Things You Never Knew About a Barista Career

In this article, we have Shawn Tan, full-time coffee addict and part-time barista, to share an inside view of what goes on behind the bar and inside the mind of your caffeine dealer.


photo credits to Izuan Mohati

A lot of people admire the showmanship of a barista, and some even aspire to become one. This is not uncommon, given the perks of the job – drinking all that delicious coffee, experimenting with different drinks and using quality (and expensive) coffee equipment, to name a few. However, making coffee is not as easy as it seems. A good grasp on basic coffee knowledge is a must, before you even begin learning the practical aspects. Some people believe that they can get started on the espresso machine as soon as they join a cafe. More often than not, one would first have to be familiar with all the roles in the cafe, from running coffees to table service, and even clearing tables and washing cups.

In this article, I would be revealing a side of the coffee business that one does not often see, and show you some of the things that are not so prominent to the average cafe goer.



Perhaps the biggest challenge that affects the barista is managing the caffeine intake. One question a barista often gets is, “How much coffee do you drink?” Fact is, a barista cannot simply keep track of the number of coffees he or she has had. As a barista working on the espresso machine, one has to calibrate the coffee not just in the morning, but throughout the day and whenever a new batch of coffee beans is added to the hopper. The calibration process includes tasting the espresso for consistency and flavour, which can add up to a lot of caffeine in a day. If your barista is overdosed on caffeine, it likely means he or she has been micromanaging the coffee quality. Or perhaps just taking advantage of the access to abundant coffee.

photo credits to Izuan Mohati


An important skill required of the barista is the ability to multitask. One needs to manage the list of orders coming in, while steaming a pitcher of milk, and watching the espresso stream at the same time. At higher levels, a good barista can keep an eye on the customer traffic coming in the door, and handle ridiculous questions from customers, all while pouring coffees with a smile.


This brings us to the next point, which is the ability to work as a cohesive unit. During peak hours in a high-volume cafe, there are typically two people working on the same espresso machine – one to pull espresso shots, and one to steam milk and finish drinks. It takes some chemistry between the two to effectively churn out beverages at speed, with one slowing down to keep the pace whenever necessary.

Apart from that, the baristas have to maintain effective communication between the rest of the staff, including the cashier taking orders and the runner sending out coffees. It takes certain kind of cool to keep making quality coffee as a team, especially when the list of orders is 16 chits long and the queue is preventing the coffees from getting sent out efficiently.

photo credits to Izuan Mohati


The job scope of a barista includes long hours of standing, and repetitive actions. It is not uncommon for staff to suffer from repetitive stress injuries. An example is the ‘barista wrist’, which results from long hours of repeated movements, like tamping coffee, or lifting milk bottles and other heavy objects. Furthermore, the working hours are not restricted to a five-day workweek, and a workday begins long before the cafe opens, until after the last customer walks out the door. So, show a little appreciation to the staff when you walk in for your morning coffee, and do take care not to overextend your stay on a Saturday night. Because, you know, just because you don’t need to be up early the following day, doesn’t mean the staff do not either.


Probably the most under-appreciated part of a barista’s job is the cleaning. This is the part that most people do not see, but is, in fact, one of the fundamentals for quality coffee. There are multiple processes in the clean-up, including scrubbing the portafilter (i.e. the part that holds the coffee during extraction) to flushing the group head (i.e. the component of the machine that pushes water through the coffee), cleaning of the grinder to wiping down the workstation. Some of these details have to be carried out in a certain procedure, and someone unfamiliar with the process may be overwhelmed by the number of things to do. If the barista takes extra effort to ensure the cleanliness of the equipment, you can tell he or she takes pride in the quality of the coffee. But, of course, you might not notice this, because these are the hidden sides of the coffee business.

photo credits to Shawn Tan


Only with a humble attitude and open mind, should one approach the prospect of becoming a barista. Making a quality cup of coffee is not something that can be mastered in a week. It involves a lot of knowledge on coffee theory, and hands-on experience to adjust for varying factors, and lots of practice. Passion for coffee and hunger for knowledge are key. After all, the latte art is only the finishing touch on the drink; it won’t save a poor cup of coffee.

If you wish to learn more about coffee, most baristas are more than willing to share their knowledge, if you catch them at the right time. Just avoid asking too many questions on a Sunday morning when the cafe is packed with brunch orders. Customers that are willing to learn are much appreciated, and the respect goes both ways. After all, what we want is to create a culture of quality products coupled with excellent service. We’re all for better coffee.


She started with the love for cafe culture - the perfect marriage between a good cuppa and a relaxing environment. She adores cafes with intricate interior and will die for divine desserts, droolicious brunch and great coffee. Other than cafes, she loves cats, marketing and ultimate frisbee.