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Barista Guild of America Files
So you say there's a Guild?
Author: Billy Wilson
Posted: December 4, 2003
Article rating: 8.3
feedback: (21) comments | read | write
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Chris Davidson
Davidson speaks to a roaster from Doma coffee about the Barista Guild at the Seattle CoffeeFest show.

There are big developments on the horizon for all those who wish to be professionals behind an espresso machine, and it's called the Barista Guild. With the newly formed Guild, the hopes of quality standards, workmanship, and decent pay may become a reality.

In June of 2003, six individuals met to discuss the potential of a new guild. Present were Dismas Smith, Andy Cronin, Trish Skeie, Chris Davidson, Andy Newbom, and Sandy Hon. Together they made up the "Barista Guild Task Force", and made the meeting fruitful by producing a mission statement and objectives. The group believes that a guild should not only be an informative source for the public but should also educate Baristi to improve quality expectations. Following is a draft of their determinations:

Mission Statement

The Barista Guild is a trade guild (of the SCAA) consisting of professional Baristi dedicated to the craft of coffee preparation. The purpose of the Guild is to create a community of Baristi, which will promote coffee quality and craftsmanship.

Objects and Purposes

  • Promote coffee quality as the standard for success.
  • Further Baristi knowledge and understanding of the history, fundamentals, art, and science of coffee preparation.
  • Encourage communication, understanding, and respect between Baristi.
  • Focus the voice of Baristi in representing the specialty coffee industry.
  • Recognize Baristi that have achieved a high degree of skill in coffee preparation.

Strategies

  • Maintain a Barista Guild web site that will keep member up to speed on events, industry news, and educational resources.
  • Coordinate regional jam sessions, workshops, and espresso labs.
  • Work with the SCAA to develop and implement and effective training curriculum.
    *Create a Barista Guild Leadership in the from of an Executive Council, which will oversee and guide the Guild.

Membership Criteria

  • Barista work MUST be an integral part of your profession.
  • Submit yearly membership application (and dues).
  • Members of the Barista Guild need not be members of the SCAA.
  • Must possess a passion for all things coffee.
  • Wish to excel at the craft of coffee preparation.

When compared side by side with the Roasters Guild, it is evident that the Task Force borrowed heavily from their older brother's ideas. Almost the only exception between the two is the membership criteria: Where one must be a member of the SCAA to be in the Roasters Guild, it is not necessary with the Barista Guild (the main reason being the belief that most Baristi could not afford the membership dues).

Mike Ferguson
Mike Ferguson
The SCAA Marketing Director speaks to the assembled Baristi at the meeting in Seattle.
John Sanders
John Sanders
The owner of Hines Public Market Coffee and a Barista Championship judge addresses the group.

A Guild's First Steps

The task force for the Barista Guild organized their first town hall meeting and Barista reception at NASCORE this past September. Between the two events, fifty people signed up as willing participants of a Guild. Dismas Smith was voted to be the interim chair of the Task Force until an official election could be held.

A month later at the Seattle Coffee Fest event held in October 2003, a second meeting and reception was held, with an attendance of over one hundred people. During those events an additional thirty people signed up and stated that they were willing to pay reasonable dues. According to Chris Davidson the Guild has, "…proven itself to be self-sufficient, extremely motivated, strongly sponsored, and unquestionably has the largest potential membership base of any branch of the Specialty Coffee industry."

What This Means for Baristi

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It is a safe bet to say that most of the Baristi I know would enjoy a pay raise. Of course, most employed people would enjoy a pay raise, but your typical Barista definitely needs it. I know many Baristi who work very hard, and in my opinion, they deserve a significant pay increases.

Mind you, I am not talking about your "button-pusher-PBTC" (person behind the counter) at the local café. Rather, I am talking about the motivated and passionate Brewers that frequently are overlooked. For these Barista, the highest satisfaction is not their paycheck, but a customer who comes back and tells them, "It was the best coffee that I have ever had." If there were an incentive (eg money) for people to stay in the industry as Baristi, we would find better coffee throughout the United States. It's an unfortunate fact for most passionate Baristi that their passion often is not enough to pay bills.

The guilt of under-compensation does lie on anyone specifically. I am not writing to say that employers do not pay their Barista enough or customers do not tip. Commonly employers are unable to pay much more than minimum wage, and the customers that tip do so with sincerity. As many of you know, quality coffee costs more. We throw away shots that are not up to standard, and damn it; if that foam is not perfect, down the drain it goes. More waste equals more cost.

That cost comes directly out of the bottom line of the retailer, and unfortunately the Baristi are the ones that feel it first. The majority of the coffee consuming public does not yet understand the benefits and superiority of true gourmet coffee (as opposed to marketing "gourmet" coffee), produced in top-notch cafés. Therefore, you often run into situations where if retailers raise prices to pay their Baristi well, the customers go elsewhere.

I believe the reason for this lies in the fact that our craft is so young. Yes, I know that espresso has been around longer than most of us have been alive, but in the United States it is a relative freshman. In Italy, the job is considered an admirable profession and may last for several years or even a lifetime. Skill, training, and pride are all key elements of a traditional Barista in Italy, whereas in our young country a Barista job may just be a temporary source of income to supplement a full-time job or while going to school.

This is one of the reasons we do not find better standards and higher levels of skill - something the Guild hopes to change over time. As a trade, we are evolving into something more, and as a result we are experiencing a separation from the status quo of Starbucks. As in most things, there are varying degrees of greatness, and consumers will soon find this out about espresso. The United States Barista Guild desires to speed this awakening.

With the Guild's help, there is hope for our craft. Soon people will realize that just as there is a difference between whopper floppers and Chefs, they will realize that there is also a difference between button-pushers and Baristi. Perhaps then, people will be willing to throw down 20 % more for a professional coffee experience then they would at Big Green. If this industry development were to happen, I project many more Baristi would become "lifers".

There have been a few naysayers and pessimists about the Barista Guild. Some concerns have focused on the thought that such a guild will become a "club" specifically for Pacific Northwesterners (BC kids, too). Such concerns will hopefully be quieted with the fact that half of the task force is not from the Northwest:  Trish Skeie and Andy Newbom are from California, and Sandy Hon (from Kansas) is representing for the mid-west. Moreover, this is just the Task Force; once an official board is set up (one that mirrors the Roasters Guild more than likely), members will be able to vote for whomever they desire to be the chair, vice chair, and secretary/treasurer.

The board will consist of whomever the Guild desires. And since the Guild will be responsible for its own Elected Board, no room should be left for misrepresentation. If the Guild gets lopsided to where most of the members are from the west coast, it would only represent the state of coffee in the U.S. The best way Baristi can keep things in order is to be involved, as standing on the sidelines complaining will not get much accomplished.

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Much planning and self-motivation is needed in order for many of the Guild's goals to be realized. Events such as NASCORE and Coffee Fest happen only several times a year. If those are the only times that espresso theory or the history of coffee is being taught, then it will take years for the Guild's goals to proliferate. This means it is up to individual Barista to help spread the word in their particular region. Once again, growth of the Guild is dependant on its members, and that is why local Barista Jams and Workshops are so integral to our success.

Another objective of the Guild is to facilitate communication between members and to encourage respect between Baristi. I have witnessed a good deal of communication between many Baristi on the SCAA Barista bulletin board, but I have also witnessed some contention and concerns. One situation that stands out for me is the current top Barista in the US - Heather Perry (current USBC and WRBC champion).

Perry is a skilled competitor and trainer, and obviously has passion for the art of the Barista, yet she has no visible presence in the Guild, nor has she indicated any interest in the Guild. The SCAA has an active Barista bulletin board, but Perry's voice is not heard there, nor here in CoffeeGeek's community forums. I recognize that no one is compelled to join the Guild (or to participate in the online Barista community); but it will be harder to advance our craft unless the established (and award winning) Baristi are all on board. It would be a boon to have Perry taking an active role, and I am sure the hand is always extended, should she choose to get involved.

I would like to see the Guild inter-communicate and get the same raves and reviews that the Roasters Guild experiences. Repeatedly I hear from members how many of the roasters are open about their blends and techniques. This inspires young roasters and teaches them a thing or two. It encourages growth and quality in the industry. I do not see much of this in the Baristi community, from where I am sitting.

The problem, I believe, lies within the Barista competitions. Think about it… Barista are competing against each other. If I, as a Barista, share all I know with my competitors, this would not equate a winning strategy. So, what is the incentive to share my knowledge? I would like to say that I am above this, but to my regret, when Barista ask for my opinions or advice I sometimes shy away.

Something must be done in the community if we are to harbor both competitions and the sharing of knowledge. The SCAA has awards and certificates that honor excellence in specialty coffee. These awards do nothing but promote quality. There are no awards or free trips to Italy for being the best roaster, but there are for being the best Barista. Rather, if you look at the Roasters Guild retreat you will see that the roasters are divided into teams. These teams, consisting upwards of seven different roasting companies, are set to the task of roasting a given coffee to perfection. This encourages communication between the roasters. Sure, you are competing against 16 other teams, but within your own group there is much going on.

Barista competitions are not going away. They are an integral part of espresso culture, and despite that last paragraph... I love them. But perhaps Baristi can be a part of a separate experience like that of the Roasters. A retreat for Baristi, with teams that are set to accomplish a given task, would be more effective in promoting camaraderie between Baristi.

What now?

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The Barista Guild Task Force has a lot on their hands. I hope to see a monthly newsletter from them or some sort of correspondence to the community, so that we can know the happenings. As of now, many Barista are in the dark as to what is going on. The Guild was recognized by the SCAA on November 12, but the only mention of it was on the Barista Bulletin Boards. It would have been nice to have been sent an email or some sort of direct contact that let each of the "ready and willing" know of our big event. I realize that the Task Force has a lot on their hands; they all have lives outside of the Guild. All work very hard in their professions and have things to do, so this is not a criticism of their dedication. Rather, it is sign to fellow Barista to get involved and show support for our founders. They are but six people and cannot do this alone.

What can CoffeeGeeks do to help?

Glad you asked. First, keep patronizing cafés that are doing a good job, and make sure you let them know you come for the quality espresso.

Mark Prince, the Senior Editor of this website was once asked why he originally built and launched CoffeeGeek. His answer was "I'm tired of getting a decent espresso one time out of twenty when I go to a random café. My goal is to make it one in ten, five years from now, and one in five maybe ten years from now". The Guild is something that can make that happen, and by extension, this is another place you come in: if you like the Baristi at your favourite café and think they do a good job, talk to them about the Guild and point them to the SCAA website and ask them to visit the BBS link. They'll find it from there.

This is all about the dissemination of information. Knowledge is power, and there are many times more consumers than producers or "industry workers" in the world of quality coffee. With all of our hard work, soon quality espresso may not be any further away than around the block, and Prince's goal of increasing his chances of decent shot of espresso when he goes out to a café may be realized.

Let me publicly thank Fresh Cup, Zoka, Batdorf & Bronson, Bellisimo, Visions Espresso, and TnT design for sponsoring Guild events. Movements like ours would be slow to happen if it were not for their valuable contributions.

Article rating: 8.3
Author: Billy Wilson
Posted: December 4, 2003
feedback: (21) comments | read | write
Barista Guild of America Files Column Archives  
Column Description
The BGA Files is the voice of the Barista Guild of America here on CoffeeGeek. Regular columns written by Nick Cho and other members of the BGA will discuss in detail the on going mission of the BGA, events, membership information, goals and much more. A healthy dose of Barista magic and philosphy will often be found within this column as well.

Previous columns were written by Billy Wilson, Finalist Barista in the 2005 USBC.

Find out how to submit your story

Barista Guild Report
04.20.2007
Barista Code of Conduct
06.01.2005
BGA & the Third Wave
04.02.2005
The Barista Guild
12.04.2003
A Year and a Half Ago
11.09.2003
 
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