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Barista Basics - Articles

Tools of the Trade, Bean Scene, Issue 10, 2005

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Appearing in Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 10, 2005



You won’t find a mechanic fixing your car with a paintbrush or a hairdresser cutting your hair with a spanner. Many baristas however don’t use the correct tools of the trade. Their coffees are therefore often either incorrectly made, inconsistent or just plain ugly, write Matthew Gee and David Gee.



In the old days people used to make homes with their bare hands. Eventually they got the job done but the finished product was generally pretty shonky. For some odd reason, even with the wealth of training that now exists for café owners, people still make espresso without the correct tools of the trade and so their finished product is shonky too and on top of this, incredibly inconsistent.

When we talk of tools we’re talking about baristas using thermometers as they texture their milk, spatulas to help them pour their milk, timers to periodically time their pour, tampers to compact their coffee and stencils to help create interest with chocolate powder on top of their cappuccinos, hot chocolates and caffe mochas. We will look at each tool now in turn and explain their relevance to the coffee-making process.


[1] Thermometers – these are placed near the handle of your 600ml or 1 litre jug, facing you so that you can see the dial easily during the frothing process. You are aiming to achieve a temperature of 65 degrees C which actually means turning off the steam wand at 60 degrees C as the needle on the dial will wind up slightly after you have finished frothing your milk. Using a thermometer will ensure consistency in the temperature of your milk. You simply cannot achieve consistency without one.

Picture a café that doesn’t use thermometers. Poor old Mary who walks in at 11am each morning to get her weak decaf flat white gets a luke-warm coffee one day, scalds her mouth the next day and on the following day gets a coffee that is OK in temperature but not ideal. The reason that her coffees are all different temperatures is because three different baristas prepared her coffees on these days.

Mary obviously has the patience of a saint because if it was one of us, one bad experience with the temperature of our coffee and we simply don’t go back to that café. And there are lots of people like us. The solution is simple – use a thermometer and everyone gets it right every time. People who don’t use thermometers treat coffee-making as some artisan craft that is all "look and feel". These people obviously think they are like Jedi Knights and will hear a voice or get a shiver down their spine when the correct temperature has been reached.

We have been taken to task over our love of thermometers by a few café owners who claim that they have done tests in their café and 9 out of 10 times they get within 2 degrees of ideal without using a thermometer. All this does is prove our point – that even seasoned baristas get it wrong 1 out of 10 times!

Using a thermometer also takes the focus of milk frothing away from your pain threshold (how long can you hold the jug before you can take the pain no longer) and onto the swirling of the milk (where it should be).

[2] Spatulas – these are long and narrow strips of metal that come out at a slight angle from a wooden handle. They are used to help guide out froth from the jug or to hold it back (depending on wheth


                             Tools of the Trade


Effective Barista Training, Tea and Coffee Asia, first quarter 2006
Coffee The Australian Way, Tea and Coffee Asia, fourth quarter 2005
In the End, It's All in the Blend, Bean Scene, Issue 10, 2005
Tools of the Trade, Bean Scene, Issue 10, 2005
The Starters Guide To Coffee, Bean Scene, Issue 9, 2005
Cutting Edge Espresso - Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 8, 2005
Postcards from Seattle - Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 8, 2005
Making Great Coffee At Home - Loreal's Club Matrix Magazine, Issue 2, 2004
Buying a Home Espresso Machine - Loreal's Club Matrix Magazine, Issue 3, 2005
Australians v Italians: Who Makes Better Coffee? - Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 6, 2004
The Decline of Tea and the Dethroning of the Flat White - Bean Scene Magazine, Issue 7, 2005
Coffee Indulgence - Loreals' Club Matrix Magazine, Issue 4, 2005
Coffee Appreciation
How to be a Gun Barista - Bean Scene, Issue 5, 2004
Affogato with a twist of Mocha - Australian Table, May 2004
Hygiene in the Café Environment - Bean Scene, Issue 3, 2004
Grind It, Baby - Eat Drink Magazine, May 2004
Coffee Myths, Dispelled!, Bean Scene, Issue 4, 2004
Coffee Art - Eatdrink Magazine, June 2004
Questions: Hospitality Magazine, May 2004


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