ABC's new online coffee school

The digital delivery of higher education is making knowledge more accessible to more people than ever before. Increasingly, people are turning to the internet to provide their schooling, and it is now possible to get a complete degree (even graduate science degrees) from some of the best universities in the world, without ever setting foot on campus.

Both students and universities benefit from these changes. Students benefit because they can watch lectures and do the coursework on their own time, giving them the flexibility to work more while going to class. Online education can save the students money too, since they can avoid the cost and disruption of moving to a far-away location.

The universities benefit because the marginal cost of delivering a set of courses online is not much different for ten people than it is for five hundred people, and by putting classes online, universities can make them instantly available to people all around the world, significantly broadening their customer bases and spreading their ideas farther than in the past. Societal acceptance of online degrees is coming around too, and every day there is less stigma associated with them.

Naturally, the movement of education online is not limited to university education. Recently, the American Barista and Coffee School (ABC) announced it was opening a new online school,, that offers courses for baristas, café owners, and other coffee people who want to learn about barista training and/or the business of coffee. 

A first look at ABC's new online school

The nature of the new course also makes it easy to take in the ABC curriculum in smaller bites too. Instead of a five-day marathon that could lead some people to experience coffee overload, allows the user to digest information in smaller increments on their own schedule. Accordingly, the up-front cost will be lower, with subscriptions starting at $14.95/month.

I reached out to Matt Milletto, VP of ABC, and Phil Schlieder, ABC’s Director of Business Development, with a few questions about the new online school.

CPDX: Will the courses include the full ABC curriculum? If not, what will be missing?

MM: The online barista training platform is not meant to be a substitute to our hands on business and barista training classes, but more of an ongoing resource for coffee bar owners and baristas. We will be focusing more on how to maintain and grow your existing business thru a linear training methodology for your entire staff, and business guidance on how to succeed in this ever changing industry. 

CPDX: Are you worried the online school will compete with your on-site courses?

MM: No, again we are broadening our reach globally and providing an incredibly valuable service to primarily existing coffee bar owners. Our on-site classes represent a full immersion learning environment for those looking to open a new business, and nothing can replace the over 50 hours of comprehensive hands on training our primary class offers. 

CPDX: What are the biggest benefits for the enrollees?

MM: As a coffee bar owner, your monthly subscription gives you a resource to establish a consistent training program and education to your staff. You are able to assess your employees progress, and follow along as they move thru the courses. Also, you are constantly updated with new content to help you succeed, and have a true resource for guidance, tips, interactive live webinars, and more. 

PS: The cafe shop owner that enrolls in our product is able to not only offer a consistent training platform for their employees, but they are also able to use our management tools as well. Right now online barista training offers a business owner the ability to track his employees progress with their training, but we are looking to expand in the future into such things as scheduling and social interaction between everyone at the coffee business. This tool is especially great for businesses with multiple locations and a large staff as they are able to have a centralized location for all things coffee.

CPDX: What makes ABC’s online courses different from other online coffee classes? 

MM: We have not only taken our training methodology to an online format, but have developed a way to ensure assessment and progress that can act as the foundation for a coffee bars training platform. Our course are meant to provide the education, to then take to the espresso machine and practice, practice, practice. We also have eliminated the common large $500+ upfront cost to many other online courses, allowing a business owner to include a small monthly budget dedicated towards training and ongoing education. We have developed a platform that not only includes hours of HD video, but also written curriculum, articles, checklists, live webinars, and more, to promote engagement. 

CPDX: What is the cost of attending the new school, and what can students expect to get for that?

MM: The online platform we have developed starts at just $14.95/month depending on if you are a single barista looking to hone your skills, or a shop owner with 10 employees. 

CPDX: Do the courses include any interaction with live humans?

MM: We plan to offer live interactive Q&A and webinar type education monthly, and as the site grows, we will be offering more and more ways for our members to interact with our trainers and advisors. 

CPDX: How will the courses be laid out?

MM: The barista training methodology is divided into multiple modules, with internal courses and an exam at the end of each. This way everyone will be able to rely on the same training, promoting consistency. There will be additional content added for your staff regularly. A coffee bar owner also has a full dashboard with the ability to add employees and monitor their progress and will have full access to the business and operations content available, as well as the many features we've discussed above. 

PS: Our courses layout is in the form of modules and individual lessons. The main barista training platform includes 7 modules each with between 5-10 lessons. At the end of each module there is a comprehensive exam that the employee is able to test their knowledge. At the end of the barista training course there is a final exam with a diploma awarded when a passing score is reached. Our business courses are geared more for the business owner themselves. These are also delivered in a similar format. For both the barista training and business courses, there will be consistently added content for an evolving platform.

The new school should be accepting signups by the end of this week.

The new school should be accepting signups by the end of this week.

Done right, online coursework can be as rigorous as with a traditional classroom (though you do lose some of the social benefits of the traditional model—i.e., it is much harder to go out for drinks with your online professors after class). But the inherent flexibility and the ability to access the best training in a particular field, no matter where you are, will make online education continue to grow in the future. In the case of coffee training, while nothing can substitute for actual hands-on work with an espresso machine or grinder, an online course can give new café owners a strong knowledge base to work with. Equipped with more information, they are less likely to make costly mistakes and more likely to be successful with their ventures. 

2013 Seoul Recap, Part 2: The ABWG

The reason I went to Seoul in the first place was to judge the Angel-in-us Barista World Grand Prix (ABWG). From first moment after I cleared customs in Seoul, Angel-in-us (sounds like “Angelina’s”) made me feel welcome. Despite the fact that my plane was nearly two hours late in arriving (we had a late start and some strong headwinds), my greeter met me with a smile at the airport. He did not complain (at least to me) when it took us two hours to get from the airport to downtown in rush hour traffic. (Travel note: My trip was long, but I had it much easier than some of the other participants. One of the baristas traveled more than 37 hours, from Chile to Seoul, via Atlanta. Two judges, traveling from Europe, spent an unplanned night in a hotel in Istanbul.)

When we finally did make it into Seoul, we skipped the hotel and went directly to the welcome dinner (most of which I missed), where the gathered judges and baristas went over the competition rules. The baristas also drew lots for the presentation order. After dinner, a short walk through Seoul’s Gangnam district to the hotel felt good, despite the cold weather. Seoul’s nighttime brilliance dulled the chill in the air.

The next morning, after a short sleep and a hearty breakfast, we reported to the massive Coex exhibition hall for a short calibration session prior to the start of the competition.

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Five questions for….Bernie Diveley, Barista at Coffee Division

Note: “Five Questions for…” is a new article series, consisting of short Q&As to help you get to know the people who work in and around coffee. I send the person ten questions, and he or she gets to pick five to answer (in this case, Diveley chose to answer more than five). Some will be in Portland, others elsewhere. Responses may be edited for grammar, clarity and, if necessary, brevity.

Bernie Diveley works as a barista at Coffee Division, the flagship café for 5 Points Coffee Roasters, at SE Division and 35th Place. Coffee Division is one of my regular stops in Southeast PDX (I wrote about half of my book there). A burgeoning coffee enthusiast, Diveley always seems to have a smile on his face to greet customers. He doesn’t seem to mind answering my coffee questions, and once helped me out by loaning me a coffee documentary on DVD. Originally from Los Angeles, Diveley first came to Portland in 2007.Diveley in action

How did you get into coffee?

When I moved to Portland I quickly realized how much coffee was a part of this city.  I got hired at Peet's on Hawthorne and after having my first natural processed Ethiopian my view of coffee completely changed.  I then worked at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters in Bend for a couple years and I was really able to work on my skills as a barista.

What is your most memorable coffee experience?

My first tasting note when cupping. Snickers!

Who are your biggest influences in coffee?

Duane Sorenson, Geoff Watts, Peter Giuliano, James Hoffman, James Freeman, Paul Katzeff, Michael Phillips and Tom Owens.

What is your specialty as a barista?

My specialty as a barista is remembering to give thanks before pulling a shot or steaming milk. I realize that I'm at the end of a long chain and I know a lot of work went into that chain.  There's a lot to be thankful for when making a drink. The fruit itself, the farmers, the cows, all the harvesting, processing and shipping, the machines, the water, my health. And I respect the customers time and the money they give for a memorable coffee experience.

What do you do when you’re not serving coffee?


What’s your hidden superpower that few people know about?

I do pull ups, push ups and sit ups everyday.  SSHHH...

Where did your last best shot come from (other than at your own shop)?

Flight of Heart espresso from Either/Or (in Sellwood).

What’s the best beer in Portland?

Laurelwood.  Free Range Red – Malty, or Workhorse IPA  - Hoppy

What’s your dream job?

Drummer in a jazz band, like Mel Brown.

And the result

Coffee school – Two days at ABCS

Many coffee people have told me that being a barista is difficult. Whenever they say that, I am always skeptical. How hard could it be?

To find out, I took a two-day barista course at the American Barista and Coffee School last week. The class, led by ABCS’s Tom Pikaart and Sara Ziniewicz, was designed to give students a hands-on introduction to pulling espresso shots, steaming milk, pouring latte art, and maintaining equipment. Eight students took the class, at ABCS’s headquarters on Water Avenue. Some of the students had their own cafés, and others worked for roasters, supporting wholesale accounts. Most had at least some prior coffee knowledge or training.

In his opening remarks, Pikaart made it clear that the purpose of the course was not to perfect our technique. Rather, it was to teach us how to approach learning the craft of being a barista. No one can become an espresso expert in two days, he told us, but you can learn what you need to know to get started. If you have the right mindset, competence will follow. These were the five things he said we needed to focus on:

  • Cleanliness
  • Self-betterment (self-improvement)
  • Passion
  • Self-discipline
  • Consistency

Dialing, pulling, steaming, pouring

After an introduction to the principles and procedures of making espresso, we moved over to the machines and got to work. One of the coolest things about ABCS is the number of different grinders and espresso machines students can try during the class. Our group spread itself out between four different espresso machines, and there were an additional three or four more we did not use.

The first activity was to dial in the grinders. To do this, we adjusted the distance between the grinder’s burrs, which changes the fineness of the grounds. Every day, as conditions in the café change (temperature, humidity, etc.), baristas must make small adjustments to the grind so the espresso tastes good. Knowing how to do this is a critical skill for a barista.

Once we had the grinders where we wanted them, it was time to make some espresso. The first shot I pulled was comically slow, and, as I had to stop and think about each step in the process. As we pulled more and more shots, my technique became more fluid. I would like to think my espressos got better over time, too.

After lunch, we moved on to milk. Steaming milk was less intimidating. Having steamed a lot of milk as a Starbucks barista, I had some idea of what to watch and listen for. It was fairly easy to adapt the techniques Tom and Sara told us about to what I already knew.

Tom Pikaart teaching latte art theory

Pouring latte art, on the other hand, was completely new. Latte art, a common sight in Portland cafés, does not necessarily make the drink better, but it does indicate how serious the baristas in a café take their craft. This is an example of what we were aiming for:

A soft heart, poured by our instructor

I found that pouring beautiful latte art is not easy, especially when you are starting out. (You can see a couple of my early tries below).

Not going to win any competitions, but not bad for a beginner

Getting better...

Teaching others

One of our exercises the second day was to teach a partner how to make a (caffè) latte. We had to write down (from memory) all the steps, then our partner was supposed to follow them exactly, no matter how many things we left out. I had thirty steps on my list, and I still forgot a couple. The lesson helped me understand why some café owners train their employees for a month before allowing them to make drinks for a customer. It takes time to make all these steps automatic.

Another important takeaway from the class was how important cleanliness is to the quality of the products. Both Tom and Sara emphasized how important it is to clean the machine regularly and thoroughly. Roasted coffee is full of oils that can creep into the hidden nooks and crannies on grinders and espresso machines. These oils degrade as they contact the air, and produce some funky flavors and odors if left long enough. For practice, we pulled our espresso machine apart and cleaned all the parts that come into contact with the coffee.

One thing that surprised me about the course was its emphasis on using our five senses to monitor the quality of our drinks. I had expected we would rely more on scales, stopwatches and thermometers, and while Pikaart advocated using these devices to check a barista’s consistency, he said we need to be able to use our senses. Measuring everything, every time, is too time-consuming to use in a café setting. and with practice and attention to detail, a barista can learn to be very accurate and consistent using just the five senses.

Lesson learned

After taking the class, I understand why people say being a barista is hard. With so many minute details that factor into making great drinks, you need to practice for a long time to become good. It takes time to master the skills of the craft.

“Being a professional is an attitude. It is not a skill set,” Pikaart told us, as he closed out the class. We might not start out as experts, but we will get there if we keep learning.

A good lesson not just for being a barista, but for life as well.


Welcome to Portland!

If you are out and about in Portland’s coffee shops the next few days, you might overhear more in-depth coffee conversations than normal. In case you haven’t heard, Portland is hosting the Specialty Coffee Association 2012 Event. The Event, the largest gathering of the year for the specialty coffee industry, consists of a trade show/exposition, a symposium for coffee professionals and the US Barista Championships. It might be the largest collection of coffee nerds ever convened in one place.

Here are a few things you might want to check out during the week.

SCAA Exposition

The Exposition is a huge trade show where you can walk around and be wowed by all things coffee. You’re sure to find lots of interesting demonstrations and all the coffee you can possibly taste in one day.


  • When: Friday and Saturday 11am-5:30pm, Sunday 11am-4:30pm

  • Where: Convention Center (map)

  • Cost: Three-day pass (includes the trade show, USBC and Expo Lectures) costs $295 for non-SCAA members. One and two-day passes (no lectures) are available for $115 and $185, respectively. You can get more details on tickets here:

  • Find out about lectures and other events here.

United States Barista Championship (USBC)

The USBC runs concurrently with the SCAA Event. Fifty-six top baristas from around the United States will be competing over four days for the title of US Barista Champion.


  • Where: Convention Center (map)

  • When:

    • Round 1 – Thursday and Friday 9am-5pm

    • Semi-finals – Saturday 10am-4:30pm

    • Finals – Sunday 12-3pm

    • Cost: $10 for a 3-day pass

    • For more information visit the USBC website, where you can the competition’s rules and regulations, see a full competition schedule and watch a live stream of all competitors.

Portland has seven baristas competing in the USBC. Here is their schedule:

  • Tyler Stevens, Barista – Thursday 9:15am

  • Ann Schneider, Sterling – Thursday 9:34am

  • Brett Felchner, Barista – Thursday 12:44pm

  • Thomas Pikaart, Water Avenue – Thursday 2:19pm

  • Collin Schneider, Sterling – Thursday 2:38pm

  • Laila Ghambari, Stumptown – Friday 10:31am

  • Devin Chapman, Coava – Saturday 11:33am (automatically qualified for semi-finals as regional champ)

Good luck to all 56 competitors!


Another event to put on your calendar is Coffeelandia, a street party hosted by Portland Roasting Coffee, CBI, Boyd’s, World Cup Coffee and others. It should be a rousing event. Coffee people know how to party. Really, they do.


  • When: Friday, April 20 7pm-11pm

  • Where: Outside Portland Roasting, Southeast 7th and Oak (map)

  • Cost: Your $10 donation supports Portland Global Initiatives and Global Brigades and their water projects in Honduras.

  • Other: Entry comes with three alcoholic drinks, plus live music, dance and karaoke. Coffee drinks will be free.

  • This is a 21 and over event, so you'll have to leave the kids at home.

  • More details at the Coffeelandia website.

Discover: Lever

Learn about the Astoria Gloria lever espresso machine at Clive Coffee. The event description promises a “hands-on educational experience,” so if you go, you’ll probably get your chance to try your had a pulling a shot or two.

  • When: Thursday, April 19 6pm-9pm

  • Where: Clive Coffee, 79 Southeast Taylor (map)

  • More details at the event’s facebook page.

Coffee Tours

Between the show and the other happenings, you might not have much time to visit PDX cafés, but if you can sneak out for a quick coffee tour, here are a couple itineraries to help streamline your explorations:

  • Downtown Power Tour (map): Coffeehouse Northwest -> Barista (Pearl) -> Caffè Umbria -> Courier -> Public Domain -> Spella -> Stumptown (Downtown)

  • Eastside Quickie (map): Water Avenue -> Coava -> Heart

  • Northern Sips (map): Ristretto (Williams) -> Albina Press -> Barista (Alberta) -> Caffé Vita

  • Killingsworth Crawl (map): Red E -> Coffeehouse Five -> Extracto

It should be a great week for coffee lovers. Prepare yourself to hear about more coffee origins, roasting profiles, espresso machines, extraction percentage, barista competitions, grinder technology, etc. than you ever have before. Hopefully, you’ll get a little sun to go with your coffee. Enjoy!