Saturday, March 19, 2011

Top 10 Barista's Secrets

I was recently inspired by an article in my Yahoo news feed (which is no CNN by the way), called "13 Things Baristas Won't Tell You." My coffee expertise is rather extensive if I do say so myself: I worked for Starbucks for 2 years, received their intensive and thorough training on coffee preparation and completed almost enough coffee seminars and tastings to qualify for Coffee Master. I then moved on to Ground Zero, an independent student-run café on campus where I learned the art of manually pulling espresso from an Italian machine and the real way to make a Macchiato. I also drink coffee (at times more than 1 cup) daily, prepared either in my own french press or from a cafe, but always dark and bold, preferably a Guatemalan or African blend. Not only this, but I have probably spent way more of life than is necessary complaining, sympathizing and sharing stories with fellow baristas all over the world, thus I have the general opinion of hundreds, even world-wide. This gives me enough street cred to write my own version, right? 

Top 10 Barista's Secrets 
1. Drip coffee has more caffeine in total than espresso. It's true that, "...the content of caffeine per milliliter are much higher than with a regular brew*," but let me tell you, you are not impressing me with your Quad-Venti Americano sir, because I just downed a 22 oz drip coffee in 10 minutes and will last all night. 
Drip 115-175 (7 oz cup)

Espresso        100         1 serving (1-2oz)
Brewed          80-135     (7 oz cup)*

2. For the most possible amount of caffeine, try combining a shot or two of espresso with your coffee (a "Black Eye" or "Red Eye" respectively). Even black tea has enough to give you a boost, so don't discredit teas as being weak sauce. Getting a chai tea latté (which is black tea base) with espresso will also do the trick (at Ground Zero, that's an "All Nighter"). And ordering a Cafe au Lait, which is brewed coffee with steamed milk instead of that small latté will do the trick more effectively!
Coffee           80                (5 oz. cup)
Black Tea        40                (one tea bag)
Green Tea        20                (one tea bag)
White Tea        15                (one tea bag)
Herbal Tea       2                 (one tea bag)*

3. Even decaf coffee has some caffeine in it, it's just less than the regular. Again, thank you, "Decaf should range somewhere in the 2-4 milligrams of caffeine per cup range." So if you really don't want caffeine, try an herbal tea instead. By the way, "Currently used solvents for decaffeinating coffee include, H2O (water), CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), Meth, Chloride, and Ethyl Acetate." Questionable.

4.  A tea bag should brew in the water for at least 5 minutes to achieve its fullest flavor and strength potential. To ice a tea, the tea should be brewed double strength (twice the amount of bags, etc.) for at least 5 minutes and then poured directly over ice. No other water should be included.

5. At Starbucks, a Grande (16 oz) and Venti (20 oz) espresso drinks both get 2 shots of espresso, unless it's an iced Venti drink, which gets 3 shots. Both Grande and Venti teas get 2 tea bags. Thus the only difference is the greater amount of milk, water and sugar in the two sizes. This goes also for many other coffee places I have seen. Also the single shot of espresso you get in a Tall (12 oz) at Starbucks is almost worthless in comparison to the ratio of the other solvent (milk, water or ice).

6. Most places allow customers to use soy milk for free instead of the half-and-half or milk at the self-serve station. Just ask nicely and you shall receive.

7. If you tip you WILL get better service. Even if it's just a few coins. I know this seems ridiculous to tip on top of your over-priced bev, but a little bit goes a long way. If you order a complicated drink or many drinks, a tip is almost mandatory. 

8. What and how you order is crucial to the barista's resentment or appreciation of your drink.  And believe me, you don't want certain baristas annoyed at you while they're making your drink. Some pointers:
      -Wait until the barista looks at you and addresses you before speaking your order.
      -Beginning with "please" makes us feel less like we're your slave
     -If you are ordering anything but a drip coffee, do not begin your order with, "I'll just take a..." Just implies that is is simple and low-maintenance, but a double-tall, half-caff, 2%, no foam, with room latte is not simple.
     -It's ok to ask questions, but if you can try to look for the answers on your own first. This may be in the description of the drink on the posted menu or on a sign placed around you. Educated yourself with a pamphlet on the drink recipes or nutrition content found at Starbucks. After you have looked a little deeper and still have no answer, then ask. Asking unnecessary questions holds up the line and ignoring for-your-information signs frustrates those behind the bar. 
     -Say everything that you want in your drink right up front before the barista repeats it back to you. Do not wait until after he or she has rung you up to define your milk preference or desire for sugar-free syrup. Just put all your requests out there right in the beginning. Especially do not ask over the counter to the barista making your drink after the process has begun, unless you forgot something crucial. There is a specific order in which we prepare each drink, and even one little change might make the drink void and we'll have to start over which also costs you time. It is also extremely uncool to try to avoid the up-charge of certain add-ons.
-You: "I would please like a carmel latte, with soy milk, decaf espresso, sugar-free   carmel and no foam on the top."
-Me: "Ok, that's a decaf, soy, sugar-free carmel no-foam latté. $4.50 please."
-You: "Give me a latté."
-Me: "Ok carmel latté. $3.25 please."
-You: "Oh, can you also make it with soy milk? And no caffeine? And sugar-free syrup? And no foam?"
-Me: "Gr!!"

9. It's wonderful to try to order with health-consciously, but just because we put non-fat milk in your milkshake or sugar-free syrup in your mocha does not make it healthy. For an actual low-calorie drink, order a coffee or tea and exchange the sugar for honey. Or just enjoy the treat anyway. 

10. Always end your order and drink pick-up with a smile and thank you and we will do the same! Forming positive relationships with your baristas makes our day. We treat our kind regulars with special perks that no coupon can get you. My regulars are the reason why I have worked as a barista since I was 16, and I know that is the favorite part of the job for many others too! 


  1. Ah, such knowledge and candor. You shall remain, and always will, my favorite barista. Please make mine a grande non-fat latte. Or just a grande bold with a little room. [smile]

  2. I'm a barista and I didn't def know all of this...