Barista Series: A Holistic Craft




Although all of us here at Why Not? Coffee have held some sort of elevated position, whether it be Director of Training, Barista Trainer, Consultant, Director of Coffee or head of Research and Development programs; we are first and foremost coffee servers, preparers and specialists- Baristas, if you will. The title, Barista, is a flag waved by some of the most intensely passionate people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, be served by, and/or had the privilege of working alongside. This respected title by those of us who truly understand the profession and craft is shared with just about anyone who spends any amount of time making coffee- See McBarista or for our button pushing counterparts, Buttonista .

In the introduction article to the Barista Series we introduced the term “craft coffee,” and now we’d like to introduce a philosophy through Holistic Baristas. By holistic we mean an approach that is characterized by the comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole, a synergy with the craft to be represented at it’s core. We’re speaking for coffee and the celebration of the vibrant barista culture surrounding it and the possibility of making it richer and more involved at every level wether it be barista-to-owner, roaster-to-barista, or barista-to-consumers. To some of us, the professional quest of this ‘holistic barista’ craft is to blend the scientific artistry of coffee preparation with the finesse of interpersonal honesty all the while catering to a mission statement of quality to the depth we all know is possible if we make it happen. Expanding on the scientific artistry aspect would take more than this post allows but it should suffice to say that the barista of this caliber has a method for what they do coupled with an educated explanation for the reason behind it while running through this rational flying solo in a split-second. Interpersonal honesty is being the advocate, the human face and point of connection that is volatile and elusive that can also best be described as passion for the amazing product and sensation of that which is coffee. A holistic barista is more like a conductor of a silent symphony trusted to present the best coffee in the most intriguing manner. The holistic barista goes beyond their job duties from when they first step on bar to when they take out the compost; they are coffee advocates- from the farm and the producer to the machine manufacturer and their barback.

As much as we’d love to think all of us “professional baristas” emulate the holistic barista soul, it’s safe to say that 99% of us do not because at the core of this concept is knowing that you can and never will be it all. There’s something to be said about the compulsive and overly obsessive quest (disorder for some) that drives each and every one of us professional baristas to continually develop our own skills in a sea of mediocrity. There’s a thirst of dialing into the service of a God shot experience with every shot of espresso and beverage prepared; an overly exhausting task at 40 hours a week. We’ve all been lost in the intense technical pursuit and forgotten about the more personal and philosophical reasons behind why we do what we do; loyalty to the craft, where it’s been and going. Even at the best coffee establishments across the United States the customer is in control of their experience, not the barista. A holistic barista is in control the moment a customer walks in, and they won’t even know it or ever notice. The concept of serving extraordinary coffee is much larger than barista pods or stripping your menu of milk, syrups and to-go cups; the core should always be knowledge and service to levels that rival a sommelier at a fine dining establishment. Innovation through service and expertise.

From 10 years to 10 days, any barista can relate to the excitement and exhilaration that comes with being a barista (although some may call that over-caffeination.) The holistic barista philosophy challenges every barista at every level to be something that does not exist.

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Categories: Barista, Barista Series, Coffee, From the Editors, NEW

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5 Comments on “Barista Series: A Holistic Craft”

  1. Brandon Weaver
    02/21/2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Gorgeous post, y’all. This is an exquisite articulation of something that has motivated a lot of people without making it a competition. Keep it up.

  2. 02/21/2011 at 5:01 pm #

    Very nice & meaty post. Great quality photography as well that sets a nice tone. Thanks for sharing this & look forward to more. Theo

  3. Nik
    02/22/2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Thank you, gentleman, for the responses. The nature was meant to be received as you have! Let me know if you’ve any questions/topics/theories we should look into.
    Email-Nik@zokacoffee.com/ Twitter- @xenvoix
    (mug raised)
    best regards,

    -nk.

  4. 02/28/2011 at 9:16 am #

    I get what you’re trying suggest, but I wonder if there’s a strong temptation to do the impractical here in a way that isn’t necessarily constructive. So much of the entire bean-to-cup industry is being hoisted on the barista these days. There’s a weight of an inverted pyramid for the industry that’s just crushing at the point of the barista — coincidentally one of the most common entry-level positions in the industry.

    While that mile-wide/mile-deep expertise sounds like a worthy goal on the surface, the impracticality of achieving that seems bound to backfire. We live in an era where society is at an ever-increasing level of specialization and discrete skills and knowledge of minutia. We may fall in love with the idea of a Renaissance Man/Woman who can do a lot of broad disciplines really well, but the Renaissance was six centuries ago and the world was a very different place.

    Do we diminish the value of winning a 100 meter race because there are people who wish to be decathaletes? Even the overwrought sommelier comparisons — they may know something about food pairing, terroir, wine growing, and wine making. But they’re not quite expected to DO all that from vine-to-cup. And if they did, they would typically only excel at one or two and limp by against other specialists at the other roles.

    It’s fine to strive for an ideal. But without some acknowledgment of limits and holding a value at specialization before those broader limits are reached, isn’t this just setting up expectations (for some of the newest people in the industry, mind you) to emulate the many working mothers in therapy who were told they could have it all?

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