Definition: A barista is a person who prepares and (also, generally) serves espresso-based coffee drinks. The term barista is also often applied to coffee shop employees who prepare both espresso and coffee drinks. Although the term barista technically applies to someone who has been professionally trained in preparing espresso, it may also be used to describe anyone with a high level of skill in making espresso shots and espresso drinks (such as lattes and cappuccinos).
The word barista originated in Italy, where it means a "bartender" who serves alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (including coffee and espresso drinks), rather than coffee shop employee, espresso maker or one skilled in making espresso drinks. The term is gender neutral when singular. In English, it is gender neutral when singular or plural (baristas), but in Italian, it is gender-specific when plural (either the masculine "baristi," which means "barmen" or "bartenders," or the feminine "bariste," which means "barmaids").
Barista Job Description
Generally, baristas working in coffeehouses, coffee shops or coffee bars operate commercial espresso machines (rather than home espresso machines). These machines range from machines that are manual (requiring immense skill, training and ability to adapt to the nuance of each batch of coffee, day's weather, drinker's preferences, etc.) to machines that are "super-automatic," requiring no more than the loading of whole beans and the push of a button.
For more information on how baristas manually prepare espresso shots, see this guide to preparing espresso shots.
Beyond making espresso, baristas also generally foam, froth and steam milk to make a wide range of espresso-based drinks and prepare coffee drinks, such as French press coffee and drip coffee.
Barista Training & Expertise
While it is possible for a barista to acquire their job skills by attending barista training courses, they are usually learned on the job from longstanding employees.
Many baristas take great pride in their skills and spend years honing specific techniques for crafting perfect drinks. This obsessive tendency to improve one's craft led to local and international barista competitions. Although formal barista competitions originated ni Norway, the most famous and respected barista competition is now the World Barista Championships (or WBC).
In addition to skill in manually preparing espresso shots and espresso drinks, some baristas are known for specializations such as latte art, coffee roasting, in-depth coffee knowledge or cold-brewed coffee.
Other Meanings of "Barista"
In addition to one who makes espresso and related drinks, the term barista may also refer to Barista Magazine, the coffee shop Barista PDX in the espresso-loving city of Portland, Oregon, Barista Prima Coffeehouse K-Cups and the coffee chain Barista India (a Lavazza company).
Pronunciation: buh-ris-tuh, buh-ree-stuh Italian pronunciation: bah-rees-tah plural: ba·ris·tas Italian plural: ba·ris·ti (buh-ree-stee outside Italy, bah-rees-tee in Italy)
Common Misspellings: burista