Time for training

05 April 2004 by
Time for training

During a visit to the Salt Bar in London, Soner Yilmaz was served a Virgin Mary that tasted superior to any he'd had elsewhere. Keen to replicate it, he asked the barman how he had achieved this, and was surprised to discover the drink contained the usual ingredients - tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcester sauce, Tabasco sauce and salt. The difference was in the care and precision the barman had taken in preparing the drink.

"This is the same experience a skilled barista should pass to each and every customer, every time," says Yilmaz, managing director of coffee roaster and supplier Coffee House. "The sad truth is that anyone working within 10ft of a coffee machine is generally called a barista."

He is tired of the excuses offered by establishments for not serving coffee of a sufficient standard - poor-quality beans, roasting methods, machines, water quality and milk are all blamed. The truth, Yilmaz says, is that Italians, renowned for serving good coffee, face all the same potential problems and manage to overcome them. Quality needs to be maintained from the beginning of the cycle to the very end, right down to the quality of the crockery the coffee is served in. And the secret to achieving this is training.

Good training is crucial, says Alex Cenem, training and development manager at Union Coffee Roasters. "If the barista is not fully trained - and therefore does not understand the context or significance of the role they play in the wider arena - then, ultimately, this will show in the quality and preparation of the final cup they serve," he says.

The Lavazza school of thought is that a barista needs three key attributes to succeed - passion, skill and pride. And a good barista will pass on his or her valuable knowledge of the subject to the customer, says Lavazza training manager Andre Fucci, who likens a good restaurant without a barista to one without a sommelier. "The barista role is not about being elitist with their knowledge," he says. "It's about knowing their coffee so well they can advise and influence their customers' buying behaviour, to increase the bottom line."

Lisa Hoskins, Brasilia's marketing manager, says that a well-trained barista will generate more income for the operator by offering a speedier service and by "upselling" the products - and make buying coffee a memorable and enjoyable encounter.

On a practical level, a trained barista will also understand the value of the equipment they are using and the importance of maintaining it so that it performs to maximum efficiency.

But, first and foremost, being a good barista is about understanding the product, says the managing director of Drury Tea and Coffee, Marco Olmi. "A barista needs to understand the concept of espresso," he says. "They need to know what a good espresso should taste like and how to recognise a bad espresso. From this, the trainee barista needs to develop an understanding of the process of making coffee, from storage, through grinding, brewing and serving."

Apart from drawing in customers through the theatre of coffee making, and thus pumping up profits, a well-trained barista confirms to the public that an outlet is serious about its coffee - and, therefore, likely to be serious about all elements of the business, suggests Giovanni Lauretta, coffee trainer and master barista for Douwe Egberts. He adds: "A skilled barista can be the difference between serving a superb or a diabolical cup of coffee, perhaps even making the difference between customers returning or not."

Training Packages
Lavazza held 114 training sessions last year, training more than 900 professionals in the UK at its headquarters in White City, London. The company does not offer training away from its own premises, as it believes all training should be consistent, which would not be possible if it were using customers' equipment. Training is free to Lavazza food service customers. The standard course is one day long and involves some theory and practical units, although courses can be longer, depending on customers' requirements. Contact 020 8740 3820

Coffeehouse conducts its training at the customer's premises, using their machine, whichever brand it may be. Trainers check all the settings of the grinder and machine, and ensure that all members of staff are trained to make all the required drinks. Training also covers the different qualities of coffee, plus the history, craft and culture of coffee. If the customer purchases a coffee machine through Coffeehouse, training is provided free of charge on up to two occasions in the first year; thereafter, the company charges £50 excluding VAT per hour, for groups of five. Contact 020 8455 3055

Matthew Algie offers training to all of its customers, provided by the company's coffee sales managers as well as its team of 14 dedicated customer trainers. The company also runs coffee schools in London, Glasgow and Dublin, with introductory and advanced courses. The cost is £50 for the introductory coffee school, and £100 for the advanced, but it is free to customers. Contact 0800 263333

The Gaggia Caffe Academie trains those wanting to enter the restaurant, bar or coffee-shop industries. The course includes training and assessment of basic skills, in-house practical training, an advanced skills diploma, advanced practical training and final assessment of presentation skills. Practical training is conducted at the Gaggia shop, situated on the fourth floor of House of Fraser on London's Oxford Street. The cost of the course is £200. Contact 0870 442 0300

The training guide from Brasilia UK includes details on how to operate a traditional machine and grinder; 10 steps to making a perfect espresso; how to make a complete menu of drinks, including cappuccino, espresso and caf‚ latte; daily cleaning routines for equipment; and troubleshooting information for machines and grinders. The pack costs £250 and contains a training manual, 10 pocket-sized handbooks and a training video. Contact 020 8236 0039

The Drury Tea and Coffee Company has a barista training service available free of charge to clients purchasing Drury coffee. The training courses are run by Drury's dedicated training executive, Gretchen Gale, and can be held either at the company's central London showroom or at customers' premises, for those operating within the M25. The course is aimed at staff or distributor sales personnel who need to learn how to make perfect speciality coffees using traditional commercial espresso equipment. Each course can accommodate as many as six people and lasts about an hour-and-a-half. Subjects covered include grinder settings; care and cleaning of the espresso machine; how to recognise the perfect espresso; and speciality coffee recipe ideas. Contact 020 7740 1100

Costa Coffee's training programme offers four one-day courses at different levels - bronze, silver, gold and platinum - and covers such subjects as checking and controlling of the correct dose, grind size, tamp (pressure) applied to the coffee grounds, extraction time, and cleanliness and maintenance of equipment. The training is free to Costa customers and takes place in Glasgow or London. Contact 020 7582 7272

Former Brasilia Barista of the Year finalist and Acorn Award winner Paul Meikle-Janney provides training for independents or chains of coffee bars through Coffee Community, of which he is managing director. The company has introduced a Barista Training CD-Rom, costing £17.99 plus postage and packing. It uses photos, interactive diagrams, video clips and quizzes to convey how to make the perfect espresso coffee. Bespoke versions of the CD can be arranged to incorporate company logos, machines and training styles. Contact: 01484 431450

Union Coffee Roasters' training focuses on rigorously applying the basics: understanding, maintaining and cleaning the machines and equipment; and developing the best techniques to prepare drinks in the correct manner. Contact 020 7474 8990

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