Haha, to put it mildly, yes. Anyone who has done this job knows just how much work goes into this. It involves much more than simply teaching someone how to make coffee.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever “Educators Summit” held in Seattle. Ben Jones put this summit together and it was quite enlightening. One of the key elements that kept popping up throughout the weekend was: “What is the role of the Barista Trainer?” It seemed all of us at the summit had very similar stories as to what we do in the day to day. Training, it turns out, is the easy part. So let’s start there.
Training: Who are you training? How do you train someone? What are you training?
Most of my day is spent training our wholesale partners, our internal barista staff, and working with the public to educate them about our coffees and how to properly brew for the best possible result.
If it was as simple as looking at a book and memorizing the steps, that would be one thing, but as barista trainers, we are teaching something that is organic, always changing. We are training people to think on their feet. Literally. Specialty Coffee is an ever-evolving industry. One day, we think we know something to be fact; we train that way, everyone jumps on board and we’re off! Then tomorrow comes, and we learn that what we are training is no longer fact; it has been disproven.
Really, when you look at specialty coffee, we aren’t training facts, we’re training theories.
Every day we learn something new. The power of technology has changed so many things in our industry. Have you ever wondered why it’s possible to get great coffee in more and more places every year? It’s primarily due to the ability to share information, in real time. It’s not because there are more smart people out there (although we’d like to think so…). It’s because we can share ideas, thoughts, and theories. It’s because we can debate in real time, across the globe.
So what happens when we train a certain way, and learn that something we were training for so long is incorrect? We change our ways. We admit that there is new information, and we modify our approach. We adjust our curriculum accordingly. It’s awesome. It keeps us on our toes, and it makes us better baristas.
New Equipment: Always changing, for better or worse.
Do we stay with the older, dependable equipment because that is what we know? It does a fine job, so why not? The simple answer to this is yes and no. Again, technology infiltrates our every day experience, and attempts to make it better. This is when we as trainers need to research new brewing methods and practices. I have to say that this is one of my favorite aspects of this job. I get to play around with new equipment all the time. Some of it is better, some of it makes no discernible difference, and some of it is all hype. It’s our job as trainers to wade through these countless new inventions and figure out what works for us, for our coffee, and for our customers.
Equipment Issues: Who is responsible?
Ideally, all of our equipment is top notch. But just like anything, it needs tuning, and occasionally it will fail. The easiest thing to do is call a service tech. There are countless companies out there who work on equipment. However, most of the time a cafe cannot afford to be down a crucial piece of equipment for more than a few hours. That is often where a barista trainer comes in handy. We can be there in a moments notice, and most of us have a background in equipment service. This is also one of the most contested roles trainers have. Personally, I love equipment. I have no issue working on equipment to get a cafe back up and running. I accept this as a necessity, and in my opinion, makes for a more smoothly running operation.
Our roles as barista trainers are always changing, and always exciting. I hope that this brief explanation of what a “barista trainer” does has helped to explain our role in the industry, and has given you an insiders view of what our everyday looks like! I encourage you as a consumer of specialty coffee to ask questions, (lots and lots of questions!) be informed, and enjoy exploring the wonderful world of coffee and everything it entails. It makes everything we do more fun!