By Sam Lipnick, Baked & Wired, Washington D.C.
“What exactly does one do at Barista Camp?” I was thrown for a loop when one of my friends posed that question the day before I left for Wisconsin. I explained that I’d have the opportunity to take the requisite classes and practical examination for a Level 1 Barista Certificate in less time and at a significant discount than I’d otherwise be able to, but beyond that I really wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
In fact, I was a little worried that I’d leave this event without much to show for it, or worse: that for all my countless hours spent reading about and experimenting with coffee, I simply wouldn’t learn that much that I didn’t already know.
Within a few minutes of sitting down in the first class, Emma Bladyka’s “Coffee Genetics: Beyond Varietals,” that fear was quashed. Looking around at a banquet hall full of wide-eyed coffee professionals, all learning alongside me about the journey C. Arabica has taken in its relatively short history of cultivation to get to the excellent cups we enjoy now, I knew coming to Camp was the right decision. In every class that followed, I found Lead Instructors giving engaging, thorough lessons, campers asking thoughtful questions, and instructors providing cogent answers without pretension.
Even beyond the content of the lessons, I learned a huge amount just by drawing from the wealth of knowledge and experience amongst the instructors, all of whom made themselves available to answer any burning questions campers had. Questions about optimal water chemistry and its effect on extraction in different brew methods; about the merits of manual brewing vs batch brewing in a shop; even questions about ergonomics that keep baristas healthy in the long run were all fair game. Getting the chance to cup with experienced cuppers in the “Introduction to Cupping” class was an opportunity I don’t often get while working in a shop that doesn’t roast, and helped my palette development in ways that tasting with the flavor wheel alone can’t achieve. Even though I drink many different coffees every day, I came home with an increased ability to articulate tasting notes to customers in a clear and accessible way.
Barista Camp provides an almost unparalleled opportunity to meet baristas from all over who were eager to share ideas and experiences working in coffee. We’re all capable of properly preparing good coffee at our shops back home. But what else I found in common was a tireless desire to make even better coffee, and create even better customer service experiences than we already provide. That constant yearning is part of what makes this community so special.
I can say with confidence that I am a better and more knowledgeable barista after attending Camp, with dozens of new coffee professionals to count as colleagues and friends. Most importantly, I left Camp with a sense that being a barista is more than just a service job, and without a doubt in my mind that I want to continue building a career in specialty coffee.