Member Profile – Masako Yamamoto – Barista Trainer

Nico Refiti chats to Masako Yamamoto about her career as a Barista Trainer.
Could you give us a brief rundown of your coffee career so far?
Born into a hospo family, I was working in cafes, restaurant, and bars from the minute I was able to. I moved to Australia after graduating from university to work in cafes and travel around. I got a taste of specialty coffee and competitions through the people I was working with. I moved home and wanted to work for a roastery in Auckland. I became the head barista at Atomic when it had its first expansion in Kingsland. I started by training all the baristas in our cafes then branched into training the public and then finally our wholesale customers. I now have a full-time job on my hands.
When was the last time you did a full bar shift behind the espresso machine?
Today. It may not have been a full day but it was a few hours. Usually, when I’m doing an in-service training I’ll help correct workflow and help out to relieve some pressure. I’ll always do a bit of behind the bar work, it’s essential for me to keep my hands on the tools and I actually find it energizing to work in a busy flow. I get a bit of a buzz from it because I really enjoy making coffee.
What qualities in a trainee do you look for as signs of a great barista?
I can think of plenty of qualities that a GOOD barista will have but a GREAT barista will have these qualities….
A palate – the key to making great coffee is understanding flavour and taste. You must taste everything!
Open-mindedness – be prepared to be challenged and adopt new ways of doing things
Inquisitiveness – always searching for improvement with curiosity
Sociability – You have to love people and love looking after them
An eye for detail – the small details elevate the experience and make it exceptional
Multitasking abilities – most baristas are ambidextrous. You should have the ability to be decisive in action but also deliberate. This is a quality that is amazing to watch in action
Fun – You’ve gotta get that buzz or thrive on working behind the bar (you’ll know what I mean if you get it)
In 30 words or less, how do you explain how to steam milk?
I could wax lyrical about milk protein and lactose but I would waste words, a picture says a thousand words right? If I could add audio too, I would.

Any training horror stories?
No horror stories as such, but a ton of pet peeves, here’s two…
It’s such a shame when baristas start steaming their milk extra hot because of a few customer complaints about the milk not being hot enough or to their liking. I link it back to a kitchen preparing poached eggs, just because some people like them firm, a chef is never going to make all poached eggs firm. Things like extra hot should be a modification to a coffee and not a norm. Standby serving a great product but kindly modify and adjust orders based on your customers’ needs. You’re not there to judge you’re there to provide a great service and experience, nobody likes a pretentious barista.
Pet peeve number two… a dirty machine. I don’t care how good you are at dialling in the grinder and pouring latte art. If you’re a grubby pig, your coffee will taste gross. Clean your handles, baskets, and spouts regularly and flush the head with a blind basket. No excuses, I don’t care how busy you are. It’s just disrespectful, of the coffee and the equipment.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring Barista Trainer?
Keep up your knowledge, question everything. It’s how you learn.
Inspire others to question and challenge you, never get comfortable in what you know.
Always operate outside your comfort zone otherwise you’ll get bored because it can be repetitive.
Collect a heap of analogies for explaining things in training. It also helps to get better at drawing diagrams and making funny noises.
If you’re not patient and you don’t like helping others, this job is not for you.