Thinking About Becoming a Barista? Here’s What You Need to Know.

October 30, 2019 | Categories: Job Hunting

What is a Barista?

The job of a barista has reached a kind of mythical status in our culture. It definitely involves working in a coffee shop, but beyond that “being a barista” means wildly different things to different people. The mythical barista is transient, making ends meet while they pursue something greater. The mythical barista is aloof; a mysterious figure that you know must have a life outside the coffee shop, yet you can’t imagine them anywhere else. For some, the mythical barista is a simple service worker, often thought of as beneath them.

Any real barista would probably laugh at these descriptions, so let’s explore what a barista actually is. 

Barista Definition  




a person whose job involves preparing and serving different types of coffee.

Thanks Google! I guess we’re done here. 

Except being a barista is more than just preparing and serving coffee.

Barista meaning

The term barista comes from the Italian word for “bartender”. Most coffee bars in Italy are quite different than the rest of the world, though the specialty coffee movement has moved back towards its roots in some ways. Italian coffee bars are share a lot in common with the standard bars everyone thinks of. While being a bartender is not considered a “high class” job, they are still treated with more respect than baristas despite their origins being nearly identical. Baristas are far from the unskilled workers some people think of them as. In fact, becoming a good barista involves a huge amount of work and practice. There are even international barista competitions.

What does a barista DO

Yes, baristas are responsible for preparing and serving coffee, but that’s only part of the job. Even preparing and serving coffee is a far more complex task than most people realize. 

Coffee is a lot closer to wine than anything else. In fact, coffee has more potential taste sensations than wine by quite a bit: more than 4 times the amount. A good barista is comparable to a sommelier: both are able to discern subtle flavor notes and have a deep understanding of their drinks of choice. However, a barista does not just taste coffee, they prepare it as well. Home brewing machines are convenient, but they contribute to a lack of appreciation for coffee preparation. In a single shot of espresso, there are dozens of variables a barista accounts for, and most barista pull hundreds of shots a day. 

Of course, baristas do not exclusively make drinks. A barista must also provide excellent customer service. In some ways, this part of the job is even more important than drink preparation. When engaging with customers, baristas are simultaneously representing their place of business and trying to have a positive effect on someone’s day. It is a difficult and underappreciated art when done well.   

what is a barista? Barista pouring latte

Why become a barista?

How much does a barista make?

Not enough in 99% of cases. Without getting too far into economic theory, the market demands the coffee industry keep prices low which means it is rare to see a coffee shop truly thriving. You hope the coffee shops around you are profitable, but even the owner of a coffee shop is not likely to become a millionaire. That means that baristas are paid lower wages somewhat out of necessity. HOWEVER, the belief that baristas are unskilled and transient makes some business owners become exploitative by not just charging lower wages, but insultingly low wages. Know your worth as a barista; don’t let someone’s perception of your role force you into an unsustainable job. 

That being said, many baristas make a decent living when tips are factored in. Most coffee shops allow customers to tip, and it is a good thing to do regularly. Most barista positions have  a base pay of $9-$12 an hour with the potential for raises. However, a busy shop getting tips will often bring a barista’s hourly rate to the $16-$20 an hour range, occasionally even higher. Of course, tipping is not an ideal system, but it is the reality of the industry. Most people who start as baristas and want to stay in the coffee industry go on to be managers or other professionals where you can expect higher salaries. 

Flexible work hours

Coffee shops are great places to work when you aren’t looking for a standard 9-5 job. Shift length and duties can vary greatly depending on the shop and even the day. It’s also true that most coffee shops open very early, but they also tend to close earlier than other businesses. If you’re a morning person, being a barista might be perfect for you. 

Great for students, or people with obligations

Depending on how a cafe is staffed, it is usually fairly easy to work around other commitments. The idea that all baristas are actually working towards some greater personal goal has some truth to it: many baristas are. However, some baristas simply love the coffee industry and are happy with what they do. Even if you do plan on being a barista for a limited time, some of the skills you learn and practice like teamwork and interacting with people are going to be useful in just about any position you could want. 

First step in owning a coffee shop

For those who do want to stay in the coffee industry, being a barista is a common first step to owning a coffee shop. It’s not a prerequisite, but barista experience makes owning and operating your own shop much, much easier. It’s not uncommon for successful people to take entry level barista jobs just to learn the industry and trade. The experience is both useful and humbling, and it makes for more empathetic shop owners. If you’re thinking about jumping careers and worried about becoming a barista for a while, don’t be; it’s a smart move. 

How to become a barista

Keeping with the theme of myth, people who have never been a barista often don’t consider that the person making coffee was once… not doing that. There are several avenues towards becoming a barista, and most of them have low barriers to entry (one perk of being a barista instead of a sommelier).

Do you need barista training?

Strictly speaking, no. Lots of places will hire you without barista experience, and we often advise companies to hire someone who is a good cultural fit over someone with a lot of experience. A good entry level barista is someone who is confident speaking with strangers, good at working as a member of a team, and can learn quickly. These are sometimes called “soft skills” whereas making espresso drinks involve “hard skills”. Soft skills are much harder to teach than process driven hard skills. If you’re not the biggest people person though, don’t give up. As long as you’re willing to try, coffee shops are a great place to fight social anxiety.

Improve your barista resume

Coffee training really comes in when you want to stop being entry level. Pulling an acceptable shot of espresso and making decent lattes can be taught pretty easily, but crafting a truly great coffee beverage takes an extreme amount of time and practice. Most coffee shop owners are not professional baristas (though some definitely are), so seeking training outside your workplace is common and recommended. You will have the chance to learn different perspectives and techniques that you can bring back to your own shop.   

Get Certified! 

Being able to put a certificate on your resume communicates you know your stuff. We’ve talked to many baristas who walked into a cafe and were hired on the spot because they were certified. There’s not one industry standard certification, but there are a few respected ones. If you’re looking for an affordable and convenient way to get barista certified online, look no further than Online Barista Training.  Upon completion of our training program, all graduates are rewarded with a certification. It would be arrogant to call it the college degree of coffee shop jobs, but think about it . Would you rather hire someone with nothing on their resume or something that says, “I take coffee so seriously that I took an entire course on it, and I have something to contribute”. Trust us, you’ll stand out. 

Where to find barista jobs

If you live near a city, chances are you can land a barista job next week if you wanted. Outside of cities, you may have a slightly harder time, but coffee exists in some capacity almost everywhere. Here are some of the most common places to look:

Poached – A job board created specifically for service industry positions. If Poached is popular in your area, you will find a wealth of opportunities and responsive employers.

Indeed – Lacking Poached, Indeed is the default job board these days. You shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding open barista positions here. 

Craigslist – If all else fails, there is the ever dependable Craigslist. Moderation has improved a lot since its early days, but it’s still wise to exercise a bit of caution with listings here (not that fraudulent listings can never crop up on other job boards). Still, you’ll find plenty of good barista jobs here. 

Barista Demystified

We hope you walk away from this article with a better understanding of what a barista is and does. At the very least, we want to dispel the negative myths that surround baristas. Those who think baristas are unskilled or directionless or don’t deserve respect are all wrong. Being a barista is a challenging but rewarding profession. Maybe you’ve even gained some confidence about entering the coffee industry by reading this article. It’s a great place with lots of interesting people. Welcome.