Greece has won the Best Coffee Nation award three times, while in the past 10 years the names of Greek baristas always feature in Best Barista lists. So, it is safe to say that Greece is a bona fide Coffee Nation.
Despite the economic crisis, Greek cafe/all day bars pop up like mushrooms in all major cities and towns. In downtown Athens alone, one cannot count the number of new cafes and bars that open, in what seems like a weekly basis.
It is also safe to say, that for every business that shuts down under the heavy burden of recession, one coffee shop will open in its place. On top of that, many of them are lavish or at least have a smart, modern design.
But do Greeks have the money to go out and spend them in cafes and bars when one in four is unemployed and one out of two owes money to the state, and the other one to some bank?
Well, they may not have the money, but they certainly have the time. Because, as Giorgos T., aged 23, student of philosophy at the University of Athens explains, “I may be an unemployed student, but I have 3 euros in my pocket to get a coffee, and spend two or three hours at the cafe”.
So, getting Giorgos’ 3 euros and the pocket money from a few more dozens like him every day is a good reason for an entrepreneur to open a cafe or bar. And at the same time, for people at Giorgos’ age becoming a barista is a job with a present, and a future.
While retail shop employees stare at the empty store, waiting for that elusive customer to walk in and with the fear that it may shut down any day, a coffee shop employee is certain that many people will come in, sit down and order.
Andreas V., owner of a trendy all day bar/cafe in downtown Athens says that while in the past he had people walk in and offer their services as waiters or DJs, now they ask if he has an opening for a barista. Because making a good cup of coffee is no longer a tedious, repetitive task, but rather an art.
Several schools for chefs now have departments for baristas, where young Greeks go to learn the art of coffee making. Also academies that teach the art of brewing and preparing a good cup have appeared. At the same time, cafes and bars seek trained baristas because they add prestige to their business. It is indicative, as Andreas says, that a barista’s daily wage is at least 50 percent more than that of a waiter, or the person who was simply behind the bar making coffee.
Speaking of “simply making coffee”, a good barista must have good knowledge of coffee and related beverages, good verbal communication skills, focus on the customer, offer good service, follow safety and hygiene rules, have good overall social skills, organizational skills, sales skills, and of course, must work with speed and efficiency. The barista must also educate the customer about coffee and generate good customers.
Customer service in Greece has improved greatly in recent years. Fierce competition has forced cafe and bar owners to look into that very seriously. Also, travelling to Europe and other countries where good customer service is the number one priority in every business that interacts with people, has opened the eyes of business owners and employees alike. And this applies to the barista profession, as well.
As Alexandros P., owner of another all day bar in downtown Athens explains, “The barista, is like the bartender. He must be (smart and quick) like a cat. I expect my barista to keep my customers happy and bring in new ones.”
Spyros, the 28-year-old barista, adds to his boss’ comment, “I came to this job because I love it and I like being with people. It’s a job that you cannot succeed at, if you do it like a chore.”
A lot of young people today, think like Spyros. After all having your first coffee with your friends or your significant other at a cafe, is like a rite of passage for every young Greek. Let’s not forget that for Greeks, the coffee shop is the place they are likely to visit more often in their lives, than their workplace.
So, indeed, for a young Greek, becoming a barista looks like a job with a future.