Not Everybody Behind the Bar at Intelligentsia or LAMILL is a Barista
There are a lot of coffee misconceptions. From an organizational standpoint, one myth is the idea that everybody behind a coffee bar is automatically a barista. At Starbucks, that’s true, but not at top-tier farm-to-cup coffeehouses like Intelligentsia and LA Mill. At those Silver Lake coffeehouses, employees have different skill and commitment levels, and the most dedicated coffee professionals deserve recognition for their extra efforts.
Kyle Glanville, Intelligentsia’s Manager of Espresso Research Development, oversees Los Angeles barista training from the company’s Glassell Park roasting facility. He was happy to demystify Intelligentsia’s approach to barista training.
“Employees start their time at Intelligentsia as a barback, running dishes etc. until they learn Clover prep. They graduate to apprentice once they begin regular training with me. They will remain an apprentice for several months until they have passed a sensory exam, a written coffee knowledge exam, and a drink preparation exam. All apprentices must demonstrate a level of readiness beyond the test-taking before they are allowed to take the test. This is based on my impression of their skills in all facets of coffee knowledge and customer service. Privileges for baristas include higher pay, solo access to the training facilities, and the right to enter barista competitions.”
Glanville also clarified how this process impacts Intelligentsia’s Sunset Junction coffeehouse: “Baristas are supposed to be the leaders on the floor. All other employees defer to them in coffee quality issues. Dialing in the Clover is the baristas’ responsibility, as is on the spot quality control. It is the baristas responsibility to ensure quality for every beverage served.“
LA Mill CEO Craig Min explained that every new hire begins their training at the company’s Alhambra roasting facility, as a barback. “Everybody who works [at the Silver Lake coffeehouse] has been through 20+ hours of training in Alhambra,” says Min. “That’s just basic coffee training, technicality, everything from agriculture to tasting coffee, technical skill set as well. They’re allowed to make some drinks but nothing that involves espresso until they pass certification. You have to make it through certain phases before you’re even allowed to steam milk. Once you are, you can get to significant pay levels depending on where their competence lies.”
Creative Beverage developer Pressy Betiong and Alhambra-based barista Damian Lopez lead the initial training. Min and John Gozbekian, LA Mill’s Director of Coffee, are in charge of the certification program. “If somebody wants to get tested, we’ll test them,” says Min.
“Barista Certification” is a 21-step program that’s required to become a barista. “It ensures that a barista should know what coffee is, how coffee is grown, how it’s processed,” says Min. “We go from start to finish…It’s everything from competency, then pulling shots, steaming milk, understanding the coffee itself, the espresso machine itself, the mechanics, seeing how it works. It’s not just a box that you press a button. There’s a vast amount of common knowledge that they have to be well-rounded on to get their accreditation.”
Min thinks barista training is imperative, saying, “These people are the last handlers of coffee. You can do all the hard work that we do as a company, source it, bring it here, roast it, we keep it at the right temperature, roast it correctly, deliver it on time, but you can always screw it up, the last person at the end. They understand that you’re the last line of defense, my friend.” Min said accreditation also ensures that, “If they know their stuff they’re going to care about what they do.”