by Justin Luchterhand, Coffee Trainer

Overall, my experience with level 1 assessment has made my skills as a barista sky rocket!  I come from a Martial Arts background so I relate this to the ‘first form’ that you learn, which is all about building a strong foundation or basics as they are called.  That foundation underpins everything you learn in the discipline and is fundamental to future learning.   “Everything comes back to the basics,” my teacher would always say.  This assessment is something that I’m always going to come back to again and again as it keeps you accountable, interested, informed and sharp.

A lot of people get caught up and let the test beat them before they even start it. It isn’t really about passing (well it is) but its about the journey involved and how you develop your barista skills from here on in. Approaching the time to start the assessment Is always nerve-wracking, thinking, “have I ticked all the boxes, is my coffee tasting good and is it good enough for the likes of The Jade Jennings and Craig Simons of this world?  Being judged and critiqued by these people is unnerving and certainly not what you’re expecting. Often the nerves peak unexpectedly, especially once the assessment starts.  So, the best way to deal with the situation is to always believe that these professionals are there to make you better and more proficient at what you do by leading you through analyses of your work via constructive and relevant feedback and scores. If anything, use these experienced people, use them and absorb their talent and knowledge even if you don’t pass.

Not everything in Level 1 assessment is going go to plan, and you should always be ready to make on the spot decisions based on what is needed to get you over the line.  Which is exactly what happened to me the first time I attempted the assessment. When I started my ‘10 minute dial in section’ I didn’t allow the grinder burrs time to heat up and you can imagine this affected the whole process.   So my dose and extractions were all out of balance!  I didn’t think on the spot and make the necessary changes due to pure stubbornness.  So I persisted and consequently all of my flavours were wrong.  Fail…Sad Face…Perfection is key and that’s what should be on your mind when you undertake the assessment.  In fact, not just the assessment, but with every coffee you make.  Never compromise!

In hindsight, I never took that first attempt fail too seriously but more so as a blessing.  I have refined my skills, looked further into my recipe and for any means by which I could get a better overall score next time. Fast track to now, I’m about to undertake the level 1 again and I feel more ready than ever – well I hope so.  I just know how coffee works, it can smell fear and sometimes despite all you do, things just do not go the way you plan. By the time I’ve mentally rehearsed many times on how I will approach assessment,  while  remembering  to enjoy the journey, I believe I now understand the true purpose and process of level one assessment. The ultimate goal is to make every barista the most highly skilled practitioner who produces quality coffee every single time.