Coffee School on the Internet

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[I]f you own a coffeehouse far from a metropolitan center or far from your roaster, out in the rural heartland of your state, say, or in a major Chinese city, access to coffee education can be limited. How do you build a coffee menu; what’s a standard practice rather than a trend; how do you train your baristas, especially that high school kid, when you had to teach yourself how to use the espresso machine?

In rapid succession two coffee schools, the American Barista and Coffee School and the Coffee Business School of the Cascades, have launched online courses. Bruce and Matt Milletto, who run the ABCS, spent four years mulling how to reach cafe owners outside of the world’s coffee hubs. “For a lot of owners, the only trained person locally is someone from Starbucks,” Bruce says, shaking his head. (Bruce is a Fresh Cup advisory board member.) For Ed Arvidson at the CBSC the online course could reach new and future café owners without requiring the cost of travel and lodging to attend his school.

ABCS’ Online Barista Training offers training courses for both baristas and owners through a monthly subscription (the owner’s subscription includes training and testing for up to ten employees). The material is presented in various media, with plenty of videos shot in the ABCS’ Portland classroom. The barista courses start at the basics and go on to topics like the influence of origin on a coffee. In the course on steaming milk, they even include a lesson on improper techniques to clue a barista in on how he may have screwed up. The owner’s curriculum covers a bevy of topics from café ambience to employee manuals to social media. Over time the content will evolve and the ABCS will role out more videos and other content, go deeper into certain subjects, update content to keep up with the breakneck pace of the industry, and provide new material weekly, which is a beefy goal.

Ed’s curriculum at the CBSC website tracks tightly to the in-person experience. “I was able to offer everything that I do in the four-day class,” he says. The ten-plus hours of video presents slides and Ed’s avuncular and insightful narration. The course costs a flat fee. With a long career in the food and coffee industries, Ed’s course focuses heavily on the business of running a café and understanding how the money side works. There are more than six hours of classes on leasing, build-out, hiring, budgets and other nitty-gritty topics before Ed demonstrates how to make an espresso.

The Midwest Barista School, meanwhile, is working to place its extensively updated training materials online.

As with MOOCs and other sorts of online education, there is the question of how you teach such tactile skills at a distance. Matt says their curriculum will complement in-store training and provide standards for owners. At the same time, he says, “This isn’t about telling owners how to do coffee this one way. What we want to do is empower owners.”

—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.

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