Oh man this is a question I’m sure a lot of people would like to know the answer to. However everyone is different. Different countries, different areas of interests, different goals and different expectations from life.
There’s no way to answer this briefly so this is a mini-novel. Sorry Josh and everyone.
The short answer? (can’t blame me for trying!) Do what makes you happy man and make it a habit to keep asking yourself that. Follow the cafe path and learn all you can possibly learn about coffee, see if it still mesmerizes you in a years time and take it from there. If you’re happy then, to a degree, the money shouldn’t matter much. But remember you need to live and your job isn’t your life. Life is a collection of great memories both good and bad and not all great memories are made inside 4 walls.
As with all great coffees you need to find a balance. Acidity is your work life (it will wear away at you eventually) and Sweetness is your personal life (the things that can truly make you happy).
Try to remember that working as a Speciality Barista is less about the coffee and more about making every customer feel special whilst simultaneously, and un-intimidatingly, educating them about the goodness of speciality coffee (it’s also about making your employer money). If coffee is more your thing than people then roasting is a good path to take. Sociable hours, stable working environments and good career progression/diversity. New coffee all the time, origin trips, recipe creation for wholesale clients and generally being a, mostly, laid back job. Roastery Assistants usually deal with dispatch and packing as well as keeping the roastery clean. Perks are you get your say during cuppings and can often somewhat influence roasting techniques and help decide on flavour notes. You then work your way up.
If you love talking to people, getting to know them and finding out what makes them tick/what their story is/making them feel special/positively impacting their lives then stick to working in cafes. The best cafes I’ve ever been to have engaging staff/owners with diehard regulars that have been going to the same place year in year out. You’re already a Barista so if you stay in cafes the only way up is into training other Baristas then leading a team of Baristas before moving into cafe management (a whole other topic) and then onto owning your own place.
If you’re seriously considering this as a career then it may not be about the money right now - but it definitely will be one day when you’d like to buy a house, support a family and eventually want to retire and live comfortably. For this being an indie cafe owner is nice and something I’d highly recommend. Having a profitable, successful business looks fantastic to lenders. Mortgage? Sure no problem Sir. But take your research very very very very very x 1,000,000 seriously. There’s a great deal of excitement and adrenaline in starting your own business however there are always things you will regret not doing and not knowing about come 6 months into your tenure. Things that will make or break your business. I’ve been working in the industry for over 6 years now and I’m still researching.
There’s one other path you can take though and it’s being a Freelance Barista. Either work with an agency/company or go solo and invest in a grinder, espresso machine and barista equipment. You’ll have A LOT less to worry about working with an agency however you’ll make more money going solo once you’ve paid off your initial investment (grinders, espresso machine, milk jugs, tamper, mobile bar, car etc). Expect anywhere between £9-£18/hr for a Freelance Barista dependent on diversity of skill set and experience. I can’t say how much you can earn as a solo Freelance Barista with equipment as I simply don’t know.
Coffee, and hospitality in general, is a tough gig though no doubt. Especially if you strictly want to make coffee. Chefs (the heroes of hospitality… good ones anyway) have struggled for decades with low wages and an industry standard of 60hr+ weeks. Plus they require formal training to be taken seriously (££££££). Look into SCA diploma courses. Any good, supportive and greatful employer will sort it out for you.
So I’m British but have lived all over the world so I don’t really understand the whole British thing about keeping your salary secret until the day you die etc etc etc. So here I go! In London an experienced career Barista (JUST a Barista. Not a Head/Lead etc) in a busy established cafe should expect living wage or SLIGHTLY less. £10.20/hr plus or minus .50p. Seriously we need to live and enjoy life. We can’t all stay students forever willing to live with other people in a shared house of 5 for the rest of our lives on a bullshit minimum wage. For new cafes expect £7.50-£9/hr. For Lead/Head Baristas expect living wage + .50p. For Head of Coffee (multiple locations) positions expect £11 upwards. I started on £6.50/hr in 2012 with zero experience and the highest rate of pay I’ve ever received for being JUST a Barista with ONLY on the job experience at an established cafe is £11.50/hr. Unfortunately most wages are also in relation to the managers wage. If your manager is on £10/hr then you’ll be capped in accordance.
In life you should always be aiming to progress, improve and learn more until you hit the ceiling. Always care more for yourself than your employer.
To avoid hitting the ceiling I diversified my palate of knowledge. I learnt all I could about coffee from farming to roasting to creating chemically neutral water to various brewing methods etc. Then I learnt about machinery and engineering. Espresso machines, Water Pumps, basic electronics, Grinders, Reverse Osmosis machines - the lot. THEN, as if it wasn’t enough, I branched out even more and learnt about social media, website creation and how to successfully manage and maintain an online presence… Now I’m learning about management
I also taught myself how to be a ruthless negotiator… Pros and Cons of hiring me and paying me what I believe I’m worth (in relation to the hospitality industry) versus Bob over there etc. Differentiate and sell yourself.
Ok rant over I think. Until lunch time tomorrow probably. Sorry it’s long but there’s a load of information and insight there that should help you move forwards.
Fire any questions my way and I’ll do my best to answer