Basic Barista Skills 101: Tamping to Timing

Basic Barista Skills 101: Tamping to Timing

Welcome to basic barista skills 101! A great barista doesn’t mean that he or she could make an eye-candy latte art all the time. It’s about how you understand the science behind the coffee as well, how you use different kinds of brewing methods and machines, and how you communicate your knowledge to your customers to keep them interested and wanna try all the coffee you more!

These are some technical or basic knowledge that is very necessary if you’re new in the coffee industry, but we’re only sharing the glimpse and highlight of it, you need to do a lot more research. The more you read, the richer you are.

  1. The Profiles of Coffee

What are the basic coffee flavours and descriptors? Which ones are most prized (e.g. balance, acidity, sweetness)? What does your customer mean when they ask for “rich” or “strong” coffee?

In the coffee industry, people use different words or terms when it comes to describing coffee. “Balance” for example, is the general description of coffee which includes all the flavours in the coffee such as acidity, sweetness, and something you can feel at the end of the tongue. How about a strong or light coffee? They both have all the richness contained in the coffee as well, but when people say a stronger coffee they imply to coffee that has a thicker body or more bitterness at the end of it (some people may like it even more). When one wants a light coffee, also means that it has the acidity, sweetness, and bitterness, but in a way that the body is lighter and it’s just very relaxing to just sit and sip all the coffee.

  1. Processing and Roasting

This is very important when it comes to choosing your brewing method. Do you know the difference between washed and natural coffee? Washed coffee processing is when the coffee cherries are picked, the coffee itself is being washed before dried and it has a huge role in influencing how the coffee would taste.

There’s also the roasting. Roasting profiles are usually either light roast, medium roast, or dark roast. Could be in between all of them, but it really depends on the roasters on how they want to “cook” their coffee. Darker roasting will usually let the bitterness take over the coffee, so a lot of coffee shops are playing with medium roasts or light to medium roasts instead of the dark one.


  1. Extraction & Brewing

In the Third Wave era, there’s a lot to do than just serving the coffee from the machine. Baristas need, even must understand the extraction. The process is when the compounds and aromas are extracted from ground coffee by the water. Baristas are able to control the flavour of the cups they want to serve by adding more time to the extraction or lessen the time of the extraction. Not only time that matters, but the grind size of the coffee, ration of coffee to water, the water temperature to brew the coffee, and more! The quality of water you choose to brew your coffee also plays a role in it.

  1. Grinding

This is the process before brewing coffee and it’s very important how you grind your coffee, you need to understand how grind size could affect brewing methods and extraction. If you grind your coffee fine and not too coarse, the extraction would be a lot longer because the water couldn’t flow easily through the fine coffee grounds. Whilst, if you grind the coffee coarse instead of finer, the extraction would be shorter because the water could flow easily through the coarse ground.

Now.. if your coffee is a little too bitter, it must be over-extracted and you might want to change the grind size become coarser to speed up the brewing time. If your coffee is a little too sour, it’s under-extracted and you need to change the grind size to have finer coffee so the extraction time would be longer.

Here comes the important part the only experience can give you. As a barista, you need to train your tongue on how to calibrate your grinder for the espresso machine, or actually train your tongue to be more sensitive on sipping the morning espresso, finding the balance cup you’ll be serving. You do this every morning before opening, or could be in 3-6 hours, depending on the weather that day.

  1. Making the Espresso

The espresso you make also requires some technical skills. After you grind the coffee you need to tamp it. Unfortunately, tamping is considered as something that is not as important because oh well you simply just press the coffee grounds, but oh no! It is very important for the sake of heavenly cup. The right way to tamp is depending on how hard you wanna tamp it and there are no sides higher or lower than the other. Most coffee shops have their own standard.

You must know about pre-infusion, pressure profiling, flow profiling, and more about the espresso. But then again, it depends on the machine you have.

Why making the espresso is important? You’re a barista, everything you make is espresso-based whether it’s just a cup of latte, cappuccino, or americano. Even if you have blended sweet drinks mixed with syrups and creams, it’ll still be espresso-based. That’s why making an espresso is very important. It’s the main beverage you sell!

Don’t forget to take care of the espresso machine like a baby because it needs daily to annual maintenance depending on how much you use it and how you clean it every night after closing.

  1. Steaming and Pouring The Milk

Milk and coffee is a sweet, sweet combination. Steaming the milk itself could affect how sweet you want your coffee. You need a lot of practice to steam and pour it right, most of the baristas get the steaming right because many times we feel the jug on our palm and already know the right temperature for the milk and know when to stop steaming. The wand position and the jug position matters!

The goal here is to make a wonderful texture so it can be easily combined with coffee and you need to pay attention on how much milk you pour into your jug so it won’t spill blindly while you steam it later on. Choosing the right milk is a different thing, it could affect your cup, but just suit it with the roasting profile of your coffee.

  1. Manual Brewing

You can not say that one coffee shop is a specialty coffee shop if they don’t sell filter coffee. The menu will be incomplete without filter coffee. Inhale all the knowledge about manual brewing, from the equipment, methods, and techniques. The most common pour-over tool used would be V60, Kalita, AeroPress, and Chemex.


Know the differences between all of them and know what kind of coffee you want to have because each tool brings out the taste of coffee in different ways. The logical thinking of manual brewing and making espresso with the machine is a little similar, but manual brewing will never be the same because the pressure is different than the machine. It needs constant practice and precious skill.

  1. The Recipe for Everything

Recipe here doesn’t mean an actual recipe, more like a guidance or standard on how you make the coffee so it won’t have much difference when the other barista serve it, because the truth is every cup of coffee would taste different if they’re created by different baristas. If you’ve been working in the coffee industry for quite a long time, you’ll be more confident about your capabilities and might recommend new recipes.

Listening to your customers is also an important part, they might not understand coffee as much as you do and consider the coffee is bitter, too sour, or anything. If they request something that you think is weird, it’s okay to just do it instead of rambling about how they should drink their coffee. In the end, if they like the coffee shop they’ll keep coming back.

  1. Personal hygiene

Yes, you read it correctly. Personal hygiene is crucial when you want to take care of a place where people can eat and drink. It’s essential. You’ll be surprised by how a clean place could give you lots of benefits.

There are also lots of other skills that a barista should have like communications, customer relationship, and other things, but let’s leave it here for now and keep learning!

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