A couple of weeks ago I put myself through the SCA Barista Foundation Training course. Why I hear you ask? Well, because I wanted to refresh my skillzzz obviously and keep up with the millennials and any changes to coffee making training etc etc, and because I fancied a day out playing with coffee!
The last time I did any actual training on an espresso machine, with grinding, tamping and frothing (texturising as it is now known), was 20+ years ago. So yeah, my skills were a tad rusty. It’s all very well knowing shizz, but the doing is a totally different ball game, and since I last played on a machine there’s something called latte art to contend with!
So, what did I learn on my SCA Training course? A shit load actually. And I’m going to share it with you all, because one of the major things I learnt was that making coffee is hard bloody work and I think it is about time some of the high and mighties out there got back to the factory floor and had a go at learning themselves so that they can appreciate how hard it is to be a barista AND therefore be more supportive to their staff as well as learning some essential aspects to the delivery of great quality coffee every time. If more CEO’s and Directors of big chains underwent the SCA training I can guarantee the quality of coffee would jump up across the entire industry.
Lesson 1. There are a few inconsistencies in the training.
Sorry to start on a negative but SCA – sort it out! In the training there is a focus on some key basics, like the enemies of coffee, the importance of freshness, the difference between robusta and arabica etc. We all know the enemies of coffee are oxygen, light, moisture and heat right? And that as a result of these, storing coffee in the fridge for instance (moisture causing) is a no no! So why oh why SCA do you ask a question in the exam that suggests coffee can be refrigerated?
The other issue I found with the course was that because of the exam there was a small section spent on customer service. As this stage in the game I would expect customer service to be given it’s own course entirely and not just covered with a cursory paragraph in order for a question in the exam to be successfully completed. Also while customer service is a massive issue across the industry, it should be one of the FIRST things an operator trains into its staff. This is not a comment on the training but rather the approach the SCA gives to customer service within this module. Either go into in detail or leave it for another course, it is entirely distracting having it touched upon in a course that is in fact primarily about how to make great coffee.
Lesson 2. Grinding the perfect grind for an espresso is hard!
Wow, the difference between too course and too fine, and as a result under and over extraction is extreme and so so difficult to get right. Obviously practice makes perfect and I am proud to say that by the end of the day I was able to dial in and get a perfect grind for a 28-32sec pull, but there are so many things that can go wrong. In fact after achieving the perfect espresso, and without any tampering (that I know of) the grind started to go out slightly, likely due to the changing temperature in the room. How many baristas in major chains check for this I wonder?
Lesson 3. Texturising milk is a skill
I managed to get this right very early on in my training and then lost the ability to texturise for no apparent reason, other than perhaps that I started to over think. I guess it’s a bit like dancing, you need to relax into it and go with the flow. But it isn’t as easy as it looks and it is so essential for a great latte art pour not to mention the perfect flat white and a delicious tasting latte etc etc.
Lesson 4. Latte Art is so much fun, not as hard as it looks, but challenging
Ok long title, but I was expecting latte art to be the hardest aspect of the training, but once I got the hang of the pour, it was actually easier than I expected, though as it says in the title, still hard. I am clearly not at competition level (or anywhere near that as you can see from my photo) but I was pretty chuffed with my results and would have improved further had I had more time to practice. As it was I wanted to allow the actual barista in training to have as much time as possible to train on this, since it’s her job etc.
Lesson 5. There are far too many bad practices out there
Listening to the girl who was training with me, the trainer and I were shocked at the amount of bad practices she had already been trained in from her on site senior barista! It was actually shocking. Things like ignoring health and safety protocols, not bothering to clean the machine properly, never cleaning the milk wand (I observe that a lot in many large chains and … what the actual fuck?!!!), not cleaning the grinder, not weighing the coffee when ground, not dialling in, I could go on but the point is even in a large organisation that prides itself on great training there are still a lot of bad practices that need ironing out. The problem is that in this industry there is a lack of investment in training, staff turnover is high so many baristas receive poor training and not knowing any better take those practices elsewhere and propagate those practices. While train the trainer is a good approach in principle, unless you train the right people at the start, who actually care then oftentimes this can go awry and what I already know about our industry is that train the trainer becomes train the trainer to train the trainer to train the trainer… as a result good practices get forgotten, Chinese whispers replace correct methods and knowledge gets lost.
So what can I take away from this?
Firstly as I said on the outset I genuinely believe that industry leaders, the MDs and CEOs of our large, medium and small chains must undergo SCA training themselves. The small investment into this kind of training is essential for the success of your business. there is no other way of thinking about it, because you need to understand what YOUR staff have to do every single day so that you can support them and ensure they get the training they need to deliver consistently high quality beverages to your customers who will then come back. When your staff feel empowered and supported they are more likely to enjoy their jobs, feel pride and that automatically shines through to the customer who benefits from great customer service and high quality beverages every single time. Stop the train the trainer who trains the trainer who trains the trainer. Yes, have one person fully trained who can then pass on their knowledge but stop anyone else then being asked to train by someone trained by them as the message gets watered down. Only invest in your best people to train others. Invest in training to invest in your company.
Oh and SCA – sort out the refrigeration question and the dubious customer service bit, create a course just for customer service and be consistent in your course material.
Ps. don’t come to mine for an espresso, I’m still a Chemex girl through and through.