Quality in a specialty coffee shop depends on baristas motivation

Henry Ford said “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”.

Meanwhile specialty coffee scene in Portugal is growing, new coffee shops are opening throughout the whole country, not only in Lisbon and Porto, upnorth in Braga and Aveiro, and all to the south in Algarve. Some of them are serving coffee roasted in Portugal, some – choosing some already famous European roasters.


Specialty coffee is getting more and more representation, and portuguese people are not only slowly getting used to it, but start to look for it, which is awesome news. 


While it is happening, some if not all the local roasters are founding themselves facing a problem they were not at all prepared to deal with. 


Specialty coffee is all about maintaining quality at all stages, starting from the coffee plants and finishing with the cup of coffee. 


Assuming that the coffee is high quality and roasted to perfection, assuming that all of the processes before that moment when a client has a drink in front of him went smoothly and coffee has not lost anything that makes it Specialty – is there any way to guarantee that the cup made transmits all of these? 


In other words, everything can be messed up if a person that makes coffee has no knowledge about what he is doing, has no skills of dealing with the product – OR if his knowledge is INCOMPLETE, which is even more dangerous – there will be no quality in the cup. 


This is the problem for the coffee roasters (more about it here).


Because they are very limited in means to guarantee that the consumer will experience the quality of the drink they are promising. 


And if with the home brewer it is more or less clear – sharing the information about the coffee, brewing recipes, videos, etc, making all the info available – the problem with the coffee shops is much deeper. 


Funny enough, the home brewer, when talking about filter coffee, is capable of achieving the perfect cup much easier than an average coffee shop worker. 




Because somebody who spends time brewing coffee at home most probably is either striving to do it better and better and searching for more information, or is already happy with the results. 


With the coffee shop service it is different. 


The most difficult situation is when commercial blends are being substituted by specialty coffee. New product is coming, old habits are staying. Baristas in these places served coffees all their career, so they are pretty confident about what they are doing – and then they are being told that from now on they have to weight the coffee dose, measure the coffee in the cup, achieve certain levels of extraction (wtf is extraction, they are wondering), to tamp well, etc. 


It is impossible to change the habits of so many people just through one training, or through two trainings. or even through three. Because what we are changing is already so deep that it cannot be transformed in one step. 


The success of an endeavour depends totally on one of the following two things, as I see it, that work. 


OR you hire a barista that has the basic techniques of working with specialty coffee (here is the list of those)

OR there is a corporate culture coming from the lider that transmits the ideals of working with specialty



What doesn’t work: 


Having a person that adjust you the grinder once a week, or once a month (believe me, this kind of service exists).


HIRING A BARISTA: it has its own benefits, because you don’t have to educate or train anyone, a person comes already formed, ready to work. He just need to have the freedom to make some changes, in how he needs to work, and have a voice in the equipment that is being used.

The danger here come from various sides. First, people with 0-2 years of experience in the field tend to be overconfident. It is a usual thing in every industry, so called confidence of a freshman, a sensation that you know everything. Usually after this stage there is a stage when you realise that you know nothing XD  if you are lucky to go though the first stage, of course.

The problem is that overconfidence doesn’t guarantee the quality of the drink. Usually people at this stage make an impression of being passionate when talking about coffee, but they experience serious difficulties with being precise, and lacking technical knowledge, and deeper understanding of the subject, which come with the experience. 


Why I am mentioning this? Because the quality depends not only on hiring a qualified barista, but also hiring somebody who shows a potential for growth, and some doubt and curiosity, as well as some leader skills – on which depends if he’ll be able to teach what he knows. 

CORPORATE CULTURE: for me it is the best way to guarantee the quality of the drink. To have procedures and ideas incorporated into the corporate culture.

If done well, in this situation there is a clear understanding what is the standard and how to achieve it, and this way the quality doesn’t depend on the skill of one trained person – but creates an environment when you can actually grow your own leaders from zero inside of the company.

The problem with this is that the changes have to be implemented by the owners or current corporate leaders, and they have to understand something about specialty. Basically the limit of how far the company will go in terms of specialty coffee is set by who is in the leads, and what his level of knowledge and understanding is. 


It doesn’t mean that the actual owner of the company has to be an outstanding coffee specialist (while it would be definitely something fantastic), but there should be somebody in the leadership who know what he is doing and where the company is going in terms of coffee quality. 

Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

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