How did you become a barista and what was your training?
I started working at Starbucks at age 17. It was like elementary school for coffee. One thing Starbucks does remarkably well is training people in time management, stress management, and how to clean very thoroughly. After Starbucks, I moved over to Buon Giorno. I’ve had almost every position we have (associate, barista, Store Manager, baker) and am now the General Manager. We have extended training with stages. We teach how to pull excellent shots, then you graduate to milk texturing and steaming, then latte art. Depending on the individual (natural talent and drive to accomplish) it has taken anywhere from a few months – two years for people to get approved to make drinks in our shop. I also do continuing education classes through Barista Hustle to try to extend my knowledge.
What makes a good barista stand out in the world of competitive coffee shops in DFW?
I think that ‘Heads Up’ service is a crucial component that many stores do not focus on. Your coffee may be incredible, but if people feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, they will not want to return. A quick bit of eye contact with each person makes sure that the line is moving, gives you a feel for the speed of transactions and tickets, and helps build the crucial “we’re all in this together” feeling of relaxing service interaction. Once you are able to look up and engage, knowing by sound that your milk is steaming correctly, multi-tasking by counting your shot timing and smiling or chatting with customers, then you are a true barista. Having these skills allows you to be confident and in control of making sure people are getting the best experience.
Your top three tips on making a great cup of coffee?
Four major components are vital for any kind of good coffee: time, temperature, water quality and grind. Grind and time go hand in hand. You want to make sure that the grind is appropriate for the method of brewing you are using because the time that the water will be exposed to the grinds directly correlates with the flavor you will extract from it. If you’re pulling an espresso shot, you want the grind to be super fine to create as much surface area as possible since it will only be exposed to the water for just under 30 seconds. With a French press you want a coarser grind because the grinds sit in the water for four minutes and if you used a finer grind, it would become over extracted. The type of grinder you use is also essential. Always use a burr grinder for grind uniformity. The more uniform and consistent the grind, the more even the extraction and the better the taste. Use filtered water to make coffee. Water that you like the taste of for drinking. If you don’t like the way the water tastes, you won’t like the way the coffee tastes. Temperature is critical because if it’s too hot, it will give the coffee an ashy or burnt taste because it will be over-extracted. Conversely, if it is too cold, it will be under-extracted which will cause your coffee to be acidic and sour. Using the right beans is also vital. Go for locally roasted, fresh beans. My favorite is our Harrar from Ethiopia.
What’s your specialty coffee or most popular coffee sold?
Our specialty is our Italian style espresso. We rotate 4 espressos which are named after Vivaldi’s 4 seasons: Estate, a dark, smokey, chocolatey espresso; Auttuno is smooth, mild, and creamy; Inverno, our original espresso, is nutty, balanced, and rich (and my personal favorite); Primavera brings a fruity, slightly spiced, fresh balance to round out the 4. Our most popular drink, by a wide margin, is our Italian-style cappuccino. A 6oz beverage containing 2oz of espresso and 4oz of creamy, textured milk.
Where is the coffee scene standing in terms of the coffee movement in DFW compared to the rest of the USA and even around the world?
As far as major cities in the US go, Dallas has quite a variety, and Fort Worth is starting to catch up. The PNW seems to be the starting point for coffee in the US, and it slowly sweeps across the nation on the other coast. So we’re generally in the middle of coffee advancement for the US. The US as a whole is still mainly focused on filter coffee drinks while the rest of the world, such as Italy and Australia, are more espresso based, with about 90% of their coffee consumption being espresso. Scandinavia (specifically Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands) consume the most coffee anywhere in the world but are more balanced between filter coffee and espresso. The US has a bit of catching up to do; most of us are still stuck on the first wave of coffee compared to the rest of the world.
In your opinion what makes a specialty coffee shop stand out from the commercial ones?
It starts with the quality of the life-cycle of the bean. How it’s sourced, where it comes from, the farmers who grow it, how it’s treated from the moment it is picked are all paramount to the quality of the cup of coffee you will eventually receive. The care and intention of the barista make all the difference in the world as well. Speaking from experience, Starbucks was mainly focused on time. The only thing they tracked was if we could get drinks out in 30 seconds or less. While time is still important to me, because I know it’s essential to the customer, I would rather my baristas pour out a drink and start over if they know it’s not right. I personally would rather have a drink take a few more minutes to make and taste excellent, than mediocre and come out in 30 seconds. I think specialty shops have done a great job of teaching their customers that good things come to those who slow down, take a breath, and wait a couple more minutes.
What keeps customers coming back to your store?
We are the only Italian style shop in the area, and I think people really appreciate the care and attention that we give our drinks. More than that though, coffee shops lend themselves to being community hubs where people meet, talk, and befriend one another. Buon Giorno is a place where lifelong friends have formed between customers, where people have met and gotten married, where people from vastly different backgrounds have met and found common ground. Our coffee is excellent, but the people surrounding it are even more special and help make BG what it is.
Other than your coffee house, where’s your favorite place for coffee in DFW and why?
For espresso, I love Davis Street Espresso. The aesthetic is beautiful, but they really know how to make coffee, and their espresso is exceptional. They take great care to craft excellent drinks. I live about three blocks away from Crude Coffee on South Main, which only opened about a month ago. They have a simple but pleasantly elegant aesthetic and treat the Cultivar beans that they use respectfully and creatively, to make an enjoyable cup of coffee.
*Photos supplied by Buon Giorno Coffee