Importance of Process as an Engineer and Barista

Working in the food industry primarily as an engineer and on weekends as a barista, it is amazing to find the various synergies of both disciplines.  While it is obvious that there is an art to working as a barista, there is also an art to being an engineer.  Not everything works as a recipe or as an equation, and due to the nature of one’s surroundings, intuition and “gut feel” many times serve as a decision maker in heightened situations.  However, intuition and instinct come from consistent process.

When training new baristas at a coffee shop, I talk primarily about process flow.  When building any sort of beverage, there is a beginning and an end.  From the first steps of greeting a customer and taking an order to serving the customer the finished beverage with a [genuine] smile, process flow is the biggest part of making the entire work order seamless.  In the culinary world, it’s called “mise en place” or “everything in its place.”  Where are your cups?  Where is the espresso machine, espresso grinder?  Where are your towels?  Is your coffee and milk preparation consistent?  Are you being clean?  Are you using both of your hands?  Can you speak [with eye contact] and work at the same time?  Being a barista, at its roots, is being a customer service-oriented person.  Baristas also work for tips, not just base pay, so making the customer feel welcome — and ultimately having them trust you to make one of the most coveted universally accepted beverages in the world — takes heightened process flow to work.  There is not statistical, fact-based data to prove this, but I bet you the baristas with the highest percentage of tips are the most consistent, clean and ultimately fastest baristas out there.  They can prepare hundreds of beverages with repeatable and minimal movement, and at the same time, carry on multiple conversations with their guests…making each beverage and interaction as special as the last.  Latte art, in this case, is no different.  Does it take you 10-15 seconds to pour and finish a drink?  Does it take closer to 30 seconds?  That time is valuable to your customer and can destroy the consistency of work process flow.

These same principles exist in process engineering.  In the case of fluid process flow, there is a beginning and end.  What starts as raw ingredients from the beginning, with added flow rates, pressure and thermal heat/cooling transfers, results in a finished product that is packaged and sold.  Ultimately, every high volume production of a food or beverage starts out as a small batch… which in this case we will call “cooking at home.”  When you cook in smaller batches, there is room for error as it is simple [in most cases] to start over again if you incorrectly produced the final product.  However, in high volume production, due to the incredibly large flow rates and overall length of production, having the process drawn out and verified becomes that much more important.  How far does the product need to travel before it is packaged?  Is the flow consistent from start to end or are there bottlenecks?  What is the length of time in between each process step?  Is the product contained throughout the entire process or are there areas open to the atmosphere?  Where are the kill steps?  Are the operators working in a safe and manageable environment?  Is what was made in small, test batch sizes, repeatable in a high volume production?  Have all process steps in the “pilot” size been accountable in the commercialization process?  If not, and extra process is required, is there equipment available to complete the task?

Ultimately, improvements in process in the food and beverage industry, whether commercial or retail, result in a consistent, reliable product that benefits the customer.

Learn more about S&D’s roasting and blending process.