Saturday 7 August 2010

Which type of barista are you?

A colleague from New Zealand once was telling me about a type of coffee that was originated there. It's called Flat White Coffee. We were discussing about the difference between this coffee and all the other types of coffee with milk. Eventually we started talking about the quality of the drink and what makes it be better or worse. He mentioned that, of course, the quality of the beans and milk are very important for a good coffee but what makes a good coffee an excellent coffee is the barista's ability.

What makes a coffee to be a rubbish coffee then? If the coffee grains are rubbish, you will have a rubbish coffee. However, for a flat white coffee, coffee is just one variable in the equation. There are other variables like how the grains are roasted, steaming the milk at the right temperature, not adding sugar, how the milk is poured, the microfoam on top of the drink, etc. See the distinction from cafe con leche for details. Anyway, the point is, a rubbish (or careless) barista, with rubbish coffee will produce a rubbish coffee drink.

Rubbish Coffee
Clearly a business that serves a rubbish coffee will not survive if their main business is to sell coffee drinks. Also, this business will never attract customers that really appreciate a good coffee.

Average Coffee
Producing an average coffee is easy. You buy average coffee grains, hire an average barista and, hey presto, you have an average coffee drink. There is nothing wrong with an average coffee drink if you are not in the coffee business. However, if you are in a coffee business, your business will be just another one. No one will remember you and chances are that you will have occasional customers, but not regulars.

Good Coffee
Producing a good coffee is not that simple. However, it does not need to be expensive. You don't need to buy the best quality ingredients to be able to make a good coffee. Best quality ingredients are expensive and inevitably will make your coffee drinks more expensive as well. You can mitigate this situation hiring a good barista, or maybe someone that has the potential and willingness to become a good one. Clearly, the barista that prepared the coffee above is trying his best to make a good coffee. It's still not perfect (purely looking at the pattern on top of the drink) but it is definitely a much better coffee than the normal and average one that you get everywhere. It is clear that the barista cares about it and eventually he will be able to produce a very good coffee.If you are in the coffee business, producing anything less than a good coffee is just unacceptable.

Great Coffee
And then you have the great coffee, that is made with great coffee beans, carefully roasted, prepared in a very good coffee machine and by a great barista. Great baristas are proud of their ability to prepare a great coffee and they would not work for too long for a business where coffee making is not treated with the deserved respect.

Now imagine that you are the barista. But instead of coffee, you produce code. Imagine that the the coffee grains, milk and coffee machine are the tools you use to produce your code like the computer language, the IDE, the database, etc. Instead of serving coffee for your customers, you are producing software that will be used by your team mates, project sponsors, the company they (or you) work for, external clients, etc. 

Like in the flat white coffee example above, of course that the tools we use are very important when producing a good software. However, more importantly, it is the quality of the software engineers that counts. A good barista can make a good coffee even when using average coffee grains, due to his or her ability to combine ingredients and prepare the drink. A bad barista can ruin the coffee even if he or she is using the best quality coffee beans. The biggest difference between the two baristas is how much they care about each cup of flat white coffee they prepare. Their pride and willingness to achieve the best pattern on top of each drink. The great feeling of achievement when they produce a great one. The happiness to see returning customers, queuing and waiting their turn to order the coffee that he, skilfully, prepares.

So, which type of barista are you?


Martijn Verburg said...

Love this analogy being a Kiwi myself! Nothing like a great flat white to accompany some quality coding :)

Sandro Mancuso said...

Thanks Martijn. I'm looking forward for your "The Well Grounded Java 7 Developer" book.

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