A Vista school trains aspiring baristas and future café owners in the fine art of serving caffeine
It’s not Harvard or Princeton—and in fact, it’s in Vista—but the Ivy League Barista Academy is graduating more than your average Starbucks worker. It’s one of a growing group of training programs in places like Portland and Seattle, where students are schooled in everything from business management to the intricacies of a vanilla latte.
On a day in late January, a group of 10 students gathers in the academy’s nondescript warehouse for the weeklong course. They are tucked in a back room—past a 45-kilo coffee roaster and a giant garage where coffee carts are made—that looks a bit like a Food Network kitchen, with a big counter up front covered with bowls of coffee beans. Around the edges of the kitchen are barista stations, complete with espresso grinders, milk frothers, and flavor pump bottles. A fake coffee drink menu hangs on the wall.
The first two days of school focus on business development and management, but by days three and four, the future baristas of America move on to macchiatos, cappuccinos, and more.
Nick Parreco, a dirt excavator from Maryland who is considering a career change, prepares to make a caramel latte for his classmate, Rosemarie Amzallag of Brooklyn, New York. Instructor Stephanie Garden stands at a front counter and gives instructions.
“Your noise sounds really good right there, nice and soft,” she says as Parreco foams the milk for his latte. “You don’t want a lot of bubbles.”
With blonde curly hair and tight jeans tucked into brown boots, Garden looks more like a San Diego coffee server than the tatted and black-clad baristas you’d find in Seattle or Portland. She and her husband, Tim Langdon, started Ivy League Barista Academy in 2008. They also make and sell coffee carts, design coffee shops, and roast their own coffee beans to sell, all under the umbrella company Coffee Shop Experts.
Experts indeed. The company was a natural next step for their business, which began with a local coffee shop chain Better Buzz, says marketing director Danielle Lipski. The couple couldn’t find quality coffee carts, so they built their own. They also couldn’t find quality coffee, so they made their own, roasting in small batches according to geographic region and flavor.
Now hopeful coffee shop owners can enroll in their academy, which costs $2,025 for all five days or $1,250 for three-day barista training. Then they can have their coffee cart made and buy roasted coffee and coffee-making supplies all from the same place. Lipski says the course is a good way to learn the basics of starting a coffee business, such as how to create a logo and brand, select a good location, and negotiate a lease. The syllabus also touches on what products should be sold at a shop. Barista training includes topics like espresso extraction, milk texturing, flavors, recipes, and more. On the final day, students are taught how to make latte art: think frothy leaves, hearts, and whatever else the imagination holds.
Many of the students who come to Ivy League Barista Academy are like the dirt excavator, Parreco: they’re ready for a career change, and they dream of owning a coffee shop.
Garden coaches her students on the business end to show them whether the coffee industry is where they want to be.
“Before investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into opening a coffee shop, it’s smart to spend a few thousand on a class to see if it’s right for them,” she says. (By comparison, Seattle’s course costs nearly $700 more than San Diego’s.)
A report from Bethany Wall, a food service analyst at Mintel, says that while many other segments of the restaurant industry have remained stagnant since the recession, the coffeehouse niche has continued to grow. Total US sales at coffeehouses and donut shops increased 15 percent between 2007 and 2011 and are expected to increase another seven percent in 2012 to $28 billion.
More often than not, most of Garden’s students do end up opening a business. According to the numbers, it’s not a huge risk. Market research firms give coffee shops low failure rates—sometimes as low as 10 percent—and say coffee drinking is definitely on the rise, especially among young people.
Ivy League Barista Academy students arrive with varying levels of commitment to their future cafés or kiosks—Parreco says he’s still deciding between buying an existing business and starting his own, while his partner, Amzallag, already has her location in Brooklyn picked out.
As Parreco finishes making Amzallag’s drink, he shows he has one part of the coffee business down pat.
He hands her the drink and she takes a sip.
“It tastes good,” she says.
To which he replies, “That’ll be $4.50.”