The Life: Gihan Weerasinghe, a barista trainer at Costa, explains the work that goes behind a perfect cup of the brew.
Serving up the Costa baristas of tomorrow
Gihan Weerasinghe trains baristas at the British multinational Costa Coffee in the Emirates and talks about how he helps his trainees, who come from across the world, feel at home. The Dubai-based 32-year-old, originally from Colombo, says he does not need to be strict to get results.
How did you come to work for Costa as a barista trainer?
I was hired by Costa in Colombo where I was working in Le Royal Meridien in 2001 and it took me seven years to become a barista trainer. In Sri Lanka, I didn't know anything about coffee, only drank coffee. But the money was good and it was a different opportunity, and I thought why not take it? I love making coffee, and love talking to and meeting people. And if I get free coffee, that's a double bonus. Then in 2007, I won Costa's first barista of the year championship in London. The next year, one of my trainees took the third place in the global championship.
What makes a good barista?
A barista makes and serves coffee. Some people are good on technical stuff and stick to the coffee machine, while others are outgoing. Willingness to learn, smile and be energetic are all needed to become a good barista.
How many people do you train?
It depends on the market needs. Costa Coffee has 97 stores in the UAE in places such as Ras Al Khaimah, Al Ain and Dubai; I have trained around 700 people in the seven years as a core skills trainer.
What does barista training involve?
Sometimes I train 25 to 30 people. Full training involves a three-day induction, one-month in-store training, assessment, a coffee refresher training, and visual merchandising [among other elements]. The sessions are only for Costa employees and also include the history of coffee and Costa, how to steam coffee and texture it.
How do you break the communication barrier with different nationalities?
I have trained people from India, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Cameroon, Myanmar and China. I have lived in Dubai for 12 years and have picked up [bits of] Russian, Chinese and Arabic. I know a couple of words and a few familiar words can make them feel at home. During the induction period, I am not strict with the trainees. But for those who come to me to train as a barista supervisor and have one to two years of experience, I am tougher.
One of your colleagues won the Nation's Favourite Costa Barista 2013 last week. What is that about?
Anthony Ofilanda from Abu Dhabi won; it awards the friendliest barista in the country. The public voted him the best from among 600 baristas in the UAE.
How strong is Sri Lanka's coffee culture?
Before tea, coffee ruled Sri Lanka. It was brought over by Arab traders hundreds of years ago.