When we first opened Baltzersen’s we didn’t have a lot of knowledge in terms of coffee. We knew that coffee was going to be an important part of the business but we had no experience. After a brief morning of coffee training we had to learn pretty much on the job.
Harrogate is not a town with a long tradition of serving speciality coffee. It had no speciality coffee shop until Bean and Bud opened it’s doors in 2010 and then Baltzersen’s and LMDC would be the next places that started to deliver coffee to a consistent standard. It is still the case now, as it has ever been, that there is no pool of baristas in Harrogate ready to step in and work when there is a vacancy. Some shops might try and poach from other shops, but that’s poor form and reflects badly on them. So it’s all about training your own and until very recently developing your own coffee training system.
The Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) is a not-for-profit membership association that runs training, events, competitions and social activities for the coffee industry. They work in partnership with 33 National chapters with members in 90 countries. They will be unifying with the Speciality Coffee Association of America to create a single worldwide body in 2017. Their ‘Coffee Diploma’ system is a recognised route to becoming a coffee professional and spans barista skills, green coffee knowledge, sensory training, roasting and brewing. Following unification it will be the best recognised coffee training qualification scheme in the world.
North Star Coffee Roasters
We’ve been working with North Star Coffee Roasters for a good few years now and since Holly joined as a director she has been developing their coffee education system. Holly is a ‘Q Grader’ (read more on her blog here – it’s a very serious course!) which puts her in a fairly elite group of coffee professionals in the UK. Her background working for Falcon Speciality Coffee, a green bean importer, means that she has an intimate knowledge of coffee from bean to cup. She is passionate about improving knowledge in the industry and we are lucky that we can be part of the coffee training scheme she has put together.
Holly and her colleague Ollie have recently completed trainer courses meaning that they can deliver a wide range of SCAE courses from their new roastery and academy site on Leeds Dock. The courses are open to anyone but they are understandably particularly keen for their wholesale customers to engage.
We have decided to send our Head Barista Niall on the Intermediate Barista Skills and Foundation Sensory courses, all Baristas on the Foundation Barista Skills course and the whole front of house team on the Introduction to Coffee course.
Training takes time and costs money so we are very grateful to the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership for funding 50% of the cost of the training we have been carrying out so far. Whilst we carry the cost of the time it would be difficult for us to train so widely without this funding.
Why is coffee training important?
As baristas we have passed down the knowledge that we have learnt to one another over the years so we have generally known what we need to do to get that cup of coffee tasting good. What we haven’t always been able to explain to those that come after us is why.
A lot of guests may think that barista skills courses would be all about pouring nice patterns into the coffee but this is actually a tiny part of the course. It’s more about understanding what are the important elements to creating a good cup of coffee and especially the part that having a correctly calibrated grinder plays in that cup. As long as milk is textured correctly the latte art can come later and whilst it undoubtedly adds to the experience it’s incidental to the taste.
The coffee training programme we are rolling out is wider than just the people pulling the shots and pouring the milk though. This makes complete sense because 95% of the time guests will talk to the team member on the till or the person that delivers their drink to the table. This is rarely the barista. Spreading the knowledge out at an appropriate level to all members of the team means we’ll all be better informed about our products. We’ll be able to make better recommendations and answer any questions you may have.
Internally we are creating a progression that should ensure we have a regular supply of baristas-in-waiting that would like to step their training up to the next level. This is a very positive development because, whilst it may sound silly to some, making coffee again and again to a high standard requires a level of interest and application that not everyone has.
We benefit from having people that stay for a prolonged time at Baltzersen’s. We also have some great people that will inevitably move on and head to university, leave the area or want to pursue other things. These qualifications will be very useful for them to take with them once they leave our four walls and it’s a small way we can give them something extra for all their hard work.
Operating a coffee shop or cafe requires constant focus on improvement to make things better for guests and for your team. Sometimes it will be physical elements like our new outside planters or a new set of coffee cups we are planning to order, these deliver an immediate and obvious improvement. Intellectual elements like this new coffee training or leadership training for some of our managers may not be obvious or dramatic but will be money well spent in the long term. Cultural elements are about reinforcing why we do things the way we do them, and examining whether we should change that. We have been doing a little of this recently too.
We are investing in our people, premises and the soul of our business and when we add everything up it makes a difference. I hope our regular guests and visitors see the benefit.