frappacino"
"Would you like whip cream on that?"

Piggybacking off of what @PIXIllate stated, I've found the training makes a HUGE difference not only in the knowledge of the barista but also their enthusiasm.

A recent trip to Italy also gave me a little perspective shift on the language we use.
In the states we have an abundance of terms from various parts and little in the way of standards. A double here could be 14g, 18g or 22g. In Italy it was 14g everywhere. There were no frappacinos, flat whites, long whites, mochas, drip, french press, pour over or any types of sugar laden creations. It was espresso, latte, cappuccino or Americano. Sure some of the specialty caffe shops had more offerings but it more about types of coffee than type of flavorings.

I've found it best to try some type of opener to gauge level of interest. Something like "Hey, I heard this shop has wonderful espresso." often times gets a positive response if they aren't busy.
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GDM528 (original poster)

#4: Post by GDM528 (original poster) »

PIXIllate wrote:The honest answer is most "Baristas" are kids who don't know what good espresso is let alone know why they're doing what they're doing when it comes to pulling a shot. Of course there are exceptions but for the most part commercial espresso is about speed of service and milk drinks.

Find another café or a different Barista. Some people are just jerks or are covering up their own incompetence and ignorance.
To the barista's credit, they were friendly and pleasant - a genuinely nice person. I suspect that someone else setup the workflow (grind, dose, ratio, etc.), so perhaps they were more 'operator' than 'barista'. The best interaction I've had was at a cafe with lever machines - that requires significantly more expertise.

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BaristaBoy E61

#5: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

PIXIllate wrote:The honest answer is most "Baristas" are kids who don't know what good espresso is let alone know why they're doing what they're doing when it comes to pulling a shot. Of course there are exceptions but for the most part commercial espresso is about speed of service and milk drinks.

Find another café or a different Barista. Some people are just jerks or are covering up their own incompetence and ignorance.

+1

I would say that the first step should be to watch very carefully the goings-on in a café to determine whether it's even worth speaking to the Barista or not. If everything is in order as to cleanliness, efficiency and workflow that maybe then it might be worth speaking to the barista. Very often the Barista will tell you that the machines are set up daily by the owner of the café that they have little knowledge of all the parameters or they just might tell you what we already know is a known recipe for creating espresso, X number of grams and X number of seconds producing X number of grams of espresso extraction.

The most helpful people are usually the 'older' people who are the café owners. Some of the most useful information I've learned at cafés have been from the owners detailing their experience with servicing equipment, breakdowns and maintaining grinders. I have not learned much of any value from Baristas with regards to pulling shots.

It seems like the most value trait for a barista is their ability to steam milk and pour latte art so that we think they're fantastic.
"You didn't buy an Espresso Machine - You bought a Chemistry Set!"

ohwhen

#6: Post by ohwhen »

A barista's job is to make and serve coffee. It's great to have a conversation about a shared passion but frequently a barista is being underpaid and undervalued and it's just their job, not a passion.

If the local cafes are also roasters it may be helpful to email them and say "hi what's your preferred recipe for this bean as espresso" and use that to guide your practice at home.
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Randy G.

#7: Post by Randy G. »

The greatest majority of 'coffee shops' are the equivalent of Starbucks with a different atmosphere and wall decor- maybe different color aprons. I have visited maybe four shops in our community in the last three decades.

1 - Was an advertiser in my small newspaper. We would go in monthly to collect for their advertisement and have a drink. The last time I wanted to try their new smoothie bar. "I would like a Mocha smoothie," I asked. It was not on the menu., but it did say that 'extras' could be added to any item.
"What's that? We do not have it," she asked.
"A Mocha? Chocolate and coffee...?"
I seem to remember she said something like, "We don't have coffee syrup on this side." [the smoothie bar which was about 15 feet from the espresso area]
"Just put a double shot of espresso in a chocolate smoothie."
"That's not a mocha. We will have to charge you extra for the espresso."
"Fine," I answered.
The last time I was there a customer ordered and walked out with their take away cup. He came back moments later and stated that the drink was not to their liking. The customer was told they ordered the wrong thing. That was all of that I could take. I heard that the married owner was having an affair with the lady at the smoothie bar who looked a lot like his wife. They closed down years ago.

2 - Bidwell Perk - Chico. - Wife had a gift certificate from work so we went. I started by ordering a straight espresso. I figure if they can't do that there is little point going further. It was quite good. The barista asked, "How is it?"
I replied with a smile, "At least I didn't want to spit it on the floor!" and handed her my "Espresso! My Espresso!" business card. I am going to give this to the boss and put that quote up on our bulletin board." The next time we went back I ordered another straight espresso. It was off. I went over to the grinder and there was obviously a different "blend" in it made up of older, dark, oily beans and the medium roast I had previously been served. That was the last time we went there. They are still in business.

3 - Empire Cafe - This cafe in a 1947 empire builder passenger train car served me an excellent straight espresso which had a remarkable citrus acidity. One of the five or six best shots I have ever had away from home including the numerous SCA exhibitions. Very friendly with a very knowledgeable barista. They went out of business a number of years ago.

4 - Only barely worth mentioning was the absolutely burnt cup of coffee I had at a Krispy Kreme which tasted like it was brewed with a propane torch. It was accompanied the worst jelly-filled doughnut I have ever had. They closed down.

CONCLUSION: Finding a cafe with drinkable espresso and knowledgeable folks behind the counter is rare. If you find a 'real' coffee shop that can serve a good espresso and has folks behind the bar who know espresso, frequent them as often as possible and tell everyone what you have found. They may not be around long.
www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
* 21st Anniversary 2000-2021 *

thirdcrackfourthwave

#8: Post by thirdcrackfourthwave »

PIXIllate wrote:The honest answer is most "Baristas" are kids who don't know what good espresso is let alone know why they're doing what they're doing when it comes to pulling a shot. Of course there are exceptions but for the most part commercial espresso is about speed of service and milk drinks.

Find another café or a different Barista. Some people are just jerks or are covering up their own incompetence and ignorance.
1. Yeah this. My son's roommate at college was a barista and his training was junk and he was pretty clueless--but. . .FTR not a jerk, has been through some stuff and super nice kid.
2. Morgan Drinks Coffee did a youtube all about how to talk to baristas. If I remember it seemed reasonable.

tinman143

#9: Post by tinman143 »

So I would only be able to answer your first question despite considering myself 'enthusiast' level (own/owned/fixed/modded various machines/grinders and roast my own beans and make decent latte art).

How many baristas would represent the active members of this forum? 1-2% maybe? Who cares.

Pprior

#10: Post by Pprior »

I think in general enthusiasts know more about things than most "professionals ". I've found this to be true in car communities vs dealers, audiophiles, woodworking, on and on