A barista is a coffee-shop employee who is in charge of preparing the coffee-based drinks and operating the espresso machine. The word has Italian origins, and can refer to either a male or female “bartender”. In English, the plural of the word is “baristas”, while in Italian it is “baristi” for males, and “bariste” for females.
The main task of a barista is to operate the commercial espresso machine, in addition to preparing and pulling the shot. Espresso can be a difficult beverage to prepare, so its manual preparation and the successful operation of an espresso machine is considered a highly skilled task. In this regard, the barista should be skilled at grinding the beans, dosing, and tamping, in addition to other coffee-making procedures. Baristas usually prepare the coffee as per the directions of the roaster or shop owner, although veterans are generally given room to experiment, and also contribute to the process of selecting the coffee beans.
In addition to making espresso shots, the barista also prepares milk-based coffee drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos, for which s/he needs to be skilled in the art of properly frothing and pouring milk. If s/he is good at latte art, it is considered a plus – this is the method of pouring steamed and frothed milk on top of a coffee drink, and swirling it to form a design on the surface of the drink.
Since a barista’s tasks are so elaborate, delicate, and complex, there are a variety of barista competitions held all across the world. Formal barista competitions were initiated in Norway, and are now held all over the globe. The most prestigious are known as the World Barista Championships, and these are held in several countries. However, before participating in this international event, a barista will first need to participate in a national competition, held in her/his own country.