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barrista school?


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Not sure if this should be posted in the NY forum since I'm in the NY area, but here goes a crazy question. I need a crash course in becoming a barrista. I'm in the process of opening a cafe and need to know whatever I need to know to make the best shot on MY side of the Hudson, Jersey. In addition, I need to learn how to make all the related caffeinated drinks. I don't feel comfortable learning this stuff from a book and would prefer hands on experience. Plus, what commercial equipment to buy. Right now I'm leaning towards Illy but they don't offer much in the education department. thanks.

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Get in touch with my company, Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company. We offer thorough training and ship fresh roasted coffee to wherever you need. www.zokacoffee.com and my email: broken_birds@excite.com .


Edited by Kyle_Larson (log)
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Not sure if this should be posted in the NY forum since I'm in the NY area,  but here goes a crazy question.  I need a crash course in becoming a barrista.  I'm in the process of opening a cafe and need to know whatever I need to know to make the best shot on MY side of the Hudson, Jersey.  In addition, I need to learn how to make all the related caffeinated drinks.  I don't feel comfortable learning this stuff from a book and would prefer hands on experience.  Plus, what commercial equipment to buy.  Right now I'm leaning towards Illy but they don't offer much in the education department.  thanks.

Back when I ran my little espresso shop, the books actually came in pretty handy. But there's no substitute for fiddling around with the blend, the grinder, and the espresso machine until you get exactly what you want. If you really want to know the most important thing about good commercial espresso, though, it's that you simply must grind for each shot. So very few establishments do this, and that's a big part of the reason that so few people know what a good shot should taste and feel like.

And watch out for Big Green's policy of setting up shop within two blocks of every single competitor, no matter how small and nonthreatening that competitor might be. My little mesto is not the only one I've seen ruined by this 800# gorilla policy.

Edited by QuinaQuen (log)

Nam Pla moogle; Please no MacDougall! Always with the frugal...

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I don't feel comfortable learning this stuff from a book and would prefer hands on experience.  Plus, what commercial equipment to buy.  Right now I'm leaning towards Illy but they don't offer much in the education department.  thanks.


Zoka is top shelf and Kyle is one of the superstar baristas there. That said... it's way out in Seattle and you're in Hoboken. If you can afford to fly there or fly one of their guys to you it's a good choice but sometimes money is an issue.

Espresso guru David Schomer of Caffe Vivace (also in Seattle) has started offering a two or three day intensive espresso training program but it's really targeted at baristas with some experience who want to hone and refine their skills.

There are a few places on the east coast in Zoka's class / on their level and those would include Counter Culture Coffee in Raleigh NC and Gimme Coffee of Ithaca NY. As of last winter Gimme has had a location in Williamsburg Brooklyn as well. Not sure if they offer consulting/training services but it's worth checking out. You can also visit their Brooklyn cafe and you'll see the way that things are being done in the more progressive cafés. Lots has changed in espresso in the past five years - places like Zoka and the others I mentioned are among the vanguard.


I won't get into Illy bashing here as they are a highly reputable company and founder Dr. Ernesto Illy was a pioneer that did much to elevate the art and science of espresso production. But they are a huge company and do their roasting and packing in Italy. Their espresso can be pretty good in Italy. If you luck out and get some that happens to be fairly fresh (recent packaging date) in the US it's not bad but you can do way better and should. MOst pepel who have some experience tryign different types of espresso will heavily favor fresh roasted beans form a good US based microroaster (not to mention that it will be cheaper than Illy).

Illy is my fall back if I'm traveling in a foreign country or some place where quality espresso is not the norm. If I see an Illy sign on a cafe in some small town I know there's at least a marginal chance that I'll get a half decent shot but it's by no means assured.

Find a local microroaster or one in the US who can work with you on competitive pricing so that the shipping costs aren't too great a burden.

Nationally, Zoka, Vivace, Intelligentsia (of Chicago), Stumptown (of Portland OR)and Counter Culture are among the many roasters who do a fair amount of resale to smaller cafés. Gimme Coffee also wholesales but you might look even closer to home. Empire Coffee & Tea is a good small roaster with locations on 9th Avenue in NYC (just north of 42nd Street) and in Hoboken. Last time I was there they did not have an espresso blend but you can get some advice here, at coffeegeek and in the SCAA forums on blending and create your own.

Some folks feel that for a newbie in the business it may be advisable to start out buying an espresso blend with known characteristics before trying to come up with your own. All the blends mentioned have their own character and merits and there's also been a big movement recently towards "SOS" in the espresso world (Single Origin Shots). Check out Terroir Coffee in the Boston area for some good info on the Single Origin movement in espresso. You'll need to taste, test and choose a blend for yourself - don't just try one and say "This is good enough" before researching enough to find one that will really suit both you and your target clientele.

Important to remember is that you want to receive your beans within a few short days of the roast date, store them in lightproof airtight containers and use them with the next seven days or so after you receive them. Older beans get flat quickly and won't deliver the quality customers will come to expect from you if you start out doing things right.


For drip coffee.... unless you plan to do the artisan thing that a handful of places do and make/serve French press coffee (Stumptown does this but has one person dedicated to making French Press coffee all day long).... get a plumbed in auto brewer. Try to get something like a Fetco that will have a pulse feature for more even grounds saturation and brew directly into airpots.

For espresso grinders stick with Rio, Astoria and Mazzer - they're all basically the same machine and come in three basic sizes with increasingly larger motors and output capacity. You can often pick up used Mazzer Super Jolly's or Rio Normale's on eBay. Grinders are among the few pieces of used equipment that a newbie operator might consider buying to save money over the price of new (more on that later). Grinder rarely need more than a good daily cleaning, new burrs periodically and perhaps a replacement switch/timer once in a while.

For a drip coffee grinder I swear by Ditting. They're not cheap but you get what you pay for. Best bet is to try and snag a reconditioned KF804 directly from Ditting USA. Ditting machines typically last 20 - 30 years with no service other than cleaning, burr replacement and periodic switch replacement (a cheap and easy repair). They show up once in awhile on eBay but do NOT get the Ditting "Supermarket Grinder". It's been out of production for over fifteen years and is no longer supported for service. When in doubt check their web site to see what they still sell parts and burrs for.

Espresso machines.... there's La Marzocco and then there's everybody else. I'm biased but check around among any and most likely all of the places I've mentioned above and any other cafe that's really serious about espresso quality. Nearly all of them use stock La Marzocco's or a modified jazzier version called a Mistral (the Mistral may even w be using componenets other than LM but the fundamental design principles are the same). Support is excellent and parts, even for older machines, are readily available from the distributor.

There is a new machine called the Cyncra that's highly appealing and offers a degree of consistency, flexibility and temperature stability that has only been available to date on modified higher end La Marzocco's. The catch is that it's a brand new start up company. They have a wealth of experience and a good reputation but you have to make your own judgment call about whether to be an early adopter.

If you're considering a used machine (La Marzocco or otherwise) I suggest be very cautious. If you're mechanically inclined and have the time/energy/leisure to completely refurb a La Marzocco with all new gaskets, descale the boiler, reassemble and test... you can save some money. That said.... if your machine is down for even a few hours, once you've established the business, the tangible monetary losses are significant and the intangible losses can be major (customer satisfaction etc is intangible but hugely important).

If I open a cafe in a year or two I'll probably be deploying a used La Marzocco that will have been refurbished and extensively tested by me before it goes into service. I have the luxury of the space to work on it, the time to do it, and a bit of experience with these machines but I still learn something new almost every time I do a repair. In general I suggest against getting a used espresso machine.

Feel free to PM me for further discussion and keep in mind that we have some seasoned industry pro's on this board (I am not among them - I'm a greenhorn!) including Malachi and Kyle among others.

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Wow Owen, thanks for that comprehensive and very helpful response. I spoke with Zoka and incredibly, they've offered to come to me if I buy the machine - the La Marzocco (at a small markup above their cost.) They'd come out to install it in addition to setting aside about 1.5 days for training. I think that's pretty incredible of them and I'm leaning towards going that route. However, I have to be realistic too. The cost difference between the Illy machine and the La Marzocco is almost $2000. Not to mention 2 grinders. [actually, just how many grinders do I need?] Of course, Illy does training too, but how much training does it take to learn how to use a pod? I'm not completely sold that the economics justify the expense and am having internal conflicts on all this, i.e., I'm wishy washy - like are people really gonna notice how good my shots are? Or the difference between Illy and something a step above? I'm in Jersey City btw. And you have to remember that my place is not primarily a coffee shop. Grilled cheese sandwiches. However, the focus can change depending on demand.

Zoka also recommended the Fetco for drip coffee. However, I'm not sold on the idea of having a "plumbed" machine. I just don't think my volume will warrant it. Is the coffee any better as opposed to your other recommendation, the Ditting? Are there any advantages to a "plumbed" machine other than volume?

I'll be checking out some of your other suggestions. Thanks again.

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If you're looking at this as a long term investment and you see the possibility in expanding or developing your market beyond the occasional cappuccino that someone orders after they have their grilled cheese sandwich... $2,000 is a minimal amount of money in the scheme of things.

If you're going into an area of downtown jersey City where you may get office workers with moderate incomes and if you have Spanish luncheonettes in the area that sell cafe cortida's or cafe con leches for $1 or $1.50 to a primary customer base who's accusotmed to that kind of coffee drink at that price point.... you should rethink the scheme and perhaps look at a high end plumbed in one group machine like a Wega with a rotary pump. It will be a good durable workhorse that is perfect for low volume operations. Skip offering decaf, get one good grinder to go with it (good grinders are an absolute must) and keep a very simple menu.

Let's say that you're somewhere over near Exchange Place.... it's a whole different market and one with huge potential for quality espresso drinks. I lived in Rutherford NJ from 1999 until last summer and visited the Newport-Pavonia area regularly on business, went to Exchange Place on occasion and was in Manhattan a few times every week. I never found a good espresso drink on the NJ side and had to really struggle to find something worth drinking in NYC at that time (Let's not count Starbucks in this discussion but.... gasp... they were often my best fall back position when I lived down there and wanted espresso drinks outside of my own home).

It's important to identify what you want to start out doing, what your current potential is and where you may want to go or grow with it. Upgrades can be a prciey path to take if you underequip yourself initially but if you're expecting to sell a few dozen cappas and lattes every day and never more than that.... the La Marzocco route will be overkill. Pods are a losing proposition for most places except bars or restaurants that will have a rotating variety of untrained personnel pulling shots. The quality of a pod shot will never match a properly pulled shot made from fresh whole bean and the profit margins are far lower.

Pour-over brewers are not a bad choice for lower volume but don't just get a Bunn and leave the coffee in the pot on the warmner plate to get scorched. Use airpots or thermal carafes.

I havee to run off and fix a La Marzocco now (even the best machines need repairs once in awhile!).

Tell us more about your current market and your goals.

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My goal was to be in the financial area around Exchange Place. The lobby of Goldman Sachs was a possibility at one point. However, plans have changed. Long story, but I basically couldn't find anything apropros in that area. I've made an offer on a place in the Hamilton Park section, a residential neighborhood 5 blocks from the park. Lots of upscale and gorgeous victorian brownstones. It's not far from the Hudson and is actually considered downtown, but the office worker is not going to be my customer. Too far.

So I'm thinking lower volume now. To give away part of my business plan, I don't envision doing more than 200 covers/day (that includes someone who orders a coffee to go) - and that's in the summer. More like 150 in the winter, less this winter when I start. But I tell ya, when it comes to predicting sales and covers for a new business, it's a crapshoot. The place will seat around 20 not counting the patio out back.

You might have heard of Basic, a popular coffee shop/cafe bordering on Hamilton Park which is similar in concept to my future cafe (except decidedly less upscale.) People often say they have the best coffee in town. Frankly, it's awful and those people have no palettes. But that's another story.

I hear what you say about planning for the future and that would be the only reason I'd consider paying somewhere bordering on $10k for all my coffee equipment. I definitely think that for the first 6 months to a year it would be overkill.

I'm curious why you say skip decaf. Is there really such a low demand? And do I need a separate grinder for coffee? And decaf coffee? In other words, 2 grinders for espresso if I served decaf and 2 for coffee? That's a lot of loot not to mention a lot of space.

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When I mentioned skipping decaf in a low volume situation I meant the downtown Jersey City type scenario where you're competing against $1.50 cafe cortidos or con leches. I also meant only skipping it for the espresso. If you serve drip coffee you must have decaf.

Three grinders would be needed. One for regular espresso, one for decaf and a third for drip coffee. Espresso bean hoppers stay full and you grind by the shot. For drip coffee if you rotate blends and varietals it's best to have a small digital scale and weigh the amount of beans for each batch. Drip coffee can and should be ground by the batch. The Ditting that I mentioned is a great grinder but they're about $1300 new and $500 reconditioned. You could probably shop around (maybe eBay but buyer beware) and find a used Fetco, Bun or Grindmaster shop grinder that has two hopers on it - one for decaf and one for regular coffee. The reason our shop doesn't leave beans stacked up in the grinder is twofold. First because we want precise control over the weight of the beans to esnure consistency in each batch and second because we brew one airpot batch at a time and rotate different blends in and out. When one airpot is getting empty we start another batch brewing. There's always one pot of decaf and that doesn't get rebrewed until it's empty. Our customer volume and this system together ensure that any cup of coffee you get was typically brewed no more than 5 - 10 minutes before you order it.

$10K is definitely overkill for the situation you describe. If your coffee is good enough (which it easily can be) and you're not in too inconvenient a location, don't be surprised if word of mouth advertsing kicks in and you get a fair number of customers who just come in for coffee and espresso to go. Are you set up to handle that? You'll need a place where they can line up to order, pick up and add the cream/sugar etc that won't interfere with table seating.

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Here are some thoughts:

- Fiorenzato espresso machine from 1st Line

This is a 110V plumbed in machine with a roatary pump, an E61 style group and the NSF/UL ratings necessary to use it in a commercial environment. With proper use it wil pull shots as good as far more expensive machines but as a one group with a modest sized boiler it has distinct limitations on the daily volume it can produce and doesn't steam milk as fast as the bnig boys but it will do a great job.. If your volume increases to justify an upgrade just move this to your home kitchen or keep it on hand as a back up machine in case your primary machine is ever down for repairs. In our smaller lower volume location I actually brought in my home espresso machine for a day to use as a pinch hitter when our La Marzocco was down for the day a few weeks ago. It slowed things down a bit as it's a manual fill and has no plumbed in drain tray but shot quality was generally as good as the La Marzocco (but a bit less consistent) and customers never knew the difference because the drinks tasted as good. This unit is under $1400 and it's also available in an automatic version that does automatic volume dosing for the shot volume. That's a useful feature if you're busy as it leaves you free to focus on stemaing milk or doing other things while the shot is coming out.

Okay... now throw in a Grindmaster 810 retail coffee grinder to grind your drip coffee by potful - add in $665 Just grind the weighed batch of beans directly into a paper cup, toss into a filter holder and pop it into the airpot brewer to brew directly into the pot. If we do it that way in a cafe that serves upwards of 500 cups of coffee per day (not including espresso drinks which are very popular)... you can easily do it in your operation. We need a heavier duty machine like the Ditting because we grind so much volume and we also grind about 50 pounds or more per week for wholesale cusotmer who want pre-ground coffee.

Get two brand new Mazzer Mini espresso grinders at $395 each. Add in a used Fetco or Bunn pourover style airpot coffee brewer for about $300 and then shop around for a back up unit to have on hand just in case.

That puts you at $3165. Add in another $700 - $800 for assorted peripherals - knock box, tampers, pitchers, thermometers etc. and for under $4,000 you can be up and running ready to serve the best espresso in all of North Jersey.

You WILL need to learn how to properly work with the machine in order to assure consistent results and you'll need to recognize that you have inherent limitations with this equipment relative to volume. If I was planning to have coffee and espresso initally as an adjunct part of a food operation and expected to serve perhaps 25 - 50 espresso drinks per day and a few hundred cups of coffee - I would see this as a very workable solution.

Not to mention that you'd have the support of NJ based 1st Line for all the new equipment. They're a first rate company with an excellent reputation for service after the sale.

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i think it would be unwise to use a 110v machine in a commercial environment. all it would take would be one big morning rush where more than 50% of the drinks were lattes to make life hellish.


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I suggested this machine or some other 110V machien similar to it only because he's projecting a situation in which he might do 20 - 40 espresso drinks per day at most - very low volume. If he truly expects that there may be enough business developing once he's up to speed, having the 110V machine means he can easily take it home and use it in his kitchen (although he'll have to plumb it in) when he upgrades to a 220v two group. Having said that.... I agree that your point is well taken.

Having some idea of the income levels and discretionary income typical to that area, I think that with a bit of strategic marketing and some word of mouth advertising, his volume could easily increase far beyond what he's initially projecting. There are some 220V rotary pump driven one group E61 style machine out there that are $2,000 to $3,000 and worth considering (I'm thinking of Wega and Astra among others).

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