The Dying Art of the Italian Barista

While elsewhere in the world has recently become acquainted with the term barista, Italy has had the concept since the fascist years of Mussolini. Even before that, Italian bartenders were not only serving alcohol, they were serving coffee drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, and everything in between.

Now this coffee culture is threatened by the globalizing world. With Starbucks coming into Italy for the first time ever, it is only a matter time until bartenders and baristas are separated in the place of the latter’s inception.

Now this wasn’t a hipster, latte-art-pouring, lazy-at-the-counter job. Being a barista for the last 80 years has meant something very specific: a profession of beverages, a trade, a sign of pride. It was not unlike the true, dying art of waiting tables. Think back to a time where the waiter flawlessly carved the fish, made sure the wine was chilled, and saw to it that each dish was properly served. It was a profession, not a service job for teenagers and college students. There seems to be no avoiding this global economic trend.

The barista used to be held in high-regard. There was knowledge, training, and skill involved. With new shiny coffee technology shitting out espresso as quickly as possible to please angry customers, the skill and finesse of learning the trade of beverages has lots its luster for many. While there will undoubtedly be coffee nerds and people who are passionate about being a barista in the new sense of the word, but the majority of people simply want their Starbucks.

It was the job of the barista to know that a cappuccino should be no larger than 6 ounces. They had to know the tasting notes of not just specific coffees, but alcoholic beverages. Baristas had to know how to perfectly grind and brew the espresso perfetto. They had to knew which coffees were best for what drink, and what style to serve them in. They had to know how to make a french press, even a martini. Coming to a barista was coming to a person who had just what you needed at any given time.

Starbucks and the global coffee trend will likely destroy this tradition. The profession, like the excessive nature of waiting tables at a fancy restaurant, is fading into the timeline of history, the authentic barista will go with it.

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