There are a huge number of books about coffee, books about coffee-making, and books about barista training – and one of the biggest currently on the market is the Barista Bible, by Christine Cottrell of Brisbane, Australia.
This book, and the various CDs and other training aids which are produced alongside it, are from the founder of the Coffee Education Network and the Perfect Espresso System, some of which were exhibited at Caffe Culture this year.
The writer is an educationalist who spent 26 years as a school teacher – which shows through. One of her major arguments is that a large number of barista trainers are very knowledgeable on the subject of coffee, but are not trained teachers, and Christine believes that one of her jobs is to give a resource which adds structure to their lessons.
So, this is not quite like any other kind of ‘how to be a barista’ book. It certainly has no time for the ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ language of barista work, something which has coloured some recent training projects, and is a straightforward text book and reference work.
The hand of a teacher is quite evident throughout. At the end of each chapter we even have a section entitled: ‘you can now add the following words to your espresso vocabulary’, which may perhaps seem just a little too ‘Janet-and-John’ for what are probably adult learners.
It also has its own timeline, which may possibly be just a little too rigid – this comes clear when we realise that the phrase ‘extracting your first espresso was easy…’ comes on page 104, which is a long way in before we actually start making any drinks!
There is a school of thought which says that getting down to the practicalities early on, and getting the students’ hands dirty very early on, is a good start to training. Some barista trainers advocate getting the student to make a few drinks right at the very beginning, even if they don’t understand what they’re doing. The logic is that a sense of achievement spurs them on.
So where this book scores is in being used in conjunction with a human trainer who may well say: ‘right, now you’ve made your first drinks and begun to enjoy it, let’s go back to chapter two and see how the espresso machine works. And a bit later on, when you’ve got used to the basic café menu, perhaps we’ll pop back to chapter one and have a look at the history of coffee’. As such, the Barista Bible is outstanding as a source of reference and a back-up to in-house training.
Christine Cottrell is a devoted disciple of the principles of ‘mise en place’, and so it does include some exhaustively detailed step-by-step sections which are extremely helpful. A very sensible one is the ‘typical espresso sequence’, which is a guide to producing the various aspects of a drink in the right order, even including such instructions as ‘lay out saucers’ and ‘place cups under spouts’. Another is a very sensible pre-service checklist, which starts with ‘turn on the espresso machine’, and goes through the preparation of everything else, including napkins and sugar sachets, before coming back to the espresso machine to check the pressure gauges.
Christine’s liking for order and attention to detail extends to thinking about the best place for locating the knockout box, and where the steam arm wipes should be kept. You may, she says, be surprised at just how many steps you take back and forth to put one order together – if you reduce those steps, you may increase the amount of work you get done and the number of drinks you can sell.
She is very big on customer service, and rather surprisingly for a barista training book, there is a thirty-page chapter on the subject.
As a work of general reference, it is superbly comprehensive. That the index alone takes up seven pages shows just how much is discussed in this book.
Having said that, it might be argued that some topics could possibly be even more detailed – in the section discussing service of drinks, the only choices are counter service or table service. There is no discussion of the ‘Starbucks method’, which allows for very fast throughput at the payment end of things, but often results in a free-for-all at the delivery end.
It has also to be said that this is a very Australian book – perhaps in future international editions the references to ‘in Australia…’ might be changed, but there is no doubt that this edition was written for that continent. However, it translates very well with a few anomalies such as it seems to be assumed that cappuccinos should have a chocolate dusting.
There are several unexpected and entertaining items – a little section on ‘chocolate cues’ shows how some cafes have used chocolate toppings to form a kind of code which shows which drink is which; we even learn that teaspoon positioning has been used in the same way. Something we have never seen before in an instruction book is an illustration diagram showing the correct way to balance four cups on a tray, and the order in which they should be loaded and unloaded.
The book is one part of a complete collection of CDs, slide shows, charts kits and video. The great benefit of it is as a supplementary source of reference – it would not replace your company’s human trainer, but it would play a vital support to that human training.
The Barista Bible is published by the Coffee Education network of Queensland, Australia. It is available in the UK through Richard Norman at Mad About Coffee – firstname.lastname@example.org