How To Spot A Coffee Master At Starbucks

Correction 5/2/22: A previous version of this article contained out-of-date information that Starbucks employees had to be nominated to begin training to become a Coffee Master. Starbucks informed Tasting Table that all baristas now receive the first level of training.

Everyone has a favorite Starbucks drink, but it takes a pro barista to know how to make that massive array of secret menu items. At Starbucks, these professionals are called Coffee Masters, and even though all the baristas behind the counter probably have chops, the Coffee Masters can tell you the how and the why. They're the folks you want to seek out if you have a question, like which roast to try or how much caffeine was in that double espresso shot you just threw back. (Whoops.)

There are over 5,000 active Coffee Masters in Starbucks stores worldwide, reports Starbucks Stories. According to a statement Starbucks sent to Tasting Table, the process to become a Coffee Master is a rigorous one, which begins during new employees' initial training. There are three different levels of "Coffee Academy" baristas will need to pass to become a Starbucks Coffee Master: level 100, which all baristas are now trained on and teaches coffee basics; level 200, which gives Starbucks baristas a more nuanced understanding of coffee varieties, brewing methods, and how to craft espresso drinks, plus informs them about ethical sourcing; and level 300, which delves further into these topics. After passing all three levels, baristas are granted the title of Coffee Master by the cafe chain.

So now that we know how knowledgeable Starbucks Coffee Masters are, how do we spot them?

The black apron is a 'big deal' for baristas

In the chaos of the morning coffee rush, keep your eyes peeled for black aprons. Those are the pros! According to Starbucks, the signature apron has been part of the uniform from the first day it opened its doors in Seattle's Pike Place Market in 1971. The earliest employees wore brown grocer's aprons. It wasn't until the early 1990s that Starbucks introduced black aprons as a special designation for certified Coffee Masters.

In an interview with Eat It, Virginia!, black-apron-wearing Coffee Master and 10-year barista David Avery explained the prestige of the symbol. "[The black apron is for those who] want to continue their growth and development within the company," he said. "Getting that apron was a big deal for me." In addition to the apron, Starbucks shared with Tasting Table that employees are also presented with a pin upon completion of their level 300 Coffee Academy training.

Now, it can be a big deal for you, too. For curious coffee fans at home, the brand recently rolled out the Starbucks Coffee Academy program to teach customers some bean expertise. The academy is a modular online course for beginners, starting with foundational coffee knowledge and building as the levels progress. So, next time you walk into your local Starbucks coffee shop, lookout for a black apron, and maybe even ask a question — you're sure to learn a thing or two.