Barista’s Guide to Specialty Drinks

top view photo of coffee near tablet

The lifecycle of specialty coffee begins with the farmer and ends with the consumer. However, the steps taken by the barista are important in retaining the integrity of the coffee.

After production, coffee is sourced by roasters as green (or raw) coffee beans. Coffee is roasted and cooled according to flavor and origin to be brewed for drinking. This brewing method is chosen by the barista based on the outcome of flavors and their original profile.

Specialty level baristas should know the origins of the coffee they are serving as well as a basic understanding of how they were roasted. The last step is entirely up to the barista and can make or break the consumers experience.

As a new barista, you might consider becoming SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) certified. This certification carries a lot of weight in the third wave coffee industry and is highly sought after by high end coffee shops in the United States and around the world.

You should also learn about the production, sourcing, and roasting process in detail. Proper brewing methods and equipment are crucial to a successful cup. Just like a hairdresser or bartender, you will find yourself surrounded by many tools to complete the task. Understanding the basic coffee drinks is also very important. Below is a helpful guide to get you started.

Third Wave Coffee – On The Rise

assorted fruits on person s hand

The lifecycle of coffee is longer than most people realize. It takes between six months to a year before it is ready to be harvested and processed. This time spent is dependent on location, altitude, and the amount of rainfall the plantation absorbs each day as well as the growing experience of the producer. Coffee plants are typically grown under a shade plant, such as a banana plant, for the purpose of holding in such moisture and at maturation, flowers. However, in recent years, many new producers have begun using apple trees and other fruit variety plants to naturally infuse additional flavors into the coffee. Shade plants also preserve biodiversity and provide an appropriate habitat for migratory birds. The fruit that grows from the tree is picked and the seed is processed as coffee. It takes at least two hundred coffee cherries to produce enough coffee to brew a ten-cup pot – a fact that is often overlooked or misunderstood by the typical coffee-drinking consumer. As specialty coffees have skyrocketed in popularity in the past few decades, the concern for sustainability has become a forefront issue. It is no secret that Earth is experiencing global warming and climate changes that are drastically affecting the natural life cycle of our planet. Coffee is no exception. This concern has morphed into different “waves” of the coffee industry. 

First and Second wave coffees refer to commodity coffee like those purchased in your local grocery store and large commercial companies that have turned flavor syrups into a business model. But third-wave coffee is a fairly new means of a coffee experience and is on the rise. Growers, traders, and roasters alike have pinpointed what really makes coffee unique – its natural profile of flavors. Without adding any additional flavors or processes, consumers are able to taste and experience different origins of coffee, as well as uniquely blended cups. This new wave of coffee puts producers at the forefront of the industry and places extensive value on how the product is grown. Roast dates along with the entire roasting process have been brought to the forefront as an artisan craft. This wave has become so popular that it is now referred to as “specialty coffee” and has inspired a movement that focuses on sustainability practices. 

What Is Latte Art?

person performing coffee art

Who doesn’t love a little creativity in their coffee? In an effort to win over customers and celebrate the originality of specialty coffees, baristas have formed a service that we call Latte Art. It is created using the coffee crema (which is an emulsion of coffee oil and brewed coffee) from a fresh espresso pour as a canvas and then pouring freshly steamed milk foam strategically in a specific pattern to create art.

Latte Art has become so popular that there are now competitions to see who can create the most elaborate designs using just coffee and milk. Creating such designs is a learned skill and can vary from cup to cup depending on the drink that is being prepared.

There are two styles of preparing latte art. The most common in the United States is the free pour. The second style is called etching and is performed after the pour of milk using a tool to maneuver the milk into a specific pattern.

How To Make Espresso In 4 Steps

crop barista putting tamper on portafilter

Coffee drinks are enjoyed all over the world and vary in ingredients, taste, and brewing methods. But espresso is generally expressed the same way across the globe. It all starts with quality roasted coffee beans.

Step 1:

Step one begins with the perfect grind. Because the espresso machine uses pressure to infuse water in and then through the coffee, it is imperative that the grind be very fine. However, there is such a thing as too fine for espresso. If the coffee is over ground, the portafilter will fill up with water and no liquid will be expelled through to the cup.

Step 2:

Once ground correctly, the coffee is tamped down into the portafilter, usually with a hand tamping device. This is where the amount of espresso to be used is determined and some highly trained baristas will even weigh the grounds to a precise amount. The purpose of this is to level out the fine coffee grounds and pack them together so that air does not circulate during the pouring process. Using the right-sized tamper to fit perfectly into your portafilter is highly recommended.

Step 3:

After tamping the coffee, the portafilter is attached to the espresso machine. Generally, this will be a left to right motion stopping once the handle is tight to the machine. If this step is not done correctly, there will be a loss of pressure and thus a leak in the pour. Some portafilters dispense the espresso on both sides, requiring the barista to use either a wide-mouthed cup or two shot glasses.

Step 4:

If you are using a manual machine, you will have more flexibility in how you pour shots. Whereas an automatic machine will likely do many of these steps for you. Check the pressure on your machine and press the brew button until the desired shots are completed. There should be a small amount of crema at the top of the shot glasses of espresso. This is the carbon dioxide extruding from the pressed coffee.

Espresso Machines – How Do They Work?

gray and black espresso maker

The espresso machine has been around since 1884 and was built by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy. His design was patented and has been improved several times since then. There is a myriad of machine options available but most have the same basic parts. These machines can be driven by steam, pumps, air pumps, or pistons and come in a manual or an automatic version. Much like a car, there is more flexibility with a manual setup than an automatic, but coffee shops are using automatic machines more and more.

Semi-automatic espresso machines use a pump to push the water through a three-way valve. Automatic machines are pre-programmed to use a specific amount of water and run through a meter than controls the shutoff. The Super-automatic machine works exactly how it sounds, automating every step of the brewing process for the barista. Some of these machines even have an automated milk frothing system which is great for beginner baristas but limiting for the seasoned professional. Any of these machine types can be “plumbed” to a water supply or have a reservoir that can be filled as needed.

After the ground coffee is tamped into the portafilter and it is attached to the group-head, the barista turns the machine on to brew. Compressed air is used to force hot water through the grounds and over into the receiving cup to create the espresso shot. Generally speaking, most machines will provide up to a quad shot (that is 4 ounces) with one full tamp of grounds. However, each machine and barista is different and this can vary from establishment to establishment.

Coffee Trends In 2021

Like most other industries, the coffee industry is constantly evolving. New ideas for exploring coffee drinks (as well as non-coffee) emerge regularly and change frequently in popularity. Finding ways to keep up with trends and products is imperative when running a business of any kind in the coffee industry. Below are some of the most recent trends in the coffee market for 2021.

Dalgona or Whipped Coffee

Perhaps not a roaster’s paradise, this new method of drinking coffee uses instant coffee whipped into a fluffy cloud and usually contains sugar. Social media is responsible for the viral 2020 instructional videos on how to make this drink. Creating a light whipped substance is served over milk as a cold beverage. Most baristas will accompany this with a sprinkle of cocoa or coffee powder as finishing and offer it over ice.

Cold Brew

The process of cold brew is a bit different than the typical hot brewing method in more ways than just a temperature change. Using equal amounts of coffee to water is the first step in making this drink. Cold brew is known for its mellow taste and strong caffeination. Because the beans were not brewed with scalding water, there is no bitter after taste and it does not cause heartburn in most drinkers. Cold brew has been popular for a couple of years now but we expect it to continue rising in popularity over the coming months.

Plant-based, Non-dairy Milks

There are so many options for non-dairy drinkers nowadays, it is hard to keep up. Most coffee shops now offer “alternative” milk options for an added cost and can vary from cashew (which is actually a fruit) to most nut milks. There is a growing trend for vegan options due to lactose intolerance and cruelty-free lifestyles driving this trend.

Ready-to-drink Coffee

Covid changed the way restaurants and coffee shops used to operate in a big way. While we are in this pandemic it is rare to see a full coffee house or dining room as it used to be. But shop owners have realized the importance of “grab & go” options as a lucrative alternative. The increasingly trendy cold coffee drink industry is going to see a big boost in their market as a result of this pandemic. Consumers can quickly choose what flavor and style of brew they would like to have then simply pay and go.