It's the Barista, Stupid

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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HB
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Postby HB » May 20, 2005, 10:58 pm

This site features high-end espresso machines and the reviews of these beautes draw most of the readership. So it's a little ironic that I list the Macchina espresso (espresso machine) dead last in the four principle elements of making espresso:

    The Four M's

    The principle elements of making espresso are captured in four Italian words:

    1. Mano dell'operatore (hand of the operator)
    2. Macinadosatore (grinder-doser)
    3. Miscela (blend)
    4. Macchina espresso (espresso machine).

    Each of these elements plays an important role and the strength in one rarely compensates entirely for the weakness in another.

    I've ordered these factors by what I believe are their relative importance. You may be surprised to see the espresso machine ranked last. This isn't to suggest it isn't important-- it obviously is --but rather recognition of your ability to adapt your barista technique to obtain the best result. To put it another way, above a certain level in espresso machines, the majority of improvements are more about quality of materials and workmanship, capacity, and ease of producing the desired result than an "absolute potential." What further proof does one need than sampling a half-dozen commercial cafes? Practically all cafes purchase from among the best equipment available, but invariably a few outshine their peers thanks to their superior baristas.
If you've read a few of this site's reviews, you may have noticed the four M's defined more than once. At first I only wrote short definitions, not really assigning any relative importance. In the above excerpt, I thought it worth explicitly stating (a) the machines aren't everything, and (b) the barista is the most important. OK, it would more accurate to say that the machine isn't the critical factor above a certain point. While a barista champion could make do with lesser equipment thanks to their heightened skills, the average home barista has a fraction of the experience. Arguably top-notch equipment will deliver better results for them because its superior capabilities in terms of temperature control, stability, pressure regulation and preinfusion, thereby reducing the burden on the barista to adapt to maladaptive equipment.

Does that mean you must drop three grand to have a great espresso machine? Most certainly not! At today's prices, a prosumer espresso machine starting at around a grand will reliably and quickly deliver good results without an undue amount of effort. That isn't to say that higher tier equipment isn't a joy to use -- indeed they are! -- rather it's analogous to the audiophile world where the cost rises faster than the "absolute potential" of the result. And especially in the realm of commercial equipment, capacity and consistency under load is the name of the game and much of the reason behind higher sticker prices.

On a related note... There's a lot going on behind the scenes of HB. The site moderators and potential writers are hashing over future articles. Looking at the list that's planned to come online, it's frightening. There's only so many evening hours and all of us have full-time jobs and other responsibilities. But for me and others who've joined "Team HB", the excitement of doing something new and innovative is pure fun, albeit frequently exhausting.

One particular article has been on the radar for months, even before the domain existed and long before forums were even a consideration. I don't want to spoil the fun (or build up unjustified excitement), but it's jokingly entitled "It's the Barista, Stupid". Partially an equipment showdown, partially an opinion piece, it strikes at the central core of what defines this website: The people, the barista, the human experience.

We hope you enjoy many hours reading about very cool espresso equipment, barista toys, and how to refine your espresso preparation skills. But remember the tools of the trade are secondary to you. What you learn and share here is what makes the difference, whether your equipment costs $500 or $5000. Take advantage of the human knowledge at your fingertips. Participate. Join the HB experiment!
Dan Kehn

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Compass Coffee
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Postby Compass Coffee » Jun 08, 2005, 8:23 pm

Just a quick note of thanks to you and the other's who have worked to bring this focused forum to fruition. Those who may know me from Sweet Maria's email chat List know I can, uh, get carried away on tangents at times. If I do here, feel free to knock me back in line! (Of course, being a moderated forum that's simple - delete).

I still say I'm not a full fledged Espresso Hound, merely a pup. I hope to continue learning from those who have paved the way before me.

BTW, pulled a hilarious shot of SM Monkey Blend today. This time I was sure I'd stalled Missy on the barely rest ready Monkey (2&1/2day rested 12min roast just to edge of 2nd, PID 231 boiler temp). 21sec into the shot and not a drop. A wee flow finally started at 22sec so I ran the shot long to 29sec. Total volume including mostly crema about 1/3oz, seriously less than a tablespoon, I checked volume afterwards with water. (from LM double basket load).

I've learned to never dump a short shot so took one quick slurp and man was it thick, smooth, yummy, and gone. Adjusted grind and pulled a more reasonable 1&1/4oz double...
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
http://www.CompassCoffeeRoasting.com

EspressoForge

Postby EspressoForge » Feb 24, 2011, 1:13 am

Through my regular reading of this forum, I have to say, time and again I come back to this post. I just wanted to say thank you. It really is all about the "Mano". It just highlights that as much as we always seem to think a new upgraded piece of equipment is the answer, the real answer is that it's only PART of the solution.

I have a long story ending with an espresso shot, but I guess we've all heard them before, so I'll just say thank you again! :)

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Arpi

Postby Arpi » Feb 26, 2011, 11:21 am

I would go a little farther and add a fifth element (in my opinion). The fifth one is the subject (the person drinking). It is the subject the one that compares, decides, and judges. As I believe that flavor emerges to become a mental construct involving memory, emotions, and sensitivity. The memory part makes it relative. In that way, a bad barista can be a good barista. And a good barista could be a bad barista depending on the subject. A barista could even tell a story, and make from a bad cup a good cup like a magician if the subject believes the story.

Cheers

hgcoffee

Postby hgcoffee » Oct 19, 2011, 12:29 am

This is probably one of the most difficult things for most new barista's to get their heads around. I run a small barista training school, and it's great when you see confidence in one area resulting in a good looking coffee, but many neglect the other areas they have control over which ultimately affect the coffee. Good post.

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HB
Admin

Postby HB » Oct 19, 2011, 6:30 am

HB wrote:One particular article has been on the radar for months, even before the domain existed and long before forums were even a consideration. I don't want to spoil the fun (or build up unjustified excitement), but it's jokingly entitled "It's the Barista, Stupid". Partially an equipment showdown, partially an opinion piece, it strikes at the central core of what defines this website: The people, the barista, the human experience.

Funny, I wrote the original post over six years ago and today I have no recollection of the "upcoming article" to which I was referring. The first few years of the site were hectic and a lot of projects never got past the idea stage. In any case, for those interested in revisiting this topic, see the more recent discussion Order of Importance: Coffee, Grinder, Espresso Machine... and Barista?
Dan Kehn

Dodger1

Postby Dodger1 » Oct 19, 2011, 7:05 am

In order to truly excel most everything in life requires the proper Mano dell'operatore. However, as you astutely pointed out, a lot of folks simply assume that if they purchase the most expensive, technically advanced, machines they can overcome that fact. To a limited extent those state of the art machines can make it easier to learn Mano, but only if we consciously continue to refine our techniques.

Along that line, I always thought that the four stages of learning and changing were extremely valid and if you're self aware, can lead you to excelling in Mano.

1. Unconsciously incompetent
2. Consciously incompetent
3. Consciously competent
4. Unconsciously competent

Since we're visiting this site in the first place we could make the assumption that we've already reached stage 2 but to reach Mano you need to be, at the very least, at stage 3. The vast resources that this site has to offer can lead to that goal but only if we continue to refine our techniques.

mitch236

Postby mitch236 » Oct 19, 2011, 9:00 am

Dodger1 wrote:In order to truly excel most everything in life requires the proper Mano dell'operatore. However, as you astutely pointed out, a lot of folks simply assume that if they purchase the most expensive, technically advanced, machines they can overcome that fact. To a limited extent those state of the art machines can make it easier to learn Mano, but only if we consciously continue to refine our techniques.

Along that line, I always thought that the four stages of learning and changing were extremely valid and if you're self aware, can lead you to excelling in Mano.

1. Unconsciously incompetent
2. Consciously incompetent
3. Consciously competent
4. Unconsciously competent

Since we're visiting this site in the first place we could make the assumption that we've already reached stage 2 but to reach Mano you need to be, at the very least, at stage 3. The vast resources that this site has to offer can lead to that goal but only if we continue to refine our techniques.


I spent an awful long time at stage 2!! I am now at stage 3 and probably will be there for many years. Since I only make a few shots a day, the amount of experience required to get to stage 4 will take years.

On a happiness scale, stage 2 is a bummer and I remember putting my Linea in the garage for a year! Stage 3 is a roller coaster of jubilation vs. blech! The happiest times for most folks is probably 1 and 4.

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Arpi

Postby Arpi » Oct 19, 2011, 9:42 am

And according to who or what, does one person reach coffee consciousness, coffee competency, or coffee happiness?

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Marshall

Postby Marshall » replying to Arpi » Oct 19, 2011, 12:24 pm

If you are hoping to provoke one of those "All taste is subjective. There are no standards. Whatever tastes good to you is good." discussions, they've been rehashed so many times here they are tiresome.
Marshall
Los Angeles