Coffee training in a virtual world

Coffee training virtual

Mocopan Coffee’s Babin Gurung on how to navigate coffee training in a virtual world of mute buttons and remote classrooms.

Babin Gurung
Babin Gurung is the New South Wales Barista Trainer of Suntory Coffee Australia.

The use of online technology has never been more significant in our lives than it is now. In a year when COVID-19 restricted physical exchange, virtual interaction has been a true blessing. 

With social distancing and travel bans still in place, it may be a while before we see classroom or on-site coffee training return. The only way forward, for now, is via online platforms. 

Here at Suntory Coffee Australia, we have partially moved to virtual coffee training, which has allowed us to connect with baristas and continue to help them upskill. 

Without a doubt, coffee training is challenging to execute in a virtual environment, but here are some key points I have found to give the best result.  

  1. Plan. Compared to face-to-face training, virtual training has its limitations. This needs to be taken into account when planning a session. Here are few things to consider:
    • Training length: since participants will be sitting in front of a screen for the majority of the training time, it’s best to keep training duration short. Between two to three hours is a good length with small breaks in between. This will allow participants to stay focused and get the most out of the session.
    • Topics: when building curriculum, choose topics that are best suited for the virtual classroom. Theoretical topics such as seed to cup, extraction, grinder calibration, etc. are great for this type of learning environment. Online training is perfect for building solid foundation for new baristas, but can also be used to explore advanced concepts for experienced baristas on topics such as grind distribution, sensory analysis or milk science.
    • Practice: virtual training should always be followed with a practice session to solidify concepts. Participants must have access to a coffee machine during or after the training. This will help them apply their learnings from the training to practice.
  2. Setup equipment. Having the right technology on your side can make a big difference. Here is a list of equipment you will need:
    • Internet connection: Wi-Fi enabled internet is required to operate virtual trainings as multiple devices will be in use. Where Wi-Fi isn’t strong, 3G or 4G connection can be used.
    • Coffee equipment: the trainer must have access to coffee equipment for demonstrations. This can be a basic setup of espresso machine and a grinder. Props such as burrs and cleaning tools can also be used to explain different concepts.
    • Laptop computer: you will need a computer to dial in to the meeting. It can also be used for sharing slideshows, which allows trainers to provide visual information and also help keep track of the flow of topics.
    • Video: video capturing can be done using webcam or smartphone. Smartphone tripod can be used to setup multiple camera angles giving participants wide range of views allowing deeper engagement. Tripods come in many different forms, some with clamps, which can be mounted on coffee machines or tables, allowing you more control. It is important trainees keep their videos on as well during the session to encourage interaction and read the room in order to ask questions and receive real-time responses.
    • Audio: audio quality is one of the most important variables to get right when training online. Because coffee training requires lot of movement on the trainer’s part, it is important that sound quality is well captured throughout the training. I found wireless Bluetooth earphones work best, for sound quality and mobility. For better sound clarity, it is advisable to have trainees on mute during the session unless speaking.
    • Software: Zoom and Microsoft Teams are two of the most common virtual meeting software we have seen in recent times, and have proven to work efficiently for large class sizes. They are easy to setup and use, even for someone with minimal technical skill. Here are some key features of the software that can be utilised for best results:
      • Multiple accounts: Zoom allows more devices for login and view compared to Microsoft Teams. This feature is not only important for accommodating larger class size but also allows trainer to share multiple screens for effective training.
      • Recording: training sessions can be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes. It is advisable to ask for participant’s consent before recording.
      • Screen share: screen share is a great feature that allows the trainer and participant to share their screen. This feature can be used for sharing presentations, photos and videos or any training relevant documents. I encourage trainers to use as many visual aids as possible to maximise learning.
  3. Trial run. Once the plans are laid out and gears are fixed, it is important to run a trial session. This will help identify any areas of opportunity and allow time to make necessary adjustments. This could include equipment troubleshoot, internet connection, training length and pace. It is ideal to run the test with the help of a colleague or a senior manager, who can provide you with feedback. This valuable information must then be used to refine training components and build a more effective training module. 
  4. Engagement. Unlike classroom training, maintaining high engagement and participation is a challenge in virtual sessions which can ultimately impact training effectiveness. Here are my top tips for capturing and maintaining participant’s attention:
    • Ask participants to be in a quiet room.
    • Keep your training room tidy with no distractions such as running TV, advertisements or external noise.
    • Keep high energy and steady pace when presenting. Pace that is too fast or too slow can impact concentration.
    • Ask questions to build engagement and test knowledge. Asking for thumbs up/thumbs down is a great alternative to saying yes/no, which requires constant muting and unmuting.
    • Add humour and real-life examples where appropriate. Finding areas where participants can relate to you is a great way of connecting.
    • Keep topics even sized and give small breaks in between allowing participants time to refresh. This will also allow trainers to clear the training space and be ready for the next topic.
  5. Training day. It is important that training invites are sent out well in advance with necessary instructions. It is advisable to provide participants with handbook which they can follow during the session. Logging in 10 to 15 minutes prior to commencement of training is a good way to make sure everyone is comfortable in the environment and feel confident in using online technology.
  6. Feedback. One of the best ways to measure success of a training is by collecting feedback from participants and peers, where possible. A self-reflection form or watching recorded video are also some great ways of monitoring self-progress.

We already have embraced technology in our cafés to refine variables and achieve quality and consistency in coffee. But the most important variable in coffee making is the barista and through online training, we can refine their skills to help them achieve that consistency. 

This article appears in the December 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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