So you’re passionate – and knowledgeable – about coffee and you want to move to the next level: sharing that passion with others. Welcome to the world of barista training.
Your new career move is going to be challenging, frustrating, and incredibly rewarding. Remember those teachers who inspired you? They left you eager to learn more, googling facts on the way out. I bet that passion stayed with you forever.
But what about those teachers who might as well have been speaking Martian? Who made even the most exciting topic seem like a history of the earwig? (Sorry, entomologists!) Let me guess: you stopped studying that subject as soon as you could.
Your biggest challenge is going to be becoming one of those dream trainers, instead of one of the excruciatingly boring ones. But don’t worry, because I’m here to share with you what I’ve learnt as an SCAE trainer. So read on for the 10 rules of being a great barista trainer.
Omar is a coffee producer from Palestina, Huila. He was so happy with his performance on the SCAE practical test. But the thing is, I was even happier. His participation on the course gave us a totally different, and sometimes very sweet, point of view. Because he is a producer he told us about the struggles they live each day. He shared their dreams, hopes, and disappointments. It was so wonderful to have him in our class.
- Trainers Train – Not Lecture
Training is the transfer of knowledge and skills from one person to another. That’s a simple definition, but it’s an important one to remember: training skills can be more important than technical expertise. As a barista trainer, you have to know about coffee but you also need to successfully share that knowledge. Self-awareness is an important part of this; you should always be tracking responses from learners and then evaluating how to improve.
SCAE certification in Venezuela. Sorting green coffee, looking for defects and peaberries. Participants work as a team. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers Know they’re Not the Fountain of all Knowledge
You’re a facilitator, not a resource. You’re not there to tell your trainees everything but to guide them in their own self-learning. Encourage them to accept equal responsibility for their own progress. Urge them to train in their own time. And give them feedback – not answers.
Green coffee and sensory skills: cupping at Café Registrado® with 9 different specialty coffees in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers are Knowledgeable
Okay, so you’re not the source of all knowledge – but you still need to know what you’re talking about. You need to be the créme de la créme because, when your trainees don’t get something, you need to be able to guide them into understanding it. And without understanding your subject matter perfectly, you won’t be able to explain it in a way that makes sense to other people.
The key to being a barista trainer isn’t knowledge or training skills. Instead, it’s balancing expertise with training ability.
Coffee Tradition: Jebena (boiling pot) in Adis Abeba (Ethiopia). It’s important to know our roots. Credit: María Esther López C.
4. Trainers are Neutral
The one constant thing in coffee is change. Some new developments you’ll love, but others you might hate. (Milk substitutes, anyone?) That doesn’t matter. You must teach everything without bias because your job is to help your trainees form their opinions.
SCAE Barista Certification in Colombia, Bogota. Participants learn advanced brewing methods, share opinions, and record new experiences. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers Show Passion
But when we say neutral, we don’t mean calm. Nothing attracts and engages more than passion; it’s what inspires trainees to keep learning. Great barista trainers LOVE what they do – and I mean love. You have to think coffee is the most amazing thing on the planet. You have to dream of god shots. And if there’s something you’re not so keen on, you still have to teach it with passion.
SCAE Barista Course and Certification in Colombia, Bogota. Learning how to clean while brewing is important for all baristas. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers are Creative
Before the session begins, you need to have a creative plan that will inspire your trainees. And during the training, if something you didn’t anticipate happens, you need to be creative enough to change your plan on the spot. Don’t afraid of making mistakes every now and again; they’re inevitable – especially when you want to be original. But your trainees will remember your one-of-a-kind ideas more than they will your mistakes.
SCAE Barista Skills Certification at Café Gardella in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Participants practise grinder calibration. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers Feel the “Mood”
You must be able to sense when trainees are achieving the learning outcomes – and where they’re not – even when they don’t tell you. Some people lack the confidence to tell you when they’re struggling so you need to read the signs: the muted atmosphere, the hesitant movements, the blank expression. And through this, you’ll know when people have got it and when they really haven’t.
SCAE Barista Skills Certification at Café Gardella in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Participants study grinder calibration and cleaning. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers Lead People
In the short term, you need to gain trust and respect from a group. In the long term, you need to lead your trainees through a process of development, helping them to reach barista excellence. Communication, fairness, and confidence are crucial for this.
SCAE Coffee Diploma Certification at MOPLACO in Adis Abeba, Ethiopia. Participants have judgement-free discussions, sharing ideas and thinking creatively. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers are Also Trainees
Trainers must keep learning, unlearning, and re-learning. You need to master all the new trends in the coffee industry: new machines, new tools, new standards. As we said before, the only constant in coffee is change…
SCAA Symposium, Seattle in April 2015: Mayra Orellana-Powell, from Honduras, giving a lecture on “Voices from Origin: A producer-driven approach”. For trainers, staying updated is crucial. Credit: María Esther López C.
- Trainers are Mindful
You might know your role, but you also know that coffee isn’t about one person; it’s about all of us in this industry working together. You must respect, understand, and care about the all hard work others are doing in the coffee chain. You know coffee is about Mother Nature, climate change, empowering women in coffee, farmers, and more. You know it’s about people who care for people.
As Michael Sheridan says, “what happens in the marketplace matters at origin and what happens at origin matters in the marketplace… The essence of a supply chain is interdependence. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this together”.
SCAE Barista Skills Certification in Quito, Ecuador. Participants worked together to set up, clean, and calibrate grinders. Credit: María Esther López C.
So now we’ve reached the end of our ten rules. Feeling daunted? Don’t be. Bear these rules in mind, remember your passion for sharing coffee knowledge, and go out there and train others.
Or does daunted not describe you at all? Did you read these 10 rules and think “Is that it? I knew all that already”? Well just for you, we have our bonus round. You’ll know you’re a one-of-a-kind trainer when you can tick all these skills off:
Presentation – structure and communicate ideas, use visual and other aids. Facilitation – manage activities, elicit contributions and learning. One-to-one – coach, counsel, mentor, advise, assess. Consultancy – investigate, diagnose, advise, evaluate, partner. Troubleshooting – be insightful, innovative, dogged, a skillful rebel. Design – create programmes, materials, activities, opportunities.
Personal skills and qualities:
Communication – listen, question, explain, give feedback. Interpersonal – build relationships, have sensitivity, handle conflict. Assertiveness – have confidence, be challenging and supporting, know how to negotiate. Flexibility – be responsiveness, have creativity, stay adaptable, manage change. Expertise – remain knowledgeable, experienced, insightful, up to date.
Teamworking – be supportive, dependable, collaborative. Self-management – handle stress, manage time and work, be self-starting. Influencing – instigate and drive change, transfer learning into performance, win support. Strategic – coordinate, plan, lead, think. Problem solving – get things done, work around operational difficulties. Business – know about finance, marketing, customer care, administration.
SCAE Certification in Lima, Perú with the National Barista Champion and Latte Art Champion. They shared their expectation, dreams, and own experiences about the Peruvian specialty coffee with trainees.
Training is complex. It’s a large combination of skills, attitudes, and knowledge. Sometimes it may seem challenging, but you can’t give up. You have to remember that your trainees are trusting in you to lead them in their learning. You must deserve that trust. And give it back, with profit.