The barista score is a measure of the server's skill and professionalism. While the flavor of the espresso is a true measure of barista skill, baristas are at the mercy of the quality of their ingredients and equipment at hand. In accumulating reviews for this guide, we've tasted poor espresso made from coffee and equipment of the highest pedigree. We've also had baristas serve a mean espresso while operating from a severe handicap.
What characterizes a good barista? Here are a few best practices:
In a few rare cases we gave a barista an extra point or two for character - namely, how personable and knowledgeable they were. Similarly, good bartenders not only make good martinis, they know how to interact with their customers.
Establishments that use fully-automatic espresso machines - under brands such as Schaerer and Verismo - typically achieve mechanical consistency in their espresso, but at the sacrifice of quality. Even the best baristas in the world regularly toss out shots.
There's a little conventional business wisdom at work: provide your employees with idiot-proof machines, and you can hire idiots to run them. (At UPS, for example, the process is called "de-skilling" a position.) Thus these machines are often associated with unskilled baristas who can do little more than press buttons and foam milk - which we have reflected in lower barista ratings.
We've encountered some of the world's best baristas in Rome, Italy. There you will notice the profession elevated to the level of a true career. With their skill and artistry earning a formal recognition backed by a living wage, it's not uncommon to find baristas in their 40s and 50s. Other regions in Italy, however, mirror more of the standard practice in the United States: baristas are often hired as (near) entry-level foodservice positions, and it's uncommon to find a barista over the age of 30.