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Top 6 tips for designing an effective online barista program

As most coffee professionals around the world struggle with the new restrictions introduced to us due to Covid-19, some have found ingenious ways to overcome them. Our decorated barista champion, Daria Pinchuk, who has previously won the Belarus Barista Champion title twice (2018 & 2019) in addition to her latest achievement of Minsk Brewers Cup champion in 2021 just this past June, has joined us to share her experiences during these difficult times as a barista instructor. Below is a list of 6 top tips for any coffee professional thinking about creating their own online barista program.

Online courses are becoming the new norm

1. Plan Ahead

It’s evident that online teaching might have more restrictions than face to face teaching, however planning ahead can help overcome these challenges.

When it comes to the difference in equipment a student and an instructor have, this can be easily solved by including the equipment as part of the course content. When purchasing the online content, a student receives access to the course content in addition to a set of equipment provided by the course provider. This bundle can include the basic gear needed to participate in the course, including coffee beans as well.

Send out coffee grind examples. This method can minimize the difference in coffee grind size when the student tries to grind the coffee themselves at home. A sample grind may provide a great example and a template of what the student should strive for when grinding themselves.

Suggest using a smart coffee scale at home. A smart coffee sale can enable a much more efficient learning process and reduce the gap between the student’s and the instructor’s taste in a cup. As smart scales can allow for data sharing and brew tracking, a student could brew at home and later share their brew print with the instructor. This can give an insightful presentation of flow rate, brew time and brew weight to the instructor, who could then follow up with tips and suggestions to improve the student’s brewing method.

2. Set Learning Expectations

As part of your planning process, make sure your students are aware of the benefits your course will give them. The world of coffee is vast and contains lots of different topics to learn about. Whether it’s farming coffee plants to extracting espresso, coffee has a lot to offer to someone who is interested in learning about it.

The tastes and aromas chart of coffee - only one part of coffee studies

Having mentioned the vast scale of coffee, as an instructor it’s important to narrow down your student’s expectations of what they will learn from your course. It’s nearly impossible to learn everything there is to know about coffee in a simple online course. Coffee professionals often have years of experience under their belts before they call themselves “professionals”. Therefore, when designing online courses, an instructor can choose what course to teach based on their personal skills. This will allow the student to select the best suitable course for them, and hopefully fulfill their learning expectations.

3. Design a Balanced Curriculum

When asked about her course curriculum, Daria explained how she constructed her courses for an offline format in the form of 3 steps:

First, it’s important to understand taste. Especially in coffee, where each coffee farmer and roaster have different techniques and therefore have small nuances that differ from cup to cup. To calibrate the taste among her students, to make sure everyone is at the same starting point, Daria starts off with a brief description of coffee flavors and what the students might expect from the tasting, including sweetness to bitterness levels, acidity and sourness levels and even fruity notes. After the brief theoretical explanation, the class starts a Cupping session, during which Daria brews different coffees in cups for the students to taste the differences, without any technical brewing technique.

Second, after the cupping session follows an extended theory session. During this part Daria introduces and goes into more depth about the world of coffee to the students, discussing origins, roasting techniques, brewing methods and more. This theory section allows the students to understand how coffee is different, and why it tastes different when using particular techniques. Extraction times and bloom intervals are things the average coffee drinker isn’t really familiar with.

Third, comes the final section which includes technique. In this section Daria teaches the students how to brew coffee by using different techniques. Daria personally prefers the manual brewing method, however she also teaches espresso extraction, latte art and more advanced theory. This is the crucial part, where all the previous knowledge comes into play, from grind sizes, brewing time and flow rate.

Daria mentioned that her courses are formed with a 50:50 ratio in mind when balancing theory and technical skills. Becoming a barista requires more than these 2 factors, however these are the essentials.

4. Communicate Equipment List

As baristas need more tools when working behind the bar, it makes sense that for a barista course a student would require some basic tools. As we mentioned previously, small changes and differences in technique may have a large impact on the end result even if brewed from the same coffee. Daria mentioned that there are a few tools that are essential for taking part in her manual brewing course.

A grinder is an essential tool in a barista's kit

Grinder, the most important tool in a manual brew tool kit. Taking whole beans and grinding them to the perfect size for a manual brew is more complex than it might seem. Achieving the right grind size is crucial, as too coarse or too fine may have a tremendous impact on the final taste. This is why sending your students coffee grind samples is highly recommended (Tip #1).

Scale, when dealing with precision brews you need precision tools. A scale offers students a way to track their own brew by using weight. If it’s a smart scale then students have the ability to track not only the weight, but also time, flow rate and much more. A smart scale also allows for the instructor to track the students' brew print from a distance, a practical ability not possible with regular scales.

Other parts of the barista tool kit that should be available to students learning from home are a kettle, filters, V60 (pour over courses) and even water filtration kits. These are the basic tools to start with as an entry level barista.


V60 brewing on top of a Jimmy smart coffee scale

5. Mirror Tasting Environment

Starting in April 2020, Daria noticed an interest in online barista courses. Starting off with a single client interested in this form of training, Daria and her team began planning a bespoke course for their client. Acting as a sort of trial guinea pig, Daria learned a lot from this first online teaching experience and has some solid advice for anyone thinking of making this transition as well.

By far the most important aspect of barista training is taste. When tasting from the same cup in the classroom with an instructor, the flavor will be the same and the coffee profile can be matched and calibrated. However, when a student and instructor have 2 separate cups of coffee, the flavor might change slightly even if brewed from the same coffee, depending on a long list of factors. Therefore, when teaching online it’s important to try to minimize these differences and match as many factors as possible resulting in the same cup.

Another factor for online teaching is playback of instructional videos. Meaning that as an instructor, Daria can record the theoretical content of her course and allow access to her students when they reach the theoretical chapter in the course. This can make for a much more efficient learning process, as the student “preps” before the technical course without the immediate attention of the instructor. This may soon lead to bundles or packages of online barista courses, in which instructors promote a single brewing method or knowledge chapter for interested students, creating a self sustained learning system for the students with minimum intervention by the instructor.

6. Post - Training Follow Up

If you’ve followed all these tips, you now have a pretty well formed program. The last tip we would like to give you is post-training follow up. It’s important to keep tabs on your students after they have completed your program, this offers them further support and skill development as well as allows you to collect valuable feedback regarding your own program. Once completed your course, a barista may encounter situations that weren’t discussed in your program. Once you follow up with your students, they might share with you these “Real World” experiences, making it easier for you to plan and improve your existing program. Following up has major benefits for both pirates involved, and is highly recommended to incorporate into your training program.

You are now one step closer to designing your own online barista course. If you are need of equipment for your freshly designed course, be sure to check out our Jimmy smart coffee scale to help you analyze your student's progress and assist you with giving great feedback.

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