We are all familiar nowadays with the Barista, the smartly dressed and pleasant member of staff behind the counter of our favourite coffee shop. But it may come as a surprise to learn that Baristas have been around for an awfully long time.
The phrase Barista is Italian, as you may have guessed, and translates into English as “bartender”. Although coffee originated from the ottoman Turks, the title, which was initially used for people selling both coffee and alcoholic drinks, was only used in coffee houses when the venetians tradesman started importing it into Italy in 1645.
Most people will associate coffee with the espresso machine, but that is very much a 21st century thing. Up until recently Baristas were taught the old Turkish method of serving coffee, where it is ground very finely and then mixed with hot water and served from a copper pot, with plenty of sugar. If you were lucky you didn’t get a mouthful of coffee with your last few mouthfuls.
It actually took a French invention some 285 years after the first introduction of coffee to eliminate the threat of a coffee grind mouthful. The French being at the forefront of the new and fashionable, invented a neat perforated linen bag to hold the coffee and infuse it in the water before pouring.
These days the Baristas are experts at using the espresso coffee machine, and it is the espresso that creates the coffee that is then mixed with an assortment of different ingredients to create the mocha, latte, and Americano’s that we all love.
Whilst most of us see a Baristas job as simply pushing a few buttons, for the expert Barista it is a totally manually task. Creating the perfect extraction can only be obtained by adjusting the grind of the beans, leveling, tapping and then applying the correct amount of pressure within a specific measure of time to then pour and stir the smoothest of beverages.
There are many ways to mess up a cup of coffee, from too weak to too bitter to positively undrinkable, and the only reason why you tend to get a reasonable cup from your local high street chain is because the coffee machines of today automate the entire process. Grinding, extraction and even the temperature of the milk is set by the shop owner and strictly monitored by the head roaster or barista.
For the last ten years or so there have been annual Barista World Championships, which were originally held in Norway, but because of the increasing popularity of coffee, is now held in different places across the globe. Last years winner was from Melbourne, Australia but in the past, winners have come from as far afield as Bogota in Columbia and Tokyo in Japan.
During the competition, winners of national finals compete by creating 12 coffees in 15 minutes, including 4 signature beverages. There are two rounds with 6 finalists being eliminated after the first round. The 2014 finals will be held in Rimini, Italy between the 6th – 12th June.