Planet Bean Gourmet Coffee Bars

Behind every great coffee bar is a coffee bartender, or Barista. Here is one of our lead Baristas on her art …

I’ve been asked to write about being a barista. So, at the risk of being brutally teased, I’m going to give you a glimpse of the frightening geekery that is my mind. I’ve been working for about four years now at Planet Bean. This followed notable and proud careers as a dish washer, cashier, meat slicer, and other varied entry level positions. This job, I assure you, is of a completely different breed. A barista, Italian for bartender, is a professional espresso machine operator. My job is to understand and recreate all the elements that make perfect espresso.

I get to be the last pair of hands in a line of experts which spans centuries and continents. At every step in the coffee process, there have been minute changes which have completely affected the end result in your cup. As the last person in the line from farm to cup, I appreciate the effort and skill of the countless other experts who are responsible for the coffee that I work with. Any mistakes on my part can turn a wonderful, golden, creamy espresso into a waste of time.

So, what do I actually do aside from push a button and pour your coffee? I pay careful attention to what I’m serving. With fervent attention to detail, I condense four years of practise making espresso into about thirty seconds of preparation time. I keep my grinds at a level of such consistency that even the temperature and humidity in the air will require an adjustment. I vigilantly hand-dose each espresso shot into my filter. I use my “Reg Barber (top-of-the-line-personalized-rocket-ship) Tamper” to pack each shot at exactly thirty pounds of pressure, and then polish it with a twirl to keep the water flow even. I lock it in and let it brew immediately, because temperature stability is a must. I count in my head, gauging the best brew time by colour and consistency of pour, and stop the machine right before any over-extraction and bitter flavour can escape and ruin my one ounce of heaven in beverage form.

I might have gotten a bit enthusiastic there and lost the point. What I meant to say, of course, is that there are a lot of ways to ruin a coffee, and my job is to treat it with the delicacy, knowledge, and expertise that I’ve only just begun to understand. The best baristas have made a career of this. There are guilds for this! Last summer, I got to go to the Canadian Barista Championship with our roasters. There, under bright lights and cameras, they had literally set up a fake coffee bar counter. The competitors made espresso under the close scrutiny of technical and sensory judges, and to the applause of a (entirely barista) crowd. Briefly, my vision clouded. I felt like I’d discovered Atlantis…and it was made of Arabica beans. There is a flourishing coffee culture across the world that we as baristas get to be a part of, and yes, I find that a little absurd, but also fascinating. I love my coffee and the culture that comes with it.

If you come into the shop and notice me hovering awkwardly next to the (my) Elektra (oh-so glorious Elektra!), it’s not because there’s nothing else to do. It’s because I am desperately hoping that you, my dear customer, are going to order a double espresso. I love my job because there’s something awesome that I can do, and I want to share it with you. Please, next time you come into Planet Bean, order an espresso. It might be a jolt at first, but we baristas will lead you, gently and compassionately, into coffee geekery.