The Best Coffee Education and Certification Programs
Like their peers in other specialty food industries, coffee professionals often pursue formal education and certification programs to deepen their knowledge and expand their career opportunities. Most coffee professionals — from baristas and cafe managers to coffee shop owners and roasters — can benefit from a course in coffee knowledge.
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Why Should You Pursue Coffee Education?
There’s always more to learn when it comes to specialty coffee. Whether you want to enhance your skills in sourcing and roasting beans or explore best practices for sampling and preparing coffee, you’ll find many professional education options. Learning more about your current field or another area of interest within the coffee world can help elevate your job performance and even lead to new employment opportunities.
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Key Types of Coffee Education
Coffee education and certification programs typically cover five key areas:
- Barista Skills: These courses usually start with the basics and expand into advanced options for experienced baristas to continue their education.
- Coffee Roasting: Established roasters usually require individuals to have some form of education or experience before they may begin roasting their coffee. These programs can help you develop the skills needed to pursue this coffee career path.
- Management Skills: While strong management skills are important in any line of work, these courses help you expand your skills in ordering, scheduling, menu building, and other crucial elements associated with operating a coffee shop.
- Cupping: Cupping courses can prove helpful for any coffee professional who wants to lead cuppings at their cafe or simply develop their palette. These courses typically teach participants about the coffee flavor wheel, coffee processing, and how to properly conduct a cupping.
- Coffee Buying: The process of buying coffee — either from an importer or directly from a farm — often leaves new buyers with many questions. These courses provide the critical information you need to simplify the process of choosing, buying, and importing the right coffee for your shop.
Recommended Courses and Certifications
1. Specialty Coffee Association’s Coffee Skills Program
Created by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), this program provides a common set of continuing education courses for coffee professionals worldwide. In the United States, SCA offers the Coffee Skills Program (CSP) in affiliation with the Barista Guild of America and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).
How the Program Works
SCA’s CSP includes six different modules and three difficulty levels in each module to provide education for coffee professionals at every stage of their careers. Here’s a high-level overview:
- Introduction to Coffee Module: This course covers the origins of coffee and how it grew into a modern, global industry.
- Barista Skills Module: This course focuses on the foundational skills students must master to gain proficiency behind a coffee bar as well as how to interact with customers and the basics of coffee business practices.
- Brewing Module: This course covers grinding, measuring, and extraction techniques along with how to assess coffee strength to help students brew a perfectly calculated cup of coffee.
- Green Coffee Module: This course discusses the ins and outs of green coffee processing, purchasing, and grading. It also gives students an opportunity to enhance their skills in purchasing and portfolio-building.
- Roasting Module: This course focuses on how to roast coffee, including the different roast levels and cycles as well as how to spot defects. It also covers some managerial skills applicable to the roastery workplace.
- Sensory Skills Module: This course focuses on engaging students’ palettes to evaluate coffee and discusses how the coffee industry uses each coffee’s flavor profile.
- Foundation Level: This level covers the basics, making it suitable for students at every level of experience.
- Intermediate Level: This level provides a good starting point for industry professionals with an existing knowledge base.
- Professional Level: This level is ideal for people with coffee industry knowledge and experience seeking to specialize in one field.
To complete the program and receive your CSP diploma, you must earn 100 points by taking a combination of course modules. Each module within the three levels provides a different amount of points:
- Foundation-Level Modules: 5 Points
- Intermediate-Level Modules: 10 Points
- Professional-Level Modules: 25 Points
Prices for each course can vary greatly by location and focus. Roasting courses, for example, typically cost more than barista skills courses. Courses at the foundation Level — the least expensive level — range from $400 to $600 each. Intermediate- and professional-level courses, which often run over multiple days, typically cost more than $1,000 each.
A Special Note for SCAA Heritage Pathways Certificate Holders
While the SCAA previously required coffee professionals to take a series of courses to earn its Heritage Pathways Certificate, the organization now applies those certificates to the CSP based on its affiliation with the SCA. If you already have a Heritage Pathways Certificate and want more information about this change, learn how to transfer your certificate here.
2. Bellissimo’s American Barista & Coffee Workshops
In operation for 25 years, Bellissimo Coffee Advisors is a pioneer in coffee education. It focuses on transforming knowledge-thirsty coffee professionals into experts in their field with in-person workshops and online training sessions that range from basic barista skills to coffee business management.
In-Person Workshops and Pricing
- Two-Day Barista Workshop (Price: $1,250)
Learn the basics of coffee preparation and workflow in this two-day workshop that includes latte art, espresso extraction, milk steaming, menu building, equipment operation, and more. It’s perfect for new baristas as well as coffee professionals looking to refine their skills.
- Advanced Barista Workshop (Price: $500)
As a follow-up to the Two-Day Barista Workshop, this session focuses on enhancing skills developed in the previous course with an emphasis on refining the palette, cupping, and advanced barista techniques.
- Roasting Fundamentals Workshop (Price: $500)
This one-day workshop covers not only how to roast coffee, but also the history of coffee, different roasting profiles, at-origin cupping techniques, and the chemical reactions in roasting. It’s ideal for coffee professionals seeking to gain knowledge about all aspects of coffee roasting in a single-day format.
- Two-Day Business Workshop (Price: $1,250)
Learn the ins and outs of coffee shop ownership and business management with this two-day workshop, which covers everything from lease negotiations and business planning to concept development and cafe design. It’s ideal for new business owners seeking guidance before opening a shop as well as current business owners seeking to refine their business knowledge.
- Five-Day Workshop Bundle (Price: $2,850)
This five-day program teaches all the skills you need to fully comprehend coffee business techniques as well as advanced barista skills. It also provides the option to add the roasting fundamentals workshop for a discounted price. It’s ideal for coffee professionals thinking about taking more than one workshop as well as business owners or managers looking to enhance their business knowledge and barista skills.
Online Barista Training and Pricing
- Individual Barista Membership (Price: $49.95 for three months)
This three-month membership includes barista training videos, career development tools, and webinars. Baristas earn a certificate of completion at the end of the training.
- Coffee Retailer Membership (Price: $59.95 per month)
This monthly membership rate includes 15 employee accounts with access to training videos, career development tools, and webinars. Users earn a certificate of completion at the end of the training.
3. Coffee Business School of the Cascades
The Coffee Business School of the Cascades's four-day, online program boasts the cheapest rates in the business. Designed for new and potential coffee shop owners, it covers coffee business information, barista skills, and much more.
How the Program Works
Each day, this program focuses on one topic — such as planning and creating your business — and offers a series of 30-minute courses related to that topic. This format works best for self-starters with access to an espresso machine. It may not, however, work well for people with little to no existing knowledge about coffee preparation. Here’s a high-level overview of each day:
- Day 1: Planning and Creating Your Business
Focused on the beginning stages of developing your new business, this day features courses on equipment selection, store layout, and business planning.
- Day 2: Opening and Running Your Business
Learn what you’ll need to know once you open your doors with information on employee hiring, training, management, and more.
- Day 3: Understanding Coffee and Making Espresso Drinks
This day’s courses provide a rundown of all things coffee-related, including how to roast coffee beans, how to extract espresso, how to steam milk, and the history of coffee.
- Day 4: Making Other Coffee Bar Beverages and Pouring Latte Art
The second stage of developing coffee knowledge, this section delves deeper into specialty beverages and pouring latte art.
For $199, users gain access to the online program for two years.
The Top Pick: SCA’s CSP
Despite its higher price point, the Coffee Skills Program tops the list for people seeking professional coffee education. Its worldwide recognition, variety of subjects, and wide accessibility make it the best value for the money. It also empowers industry professionals with a high level of coffee knowledge to help further their careers.