Recently Mark Prince has been talking of what he believes the barista creed should be:
Any Coffee. Any Machine. Any Grinder.
I agree with this, whilst also am deeply opposed to this dependent on how you interpret those words.
If you take it to mean that if you put a barista in any situation then he should work with what he is given to do the very best he/she can using a skillset and understanding developed through training and practise. Knowing about burr type, age and motor speed of a grinder, coupled with the heat exchange system in the machine, and knowledge of rougly where to aim brew temp with relevance to brew temp are all good things to know about, and in situations where you are out of your depth, and out of your comfort zone these are the things you should revert to. Systematic, though also natuarl.
However, it is very easy to intrepet this to mean that it is all about the barista. And its not, its really really not. I’ve been saying for some time that I believe that a barista is only ever as good as their coffee. The best barista in the world is not a magic wand and can never exceed the potential held within the coffee. I think that a barista has two roles, one where they should be very visible, one where they should aim to be invisible. You buy your coffee from people, and a barista should be a host – gracious, polite, a pleasure to interact with first thing in the morning or when you sneak a shot in before closing time. Look me in the eye, talk to me, smile at me. Eventually maybe even remember me!
When it comes to brewing – the mechanical and chemical process of extraction – I want the barista as invisible as possible. If you, the barista, show up in the cup, then it is because something has gone wrong (bad grind, bad extraction, bad service). When everything is “perfect” it is only the coffee that is on show in the cup and to me that is the goal of the barista. Not to get in the way. Same job a roaster has, to some extent, and the same job as the farmer. To get as much of what is great about the coffee to the person paying for the sensory experience of consuming it. A barista is a part of a chain, and no more important in that chain than anyone else. Some people have the glory jobs – such as roasters and baristas – where the skill is more obvious, but the person milling, washing and drying the coffee we are lucky enough to work with has an equally important role to play.
So – I guess it comes down to: Any Machine, Any Grinder – Any Time.
Any coffee – never!