The espresso bar, though frequently chaotic, is just as often a surprisingly calm space. Photo M.Hershenow. 2015
As Sacramento’s coffee scene builds momentum, the responsibility of the barista is growing exponentially. Anyone can make coffee, even good coffee; it is only the well-trained, thoroughly-practiced barista who can turn good coffee into a great beverage. But growing popularity means increased traffic in our city’s cafés, and that traffic means more pressure for the barista: more drinks, made more quickly, without sacrificing quality.
Like all good things, the bar requires a balance of speed and nuance. Photo M.Hershenow. 2015
As the pressure grows, it quickly becomes clear that simply being skillful at making drinks is not enough: the modern barista must be a great many things. For midtown barista Shay Mullins, one of the most important things to be is patient.
Shay Mullins pouring a latte. Photo M.Hershenow. 2015
“It takes a lot of patience to be a barista. Many things go into making a drink and many things can go wrong. The trick is to keep yourself together and stay calm.”
Properly prepared steamed mik, the cornerstone of any espresso drink, requires a great deal of skill from the barista. Flavor, texture, and latte art all depend on it. Photo M.Hershenow. 2015
But, Shay says, no barista is alone, “When things go horrifically wrong and you’re having a hard time staying calm, you end up relying on your coworkers to help you out. Chances are, they’re just as aggravated as you are.”
Perhaps with that in mind, one will find it easier to stay grounded behind that massive espresso machine. After all, even the worst things won’t last forever, “In all honesty, I just keep in mind that it’s only a few hours of chaos and then it’s over. Sometimes it’s hard to remember it’s just coffee.”
Mullins takes a break from pulling shots to hide from the camera. Photo M.Hershenow. 2015
If there is a barista mantra, perhaps that is it. The pressure and responsibility can, at times, be stifling, and there is often a great deal of pride involved, but in the end there is only so much the barista can do. As long as they are making the best beverages they are capable of making, that patience, along with all other things, will follow.
It is, after all, only coffee. Photo M.Hershenow. 2015
Are you a barista? If so, what do you think is crucial to making and serving great coffee? Contact us at TUBEmag.com and let us know for a chance to be featured in a future installment of “Behind the Bar.”
Words and photos by M.Hershenow.