Of Espresso and Baristas, in Italy

Dec 22, 2016

When espresso originated in Italy, there was a specific goal: to make a small, strong coffee beverage in a short amount of time. The drive for this ‘formula’ was to allow a worker to quickly obtain a beverage that was small enough to be consumed in one or two gulps and which would yet provide a stimulating kick to get the worker through the morning until the lunch break. When the machinery for the creation of this beverage was perfected, it was widely distributed throughout the country and became the standard of coffee consumption, particularly around the workplace. The routine was, and remains simple: step up to the espresso bar, order your espresso [essentially the choices consist of a standard shot, one with a little less water, one with a little more water, a double shot, or one with a dash of milk], receive your small beverage in a small ceramic cup, stand at the bar for a few minutes at most, perhaps chatting with the barista or a fellow patron, drink the beverage… and leave. In Italy, the espresso bar is a way station, a place through which you pass on the way to somewhere else, and while it may be a place frequently visited and always beloved, it is ultimately not the destination.   And so, this affects the answer of the question as to what is a barista in Italy.

Italian baristas can take an order, prepare and serve espresso, macchiato and cappuccino very, very quickly.   It’s common to see 20-25 people in the morning all waiting at the same time for their espresso beverage, standing in the line of their favorite barista, the best of whom are able to produce up to 700 espressos in one working day.These baristas are as much a part of the machinery of an operation as is any piece of sophisticated equipment. These baristas move through their shops in a dance learned over the course of many years [the average age of an Italian barista is 48], and the “art” of the Italian barista is not inlaid atop a drink, but rather is in the ability to correctly dose the ground coffee, to tamp it just right, to apply just the right pressure for just the right time, and to do so with speed.


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