The Barista: Not Just a Job Anymore

Your daily barista may be there longer than you think. As the coffee world undergoes rapid change in the US, so does the job of Barista.
✍ Written by: Garrett Oden
📅 Published: August 3, 2016
🗃 Filed under: INDUSTRY

One of my former coworkers, Kelci Merrick, wrote this guest post. Kelci lives in Lubbock, Tx with her husband Luke and their mind-blowingly adorable son Amos. She worked with me as a barista at Yellow House Coffee, enjoying every bit of caffeine the job provides.

Gone are the days of the sixteen-year-old high school student having the privilege of making your precious cup of coffee every morning whilst getting paid minimum wage. Barista as a career may sound like a joke to many a patron who went to college, then back to college, then back once more to pursue a “real career”, but for people like me, a career is exactly what it is.


Coffee is what I do.

Thousands of passionate, creative, and innovative people from every walk of life have made this same career choice and it is because of their dedication to that choice that coffee has earned the respect it so deserves in the beverage world.

Ryan Jarboe is one of these people. After 5 years of working his way up, Jarboe has secured a position as Director of Coffee at Palace Coffee Co in Amarillo, Texas. By investing time and money into Barista Camp as well as the Barista Guild certifications and getting involved with his local and national coffee community, Jarboe was able to position himself at the right time for the position he holds now.

Coffee is boundless, complex, and sensitive. This is why it requires extreme attention to detail paired with intimate knowledge of coffee in order to brew a superb cup (that’s not to say great coffee can’t be brewed at home by someone of a different career choice). This knowledge and experience is not something that can be attained in a short orientation, nor perfected in a mere month or two on the job though. I have been working in specialty coffee for three years and have yet to capture that elusive espresso.

Building Community

If you have earned the title “regular” at any one of your local shops, I’m sure you’ve had the opportunity to witness the vigor with which many baristas tackle each drink order, especially in the heat of a rush. It’s much like watching an artist, sure of his brush strokes, which come naturally to her. Or like a chemist who measures each variable with the utmost care and precision, taking note of even the slightest variations.

Take your observation a step further to really please your barista and ask them about their work. Watch their face light up when you ask them to explain the difference between a Chemex and a French Press, or which single origin coffee they recommend on any one brew method. This is where you will see the spark. It is in this moment that you become more than a customer, you become a kindred soul interested in more than just your daily caffeine fix.

Coffee has always bred community, which I believe remains the blood pumping heart that keeps it alive.

It’s this aspect of coffee as a career that is so appealing and addicting. I’m sure that community can be found in just about any work place, but I have yet to find one so pure and fulfilling as the one found in coffee. From the hard working, calloused handed farmers who so lovingly care for the coffee from the ground up – to the roasters who spend countless hours carefully roasting the personality to the surface of the beans – to the meticulous barista who proudly brews the cup and hands it to you with a smile – to you, the customer, who keeps coming back for more – a community is nurtured. No other career offers this. This is why I so willingly have dedicated my energies to making barista a title to be proud of.


Though I feel very strongly about the commitment one makes to coffee when one becomes a barista, I’m also a realist. Every shop has those barista’s who simply needed a job to get them through college on their way to their decided career. I don’t disrespect these individuals in the least. I’m more than happy to have them on my team.

All I ask is that they put forth the same fervor in their pursuit of the perfect cup and respect the standards that specialty coffee has come to be known for. In return I believe that they will develop a love and appreciation for coffee that will follow them into whatever career path they choose.

This being said, I believe the percentage of those who have forsaken other career paths to pursue coffee would surprise most customers.

With millennials opting for jobs that they find fulfilling, rather than enduring the office and corporate life,  the average baristas has become far more educated, and these baristas are looking to move up the coffee ladder. To do this one must invest in some coffee education and training, but the opportunities exist.

“I can’t stress how important education is to a career in coffee. That includes the formal learning programs, like the SCAA Pathways, or the self-taught route using resources like the Barista Hustle,” recommends Jarboe.

An entry level position may pay around $8.00 p/h depending on where you live, but in a full fledged career, some positions can pay out as little as $20,000 a year.

Fresh Cup, a leading industry online publication, reports that the average wage for US baristas with more than one year of experience sits at $14.00/hour (before tips), well above the living wage in most states.

Being a barista is the best job in the world. I encourage anyone with a passion for coffee and a love for people to look into the opportunities it provides. It’s more than just a job. Who knows, maybe it’s the career you’ve been looking for.

Garrett Oden

Garrett Oden

Coffee Industry Writer

Welcome, fellow coffee lover!

The entire purpose of this coffee blog is to empower you to explore the wonderful world of coffee. There’s much to learn and experience, so get to reading!

Recent Articles

You May Also Like…