Money/Wages question


I’m relatively new to the forum and I’ve been lurking here for a while without posting. I’m in my final year of uni studying Wildlife & Conservation. I started off at a chain coffee shop here in the UK for my first year in coffee and have just moved to an independent to further my knowledge in coffee. So down to my real question here… It’s my last year and after 3 years studying I’ve gone through that phase of asking “where do i want to be down the line, what do I want to do with my life?”. Now I can tell you although conservation is something I enjoy, especially the scientific side reading journals etc I don’t think it’s for me.

I’m mesmerised with coffee and I’ll be working as a barista 30 - 40 hours a week when I finish uni, it’s something I’m really thinking about going all the way with and becoming the best I can possibly be at producing quality coffee as a barista.

It’s not all about the money for me, but my question is what is the potential amount of money that can be earned if you’re a top barista, with a ton of experience working at one of the best independents? Or perhaps opening your own shop once you get past your first couple of years attempting to break even and become profitable?

Now I know these questions are extremely open to a multitude of variables and that opening your own shop has an endless potential for income (but could very well go down and fail). I’m not entirely worried about the money as I left my old job that paid more simply for a more authentic barista experience, just curious. Thank you for any and all replies.


I sort of got to this point.

If you’re a good barista you will probably earn about £8 an hour (more in London) and then from here you’ll need to achieve a lead/head barista for a small independent group to earn that extra £1 an hour. From there you will either have to diversify to management, which takes you away from making so much coffee, or leave the coffee shop environment for one of three paths:

  1. Work for a roastery in an account management/training/quality control capacity
  2. Work for a roastery as a production assistant/roaster
  3. Open your own cafe

I went for option three, which puts me firmly in the coffee environment as I get to choose what I serve, and how I serve it - but also obviously adds a lot of other responsibilities such as being an employer and other management level bits (a whole other conversation) - but I think typically to have a career in coffee where you want to earn a little more than a barista’s wage you need to go down one of those 3 channels. Even a top barista with accolades and competition winnings will still have a ceiling and you’ll find lots of them work at either a management or quality control role for a roaster or cafe group.

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Thank you for the very informative reply, Stevie. I certainly like the idea of opening a cafe down the line once I’ve acquired many more skills in the industry and have the funding capabilities. Your reply really helped sum up the possible pathways I could take.

My place opened 2 weeks ago - it was a long and stressful journey. It was 2 years of planning.

I’d definitely recommend taking a trip out to Aus to visit some cool cafes and get some inspiration though, it really helped me focus in on what I wanted to achieve with my place.

with tips included, i’ve made an average of $15-$20/hr in very busy shops in salt lake city. since i started working in specialty coffee though, it’s around $12/hr tips included.

actually, since being in specialty coffee, it’s been $12-$14/hour average, including working at a busy specialty shop.

Congrats on getting opened up! 2 years is a long time but certainly, worth it, I and my friend said if we go to open our own cafe we’d take 1-2 years on planning. Brilliant looking shop btw, love it. I wouldn’t mind going to New Zealand actually, but could definitely visit Australia too.

Nice! Tipping is pretty none existent in the UK, mostly used for staff nights out here! Thanks for the input I appreciate it

Go to Aus/NZ - trust me - you’ll gain clarity and help pin point what you want to achieve when you see the culture in action.

and thanks, it was a lot of stress and planning but its really nice that its up and running :slight_smile:

Probably going to have to convince my girlfriend to go… might not mention I only want to go for the coffee shops though haha. It really is a beautiful shop, If I’m ever at the side of the country I promise I’ll pop in!

I just went on my own!

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 :v:t3::sunglasses::v:t3:


Hey Jack,

Sorry for the latest reply ever, I actually did read the entire post a few times but never got round to replying… sat down this morning enjoying an espresso so I’ll give it a shot. First of all, wow you have a ton of experience and just like Stevie’s comment, I found your reply extremely helpful in understanding progression within the industry so thank you for that! Never even thought about the Freelance Barista part which I found fascinating to say the least.

I’m going to do some real research into the SCA diploma for sure.

I’ve always found this to be really true, for some background I only started working part-time in 2015 my first retail job was at Toys R Us as a Christmas temp, I was the only one to get a zero hour contract at the end of Christmas (woopie a 0 hour contract) then I moved on to staples, then eventually talked myself into the local Costa that opened up across the street from Staples… now I’m at an independent! I’d love to hear about your progression from where you started via chat if you message me some time man!


Jack is correct. To make a career out of coffee and to open a shop you need to realise you’re going to have to become a marketing officer, you’re going to have to get involved with working with suppliers, business banking, paying invoices, sorting out rubbish collection, cleaning windows, fixing issues and painting scuffed walls - it really is a diverse skill set you need to develop, whilst also being that good barista who can inspirationally about coffee. If this massive job description sounds like hell, then you’re own place probably isnt for you (yet).

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To be honest, I expected all of that. I’m actually really interested in the business side as well as coffee. Just have to work towards gaining all of these skills as much as possible! Put myself out of my comfort zone etc.

Hit me up if you ever come down Brighton way and fancy a chat…