One hour in the life of a barista

During SoCraTes 2018 I was able to participated in an incredible session on Coffee and Kanban facilitated by Raimo Radczewski.

The goal was to produce a fresh cup of coffee using an aeropress. If you are curious as to how much work and thought can get into a coffee crafted with an aeropress check out this short video.

To satisfy the Kanban part the process of coffee-making was split into five stations:

1. Grind
2. Water
3. Prepare
4. Brew
5. Serve

In the beginning these stations were attended by one person each.

I was lucky enough to take care of Station 3 - Preparation. Roughly it consisted of putting a filter in, watering the filter and putting in the ground coffee. Seems doable at first glance, right? The following will describe my experiences as a makeshift barista.

Green pastures

There was some down time in the beginning. The beans chosen by the first customer had yet to be grinded (Station 1) and the water did not cool down to the perfect temperature yet (Station 2). Safe to say I had some slack. Avoiding idleness I started to put the filter into the filter cap and screwed it onto the brewing chamber for a few aeropresses. The goal was to have some already partially assembled aeropresses ready as soon as the groud coffee and water would reach my station.

The colleague in charge of water temperature was explaining how he was arranging the water kettles according to temperature. Kettles with the correct water temperature were always standing in front. We’re good to go, water was ready and the first ground coffee arrived at my station.

Issues arise

From the start I was lacking a funnel. Hence it took longer than expected to move the ground coffee from the cup into the brewing chamber. The ground coffee always arrived in the cup later to be used for consuming the coffee. After moving the coffee into the brewing chamber there always were a few pieces of ground coffee left in the cup. Stubborn pieces that were still stuck on the cup after giving it a few shakes had to be rinsed off . I guess few customers enjoy having ground coffee pieces swimming in their coffee.

Ok, from the beginning were already unnecessarily slowing down the process due to insufficient tooling. Occupational hazard I guess. No complaining yet.

Aside from slight delays this minor inefficiency was also creating waste. The unruly ground coffee pieces left in the cup were ultimately going down the drain. That’s an issue for sure as Station 1 is weighing the beans to exactly 16 grams. They were even employing a digital scale with decimal values so one knew whether the beans would have 15,5 grams or 16,4 grams. Losing a few milligrams might not influence the taste of the coffee too much, but the amount lost will add up in the long run.

Unforeseen consequences

Since we did not have an infinite amount of aeropresses we were getting the used ones back from Station 5. The filter was already removed but I quickly had to rinse the chamber, the filter cup and the plunger for reuse. I did not anticipate the now additional task of cleaning. As a result all future coffees would take longer due to the additional cleaning time which in the beginning was non existent. Every aeropress started out clean.

At one point we got back an aeropress with the filter and ground coffee still in it. Mistakes happen. Fine.

New hires

While doing my job we were introducing new hires to get the work in progress (WIP) limit up. As a result, while working on new orders, we had to introduce the new hires to the process. Of course you also had to teach them your lessons learned and how to recognize which water from station 2 is ready and which is not. Everyone might guess how helpful rushed explanations are.

Quality starts degrading

Due to the limited amount of cups we had to reuse them. Good for the environment. Challenging in regards to the process. The cups were cleaned but not properly dried. As a result some of the ground coffee stuck to the bottom after transferring the large part of it to the aeropress chamber. What was once a waste of a few ground coffee pieces was now definitely a full gram. Scraping it out the bottom helped a bit to decrease the waste but added some extra seconds to the process. After a few of these cups we had to stop what we were doing and went to the grounding station to offer feedback. Afterwards the issue was resolved. Should have done this sooner.

Mess accumulates

At one point we had five used aeropress in the sink waiting to be cleaned. Moreover the working space around the sink was wet with water. To get control of the situation we stopped working on creating coffees for a while and cleaned our mess with some paper towels.

Personal retrospective

The moment I was realizing there was both insufficient tooling due to a missing funnel, or getting the ground coffee in the drinking mug itself, halting the process and looking for improvements might have helped. One solution would have been to use the vessel of the grinder itself. Which would also reduce the the time of the grinding station as they would not have to refill the ground coffee.

Improving the process by telling the grinding station to dry up the bottom of the cups before putting new ground coffee into it should have happened earlier. By the time the feedback reached them we already got four cups with coffee sticking to the bottom and another two faulty ones were in the process of being made. During the general retrospective the workers from station 1 mentioned they would have been glad to receive the feedback earlier since no one wants to make work harder for colleagues.

Ominous parallels

Insufficient Tooling: As baristas want funnels, more space and bigger sinks the software developer wants to have more monitors, licenses to his favorite IDE and of course faster notebook Quality: The barista has to decide every minute if she wants to serve mediocre or bad coffee. The coffee might not being strong enough or has ground coffee swimming in the mug. We software developers have to decide if we want to ship bad code, without tests and thus with bugs, to our paying customers. Stress: A barista has to chose how to deal with stress and changing circumstances without decline in quality as a software developer has to. Cleanliness: As a barista has to keep his workspace and tools clean so does a software developer.


The whole session was a lot more stressful than initially expected. I had a blast. It was a huge benefit and the similarities to software development were astonishing. I already knew of the parallels to cooking. Although never to that extreme. As a hobbyist you cook one meal and do so in tandem or solo. A real chef might cook the same thing 20 times in a row. A hobbyist won’t. Thus a process as the one up for display above, where something is handed to you and handed off by you to someone else, has a lot more similarities to the day to day work of the average software developer.

I urge you to try the wonderful example at an unconference near you or in a workshop with your team.