Barista Q&A: Randi Milton, Northside Social

Editor’s Note: Today I visited Randi Milton, General Manager of Northside Social in Arlington, VA, before the morning rush kicked in to get the view from the other side of the machine.  Anyone who has looked at this blog knows that Northside is my go-to for great drinks, great food and great service (here’s my earlier review). I’m very grateful to Randi for her time, hope you all enjoy this as much as I did.

How did you come to be a barista?

I was working at Northside Social as a cashier and manager, trying to get my bearings on being a student again (scary), and began the process of training to be a barista with Counter Culture Coffee. It was not anything that I thought I would ever do, it was just the natural order of movement within Northside’s growth trajectory.

What was the most challenging thing to learn in training to be a barista?  How long did it take to get confident in what you were doing?

I am still working on my confidence! There is a general range for a good pull of espresso, but within that range there is some preference. Realizing within yourself what a good vs. bad shot of espresso is was my biggest challenge, and I feel it is hard for everyone starting out.

Had you worked in f&b service before?

Oh yes! Growing up in Atlanta, my first job at 15 was in a prep kitchen making housemade mozzarella sticks and chicken velvet soup.

Editor’s Note: Chicken velvet soup sounds like something I need in my life.

I worked my way through college (the first time), in and out of bars and restaurants, until I found myself here in North Arlington and applying for a job as a server at The Liberty Tavern.

Working with a fantastic and inspiring group of folks there, I eventually had the opportunity to be a manager within the fast growing company.

Editor’s Note: Northside Social and Liberty Tavern are part of the same restaurant group.

Are you a coffee drinker?  How much coffee do you drink?  What’s your usual order? Any taste profile that you prefer?

I am a coffee drinker, generally iced coffee, Japanese flash brewed method, or if I am feeling fancy, a cortado. This is a Spanish style drink that is espresso and steamed milk, but served warm, not hot. It is on the small side in relative terms, at 6 ounces. I usually have one to two coffee drinks a day, nothing crazy. I absolutely love any beans from Africa, and sundried if possible. The flavors are bright and fruity, generally unexpected and incredibly delicious.

What makes a good barista?

Efficiency without compromising flavor, while ensuring a great milk temperature and texture. But above all, serving the espresso/espresso drink with a smile and some good conversation.

the machine is an old school La Marzocco beauty

Do you make coffee at home?  What kind of a setup do you have?

I rarely make coffee at home, but when I do the winter months are for an individual pour over of some delicious Ethiopian sun-dried variety, and summers are for a cold brew. The cold brew takes more time, but it is a delicious summer treat.

Accessibility – any advice for someone who isn’t used to coffee/espresso drinks and finds it intimidating to look at the menu for the first time?

Absolutely. Ask your barista for some advice! If they do not have the time or patience, then that is not the coffee shop for you. Espresso should be fun and it can be engaging. This interaction with your barista could be a great way to begin your unique coffee journey.

What makes for a good customer?

I think that the proper answer is that all customers are good customers. 🙂

But in a high volume environment like Northside, I guess my only request would be to be patient, and to be mindful. We live in a technology driven time, and sometimes we all can get into the habit of losing track of what is going on in front of us for something that is going on in our phones.

Any common customer misunderstandings or misconceptions you’d like to clear up?

Not all coffee shops serve traditional beverages or call drinks the same things. Some of the more corporate coffee shops have reinvented old school drinks, which has been incredibly successful for them, but when ordering at a smaller shop, a macchiato may be something that you are not expecting.

Editor’s Note: Preach!

Anything you think coffee drinkers should know or look for when ordering or buying for home?

If you can grind your coffee immediately before brewing, do it! In my opinion it makes for the best cup. It may take you some time to figure out the best grind setting for the method that you are using, but it is so worth it.

Favorite and least favorite drinks to make?

It is actually not the drink that I have a preference for, but the type of milk. Whole milk is the best! When steamed correctly, it makes for the best texture and flavor to combine with most espresso blends. Alternative milks, though necessary and super cool, do not necessarily steam great consistently.

And finally, what do you look for in a coffee shop when you’re the customer?

Personality, for sure. A cool and unique vibe, with welcoming and talented staff. The whole “I am too hip to talk in full sentences and smile” thing is not for me.

I don’t know when, but mark my words, before I die I WILL have a countertop rinser at home

3 thoughts on “Barista Q&A: Randi Milton, Northside Social”

  1. Thanks for taking up a hobby that is of interest to me personally!!! Great read!

    1. Thanks, Heidi, that’s very sweet of you. Take a look around, hope you’ll find other stuff here you like.

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