A Day in the Life of a Professional Barista

Professional Barista

Sisa Mapetu: Professional Barista

Ever been amazed by creamy latte art in your coffee? This is Sisa Mapetu’s specialty- Shirley speaks to him about being a Barista in Grahamstown. Sisa Mapetu works in a bustling coffee shop in Grahamstown. His charisma and friendliness draws in many customers a day, making Hand Made Coffees one of the busiest coffee shops in Grahamstown. I recently sat down to talk to Sisa about working at Hand Made Coffees and what advice he may have for people who are as passionate about coffee as he is.

What does a typical working day involve? What are your day-to-day activities? 

On a normal day I will wake up, get dressed and come to the shop, where I will prep the shop before we open. I will switch on the machine and make sure that everything is ready for the customers when they come to have coffee. Then I make myself coffee! Then I begin to make sure that I am presentable and clean and I make sure that I have a positive attitude to start the day and serve the customers who come in. I will also bake the first batch of croissants in the oven so that they are freshly baked for the first customers. I then spend the day making sure my customers are happy, serving them the best possible coffee I can! At 5 o’clock we close the doors, I do cash up and we clean the shop, and then I go home.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I enjoy making people happy. It really motivates me and gives me the opportunity to get to know different kinds of people that come into the shop, and learn how their minds work and how they enjoy to take their coffee!

What do you enjoy the least about your job?

The thing I enjoy the least must be customers who ask unnecessary questions and make my job difficult by being inconsiderate and not understanding of how to drink good coffee (taking four or more sugars is my pet hate!). As an example, often people want to know the ‘secret ingredient’ which goes into the iced coffees even though this is a trade secret! Or people who demand that they be served when I need to take lunch. Customers can be quite frustrating sometimes.

Is there a qualification required to perform this job? Where and what did you study?

You do need a qualification to be a professional barista because it is important to know how to operate a machine and how coffee actually works. You need to be creative and also know how to run a business! I did a three month long barista course in Robertson through Strictly Coffee. This course helped me to learn the basics but after that you need to push yourself as well. The qualification is one thing, but your experience grows the more you are willing to be creative and learn more about your profession.

For example, I have competed four times in various barista competitions. In the last four years I have competed for regional and national levels. I am a four time finalist and national competitor, which gives me a bit of an edge in this industry because they have helped me grow as a barista. When you are competing with other baristas at championships help to boost my level and my confidence by seeing what other people are doing and what your competitors are up to. It’s been an awesome source of inspiration and getting my name out there is simply a bonus compared to learning more about this industry.

Is there any training provided by the organisation once you come on board?

No, Hand Made Coffees did not provide any formal training, because most branches are quite busy, you learn and grow as you go along and there is plenty of opportunity to practice your skill.

What type of person would be well suited to this job?

Someone with a good attitude and a person who loves people and who enjoys making people happy. You really do have to love people in a job like this and you have to make sure that they are happy. You’re dealing with people face to face all day. So you need to be patient and love coffee obviously! You need to have a certain amount of creativity and passion to be in this job and succeed in this job and make sure that every customer will receive a perfect cup of coffee.

How long have you been in this position and how did you get here?

I have been a professional barista for the last 5 years. I did a course in 2010 and it became a love of mine from then. Because I love people and making them happy, this industry and the people I have met and been mentored by have motivated me to love what I do. The customers here also motivate me to love what I do. I got to this position by working hard and striving to be the best barista that I can be!

Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in pursuing this career?

The advice I would give to people who want to be baristas is not to be in the profession for money, be in it to learn; learn the trade and love the job and the coffee. It goes without saying that you should already love coffee to be a barista, so in order to succeed as a barista you need to be prepared to work hard, the more you develop your skills the more money you’ll get. So you have to love the job in order to get that money in.

Is there anyone else in this industry that you would recommend I speak to?

Wow, there are lots! For me, my inspiration is Ishan Natalie, the awesome barista in Joburg who has won barista championships three times! He’s my inspiration in so many ways. I would definitely advise you to speak to him because as baristas we look up to him. He understands his trade and we’d all like to achieve what he’s achieved. And then don’t be afraid to talk to your local baristas about their jobs! They will have a lot of advice to give!

What is the earning potential of this career?

The earning potential in this career depends on the level that you are at as a barista because the more experience you have and the more skills and creativity you have the more you will be able to earn. It also largely depends on where you work. Obviously if you are qualified as a barista you will be able to work at places that pay more, because it shows that you have experience in the trade. When you are starting out, with very little experience you won’t be able to earn as much as someone who has been in the industry for a few years. So it definitely goes with the level you are at your ability to contribute to the business in a meaningful way.

What is a typical starting salary for someone in this industry?

Well it varies and I can only speak for myself in this instance. It will depend on the business owner and how much they are willing to pay for someone who is qualified in the industry. I started with a very low salary of around R2000 a month, but I was hungry to learn so within a matter of months my salary went up. The more experience I gained, the higher my salary became.

Any quirky advice for scholars looking to pursue a career in your field?

Yes! You need to love coffee. That would be the first thing and you need to make sure that you have a good attitude and be willing to learn. Respect those who teach you and be humble (I have a quote that I often use that Jesus never wore shoes), sometimes you’ll have really hard training and strict mentors, but you’ll need to be patient enough to see it through and be creative. It’s amazing when you want to be in the industry because you realize how many people there are to learn from and you meet so many people. So you need to be willing to work hard and keep your attitude positive!

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Sisa Mapetu is a qualified barista and his passion for his craft really shines through when you see him engaging with each person who steps through the door. He recalls everyone’s names and how they take their coffee a really impressive trait! So, if being a professional barista sounds like your dream job there are so many places in South Africa which offer barista training courses such as Origin Coffee Roasters in Cape Town, Tribeca Coffee in Pretoria, Colombo Coffee and Tea in Durban, Bean There in Joburg and many more!

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