5

The Italian term barista (bartender) entered the English language in 1992 and its usage has considerably increased since then according to Google Books:

"bartender in a coffee shop," as a purely English word in use by 1992, from Italian, where it is said to derive ultimately from English bar (n.2), as borrowed into Italian. The word is of generic gender and may be applied with equal accuracy to women and men (it is said that the typical barista in Italy is a man).

(Etymonline)

What happened in 1992 that suddenly gave rise to the usage of the term barista? Coffee shops existed well before 1992. Was it originally an AmE or a BrE usage?

2
  • 3
    It says 'By 1992', meaning that that is the earliest recorded use of it; there may have been unrecorded uses earlier. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:33
  • 1
    So why quote 1992, Ngram curves start from early-mid ‘90s.
    – Gio
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:52

1 Answer 1

15

From the Barista Training Academy:

The word barista was popularised by Starbucks in the late 1980s as person who is an employee working behind the coffee bar....

Before that, coffee shop employees weren't referred to as baristas but rather waiters, waitresses and servers.

Starbucks being a US-based chain, it is likely that the usage began there, but no doubt spread extremely quickly. And Google ngrams / and here show near-identical curves, flatlines followed by a huge rise, with the rise in the 'UK English' results being say 3 years behind that in the US data (1994 vs 1991).

There are previous examples of the loanword, including the following from [Market Watch - Volume 22 - Page 24 {1981} {via Google Books}

Today , Luca creates coffee[-]based concoctions as Cody's barista manager . (Barista is the Italian word for bartender that has been adopted by the foodservice industry for creators of coffee drinks , including cappuccinos , espressos and ...).

and, from the 1985 novel 'Kissing America' by British author Brian Glanville {Page 116} {via Google Books}:

Suddenly he heard a great commotion, shouting, scuffling feet and, looking down the bar, saw the blond, young barista, in his grey jacket, leap out from behind the counter, throw himself at ....

14
  • 1
    @tchrist According to my Zingarelli monolingual Italian dictionary, the Italian is barista, with barrista given as a Tuscan spelling and pronunciation variant. Dated to 1926, not from the Spanish, but formed from the Italian bar, borrowed from English, of course.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:56
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth What's a bit odd is... change the graph to British English and it's a substantially different shape, but all the early references are American.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 15:24
  • 6
    In the United States (as distinct from, say, Australia), coffee-drinking has been brewed coffee, not espresso, for over a century after it got started in the culture. Espresso or Turkish coffee was available in large cities with large immigrant populations, but not elsewhere. Consequently, there was no need for a special term for the waiter who sold you coffee. It wasn't until Starbucks and Peets made espresso widely available -- and specialized drinks proliferated -- that barista became, like soda jerk, a specialized term for a particular service. It's never applied to bartenders. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 17:32
  • 2
    In Italy, you get both (made-to-order) coffee drinks and alcoholic drinks in a bar, which helps explain the origin of the term.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 18:24
  • 2
    @tchrist - what is a yourista?
    – Gio
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 7:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.