How I became a barista
The job of a barista may seem full of perks, but the daily grind is no easy task—just ask Logan Maltese.
Thanks to television’s all-time favorite barista, Gunther from the iconic sitcom Friends, the life of a barista screams trendy, cool, laid back and fun. And that’s exactly the image that attracted 21-year-old Logan Maltese to the job. “I always wanted this job because baristas always look like they are having so much fun,” he says.
But after nearly three years working as a barista at Cherry Street Coffee House in Seattle’s hip Capitol Hill neighborhood, Maltese discovered the job entails much more than slinging lattes all day long. “I realize now that the work is not easy,” he says, “and you have to really love what you're doing in order to make a career out of it.”
Keeping up with streams of high-demand, dynamic customers can be one of the greater challenges baristas face, but, Maltese says, “simply making someone happy with a cup of coffee” makes it all worth it.
He’s not alone in his sentiment. Maltese is part of a $48 billion industry, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), and jobs in beverage serving are projected to grow 10% by 2024, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Baristas, on average, are paid $9 an hour, with an annual salary of $23,000, according to PayScale.
Monster spoke with Maltese for tips to break into the specialty coffee industry.
How he got into the field
Before becoming a barista, Maltese studied international business and leadership at Marietta College in Ohio. When searching for a summer job, he found a local coffee shop that was hiring, applied and was hooked.
“Applying to my first job in coffee was terrifying. Everyone looked indescribably cool and extremely knowledgeable about coffee,” says Maltese. “But I gave it a shot and applied. Seeing as I had no prior coffee experience, I relied on my personality alone.”
Since then, Maltese has worked for and even managed several coffee shops, and now he hopes to someday run his own cafe.
“I plan to work my way up in the industry,” he says.
What his typical day is like
An average day for Maltese starts at 5 a.m., and once the cafe doors open at 6, it’s showtime.
“Preparing for that moment is a lot of hard work,” he says. “You have to dial in your espresso so it's palatable, prepare any pastries, check for any shortages in the cash drawer and set the shop's atmosphere appropriately for the day—meaning, you have to be happy and cheerful.”
Throughout the day, baristas do a lot of prep work, which includes brewing coffee, filling bean hoppers, placing pastries out for display and continually cleaning counters and tables. Maltese says his current shop allows for a 10-minute break and a lunch break, but that’s not the case at other specialty coffee shops.
At the end of the day, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Maltese says everything must be reset to how it was when the shop first opened.
What skills he says are important
Maltese says the first thing you need to work as a barista is drive and a passion for coffee.
“If you have no motivation to be in the industry, I would not recommend this career path,” he says. “However, if you are creative, attentive to detail, fast-learning and love dynamic environments, this may be your dream job.”
To break into specialty coffee, he says you have to go through rigorous training. With a certification from the Barista Guild of America, you can expect to land a job quicker and expect higher pay. A 2014 study by the SCAA found that Barista Guild graduates have the potential to earn $200,000 more than uncertified baristas over their career lifespan.
“Coffee is just like wine or beer; there are infinite combinations and possibilities from bean to cup,” Maltese explains. “You could have the best batch of coffee in the universe, but if the barista has no idea how to present it, the bean is worthless.”
What his biggest challenge is
Maltese says working in coffee is harder and more serious than most people think; the daily challenges of a barista are mainly focused on interacting with the public, as well as your staff.
“It definitely takes a lot of determination, hard work and confidence to make it in the industry,” says Maltese. “If one person on the team is upset or tired, everyone suffers—including the customer. At the end of the day, we want everyone to walk away with a positive experience.”
His career advice
Maltese stresses that an aspiring barista should do their best to get into the field as quickly as possible. He suggests seeking out a shop that will teach you the most relevant skills: working with an espresso machine, interacting with a high volume of customers, and of course, latte art.
“Once you feel more comfortable with these newly acquired skills, you can attempt to market yourself better on your resume,” says Maltese. “This is how you will get into the big leagues.”
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