Kahawa King: The Competent Barista

written by Agnès Peillet 5th November 2014



A competent barista knows his equipment. The machines I use are an extension of my hands- they are finicky beasts and require constant fine tuning and attention to fire my perfect, signature shots.

“As a boy growing up in Kakamega in Western Kenya, I used to love the smell of coffee in the morning. The way my mother made the coffee back home was simple: she would set the pot full of water on the stove, wait for the water to boil and throw in a couple tablespoons of roughly ground local coffee. She would then pour the brew into a cup, add some milk and call it coffee! When I first walked into Dor- mans as a barista, I instantly knew that there was more than physical distance between the brew my mom called coffee and the aroma- filled drinks that were churned out from the Dormans’ shiny coffee machines.  So yeah, I guess you could say I came to the barista profession by accident.  “What the hell does barista mean?” I asked myself when I was learning the ropes. “And more importantly what does a barista actually do?” Well it’s quite straightforward: a barista is the person who is trained in the art of preparing coffee drinks and espressos, as well as foams, froths and steams for the milk.

On any given day, I can be asked to prepare an espresso, a cappuccino, an americano, a latte, a mocha, a mochachino, a caramel, orange or vanilla latte, a variety of iced coffees and of course our signature drink, the Nut Case!  The Nut Case is one shot of espresso with a pinch of cinnamon and a tad of hazelnut topped with froth milk. A good barista knows his or her product, essentially the beans. Like a sommelier is familiar with the entire wine making process and consumption, a barista is familiar with the entire coffee-making process. As a barista, you have got to understand coffee flavours, blends and roasting levels and to memorise a bunch of recipes. At Dormans we only use the best Kenyan coffee beans. A competent barista knows his equipment. The machines I use are an extension of my hands—they are finicky beasts and require constant fine-tuning and attention to fire my perfect, signature shots. From the grinder used to grind the beans just right, to the tamper used to compress the ground cof- fee, to the Lamarzocco commercial coffee machine which I used to make everything from espresso to cappuccinos, they all have to be properly calibrated.

Take grinding for example: too coarse and the finished product will taste watery and be flavourless. Too fine and the coffee will taste burnt and bit- ter. And what about frothing? Well- frothed milk is a challenge. Too much froth and it will mix in with the coffee. Not enough and it will lack airiness, which sweetens the taste of milk like a cloud suspend- ed in midair. And let’s not forget to mention a milk moustache! That’s what I aim for, perfection! Whatever our patrons are seek- ing, from a robust, spicy cup of coffee for colder days, to a lighter, sweet one, individualised attention is also part of the job description. The majority of the people who come in for coffee want “just a cof- fee” or a cappuccino with no froth. I understand, that’s cool. But as the coffee culture worldwide is developing, so some Dormans patrons are also becoming more educated and knowledgeable about coffee and are refining their taste. From time to time a patron will walk-in with a specific demand. Basically its a flavoured coffee that can range from a shot of espresso to an orange mocha or a caramel latte. I am happy to oblige and to learn something new in the process!

What keeps me going? When I am done preparing a cup, the aroma, that whiff of freshly brewed coffee that fills the air, is nothing like the ones that used to fill my house back home. I feel like I have come a long way. And the look on a patron’s face after taking a sip of a cup I prepared for them is priceless!”


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