6 barista tips for creating the perfect coffee drink

6 barista tips for creating the perfect coffee drink
Brewing specialty coffee can be intimidating – I get it. In the year I’ve worked as a barista at Groundwork, I’ve gotten questions from customers as basic as “what’s a pour-over?” to as complicated as “why is my espresso pulling way too fast in my home espresso machine?” I love questions like these because they open up a conversation about the crazy world of coffee chemistry, thermodynamics, engineering, sensory analysis, etc. There is quite a lot to learn, so I suggest starting with barista basics. As a barista trainer, I give my new trainees an earful of coffee information and barista best practices. To spare you the time, I’ve distilled your first training day on the bar into six tips for crafting the perfect coffee:  

Choose bean processing, roast, and grind size thoughtfully 
Do you have a preference for light, medium, or dark roasts? Natural or washed process? Figuring out which beans you prefer for a pour-over vs. espresso vs. other brewing methods makes the entire brewing ritual much more satisfying. 
Make sure the bag of beans has a roast date (not a “best by” date). Roast dates indicate how fresh, and therefore flavorful, your coffee is. The ideal timeframe to brew fresh beans is just a few days to up to three weeks after roasting to give the beans enough time to “degas,” but not get stale. This timeframe depends greatly on the roasting and processing methods used. 
Grind the beans to the correct size for the type of brewer you are using – the coarsest for French Press and cold brews and finest for espresso and moka pots, for example. Adjust the typical grind size depending on the type and age of the roasted beans, and your personal preferences.
Find your favorite dairy/non-dairy milk
 In general, whole milk steams the easiest for espresso drinks. However, there are tons of amazing dairy alternatives that foam beautifully. The trick is to taste test all of your options to determine which dairy and non-dairy milks you prefer. Oat milk is a safe bet for people who don’t want their milk to contribute much of its flavor to the drink, and milks like hemp and coconut are good for those who want the milk to play a larger role in the final flavor. Mastering milk steaming techniques for non-dairy milks is nuanced because of their varying chemical compositions.  

Timing is everything 
All brewing methods have specific time intervals for extraction. Our blog has plenty of brew guides to help you brew with an Aeropress, French Press, pour-over, and more! Pro tip: actually use a timer. 

Log your brew ratios, extraction times, and tasting notes 
It may seem tedious to write down all of your brewing data, but doing so (at least until you get comfortable with your brewing methods of choice) will seriously level up your coffee game. You may learn that you like natural coffees when you let them brew a little longer, or that you want a slightly finer grind size for your pour-overs to bring out different flavors, for example. Brew guides are meant to be a surefire starting point for finding your own method of bringing out the flavors you enjoy. 
Your preference for brew strength may vary depending on the time of day or type of coffee, but coffee pros suggest a water-to-coffee ratio between 15:1 and 18:1. While you can measure the brew ratio by volume (eg. 1 tbsp ground coffee to 6 oz water), the weight ratio is much more exact and consistent.

Practice, practice, practice milk steaming
Texturing milk for an espresso drink and pouring latte art is usually the hardest skill for baristas to master. At home, using an electric milk frother is absolutely fine for adding mouthfeel and flavor to americanos and cafe au laits, but you may have a harder time pouring latte art without an espresso machine steam wand. There are plenty of step-by-step guides and videos for milk steaming methods, but nothing beats hours of practice to form muscle memory of the techniques that work best for you. 

Serve the drink in the perfect cup
This one is short and sweet: presentation is key! The shape, color and even weight of the cup can have surprising effects on the aroma, mouthfeel, and taste of your beverage. Visual and tactile cues affect our coffee-drinking experience dramatically, which is why I’m a proponent of serving coffee in ceramic or glass cups instead of disposable cups (which I think have a yucky mouthfeel, aroma and taste). 
Written by 
Melina Devoney 
Barista, Coffee Captain, Blogger