Last Updated on
Today we chat with our friend Liam Eales, barista extraordinaire from Happy Goat Coffee in Ottawa, Ontario.
We asked Liam many of the common questions people have about being a barista that we’ve heard.
With further delay, grab your coffee and let’s get into the interview!
How long have you been a barista at Happy Goat Coffee Company in Ottawa?
Liam: I’ve worked here for 2 years, but was a massive regular for a long time.
Nice. Now I’m going to ask you a pile of frequently asked questions about baristas. Ready?
Liam: Sure, go for it.
Oh, also…do you care if my questions appear in a flowery font when this is done?
Liam: Uhhh.. no.
What do baristas do? (ie. your average barista job description)
Liam: An average barista job is quite simple, if you know what your doing. That’s the hard bit.
The infinite points of making the best drink are important. Everything from temperature of milk, the quantity of beans and espresso/milk, needs to be perfect to the decimal. That way, you will be providing your customer with the best coffee.
Baristas are also on the front line. They make sure the clientele and the community the café represents, is pleased and feels welcome and comfortable. This gives a strong space for the community to live.
Cafés historically have always been a meeting place for working, writing, and organizing. Baristas are standing on the shoulders of “giants”, when it comes to what a great café can be.
Anyone who has been to a real café, knows that there is more than a “simple business” happening in that room.
How long did you have to train to be a barista?
Liam: Depends on the person. It took me a long time to get all the points down.
You can teach someone to make a latte, but it takes time, craft, commitment, and experience to become very good. It doesn’t happen overnight like an average service job.
Does a barista have to be a good multi-tasker?
Liam: Often times in the industry, it’ll be you and one other tackling the entire restaurant’s functions for a few hours.
Things you are dealing with in multi-tasking include tackling customers (not literally, only once in a while), doing dishes, cleaning, and making drinks (sometimes food) all at once.
Do you have to wear an apron?
Liam: Wearing aprons depends on the employer.
There is little evidence that aprons provide any real advantage for specialty coffee, as the culture around the 3rd wave of coffee is really the quality of the drinks, and community based spaces. Some clients see excessive corporate branding as a grotesque departure of that.
However as businesses grow, it may seem more necessary. It remains up for debate.
Personally, I like them on hand because spills do happen.
Why do baristas “bang the milk”?
Liam: Banging the milk gets rid of bubbles in the drink, and makes it easier to pour. It also boosts the presentation of your drink.
However, banging it too much can separate the foam from the milk too much, and ruin it.
How is your barista job different from what a barista does at, say, Starbucks?
Liam: I’ve never worked at Starbucks, so I can’t say too much.
However, I find a private business like “Happy Goat” is much more rewarding for the experience you get. There’s so much room for input, creativity, and feeling valued by your employer.
I highly recommend working for an independent coffee shop if you get the opportunity!
We genuinely care about our jobs! Definitely, one of the best things about the job is the relationships we form with our regulars!
How do you make a macchiato?
Liam: We make real macchiatos, focusing more on bean quality (we pay a lot more for better quality) and don’t burn our roasts or excessively sugar up our drinks.
Another big thing third wave coffee does differently, is focus on the proper ratio of espresso vs milk. This results in only one size for those drinks, but they all taste better!
Are you good at making latte art?
Liam: As for the latte art stuff, I am pretty good.
My skills were beaten to into me by my boss, and in friendly competitions with my coworkers, but I am nowhere near as good as some of the masters who have been at it for a while.
How does a barista make coffee vs. a non-barista?
Liam: Well, I assume a “non barista” will just stick their coffee in a machine and hope for the best.
No shame in that, but the more you learn about coffee, the more you pay attention to infinite flavour notes.
The amount that goes in the machine, or, if you’re doing it manually, whether you prefer pour over extraction (chemex) or full emersion (french press).
Without being uber-specific, how much do you make being a barista?
Liam: It’s a minimum wage job at the start for sure, but, depending on the employer and your/their commitment, there is always room for raises.
Also, it depends on the company you work for. I know of successful coffee companies where managers make 22$/ hour and most experienced lower level baristas make 16$.
Why do baristas hate making frappuccinos?
Liam: Honestly, can’t say that I know. We don’t make them here. It does seem like a lengthy process though.
Do you ever wear a wig to work?
Liam: No wigs ever, but there was a flamingo costume once!
Do you get tips?
Liam: Yes. Speaking as someone who does both bartending and barista work, baristas have much more finite skills when compared to a bartender. The two jobs are comparable in that you’re always occupied doing something for both.
Also, baristas do wake up super early to serve you. That’s gotta count for something
If you’re tipping your bartender, I don’t see why you wouldn’t tip your local barista.
How do you go about making a mocha?
Liam: It’s the easiest thing, just chocolate milk steamed like latte with double short espresso, and a little bit of coco in there too.
Some places go overboard on the sugary side, but if you do that, you just ruin the coffee flavour we work so hard to create.
Do you ever misspell anyone’s name by accident?
Liam: Hahahahah! We don’t take names, so no, but it is important to get on a first name basis with regulars.
This helps with breaking down those simple barriers, and creates loyalty. Often times, genuine relationships can form.
I know someone who married a regular customer, so it’s for the best on both sides as far as I’m concerned.
What do you think of Nespresso / George Clooney?
Liam: Nespresso ? Never bothered to try or look into it, tbh. George Clooney! Honestly, that man’s ability to not age needs to be researched, and put in a bottle for the rest of us!
Does Happy Goat have a secret menu?
Liam: Hahahah! No secret menu, but if you need any specific changes, we will go above and beyond to meet them, no matter what creative energy we need to muster up.
Do you ever go to McDonald’s for coffee?
Liam: Honestly, stores like that on the side of the highway are probably going to be your best option when it comes to drip.
That said, I don’t see why someone who is in a city or town wouldn’t try to find the best local café experience. It’s always going to be more special. I promise that!
There you have it folks, all the most commonly asked barista questions answered by Liam Eales.
If you have more questions that you think we didn’t cover here, drop us a line in the comments and we’ll pass them along!