Confessions of a Barista
What does it mean to be a barista? For some, it can be as simple as knowing more about coffee than your “average Joe.” For others, this line of work can be a social outlet, while for most, it means becoming a morning person whether you like it or not.
So what more is there to being a barista than early mornings and knowing the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? Here’s what you need to know about our experience behind the counter.
What’s in it for the baristas?
The world of coffee is so much more complex than drive-thrus and frappuccinos. For small business owners, it’s a job that requires more socializing than ever, and with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, facetime is the key to the success of local businesses.
In the corporate lens, the elimination of the social aspect of working as a barista can be liberating for some, though it often makes the job quite repetitive. Frankly, we baristas enjoy conversation much more than we do making the same variation of a latte for eight hours straight.
For most baristas, local coffee shops are the place to be. The environment is almost always friendly, as regulars allow for social interaction with the same people on a daily basis, and many of us appreciate the relationships we’ve cultivated along the way.
Seeing the same people at the same time every day can make the experience better for customers too. In my experience, many returning customers don’t even know their own coffee order, but they’re able to trust that we’ll remember them and know what to do. The simplicity of familiarity and recognition makes the transaction quick and easy, allowing more time for conversation.
Another part of being a barista, however, is knowing when to hurry things along. Some customers know where the coffee is good and choose to return for that reason. On that same note, some just aren’t interested in conversation—especially before having their coffee.
Finding the right coffee provider for you
For some, the prospect of getting your daily dose of caffeine at a place like Dutch Bros can be daunting. Many businesses hold their employees to different standards, and the tone presented at your local Dutch Bros probably corresponds with everyone else’s experience: if you haven’t had your caffeine for the day yet, prepare to be jolted awake! That being said, it’s wonderful to be greeted with such enthusiasm. For some of us, that jolt is all we need. Forget the coffee, and serve me enthusiasm in a cup.
A great part of working in a local coffee shop is the relationship baristas can have with the owner(s). It’s helpful for us to know the ins and outs of the business from a local perspective, and these employees have the opportunity to be a part of the entire process behind that cup of coffee we hand you every morning.
In the corporate world though, the perspective is pretty different. Whether you’ve been behind the counter or not, you’ll know that the value of speed for a business is incomparable. Most customers expect their order to take five minutes or less from start to finish, and with that expectation comes a decline in quality.
Trend follower? Be prepared for a surprise!
The drive-thru option seems ideal to most customers in an environment like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, although the drink you order will likely be made with much more care in a slower-paced environment. Coming from a barista who has worked in a drive-thru environment, the necessity of perfect timing is essential to the flow of those rush-hour mornings, which more than likely results in cutting corners for the sake of speed. So, the next time you discover a deliciously complicated Starbucks order on TikTok, think twice about ordering it from the comfort of your car.
The truth is, these specialty drinks aren’t often standardized, so employees may not have been trained on how to make them. But if you’re going to make your order complicated, don’t worry—we still appreciate you. It’s a relief compared to those who simply ask for “a cup of coffee”. “What size? What roast would you like? Do you want cream or sugar?” The list of follow-up questions goes on.
Even “cow’s milk” isn’t as simple of a request as you may expect. Most coffee shops carry multiple variations of dairy, be it skin, 2%, or whole milk. And although we love the different ways that non-dairy options can complement the flavor of espresso, it is a universal truth among baristas that the combination of espresso and whole milk is a match made in heaven.
What you order isn’t always what you’ll get
For the most part, any barista will agree that the commercialization of traditional espresso drinks has resulted in an unintentional spread of misinformation. The most prevalent and frequently ordered example of this is the notorious caramel macchiato. Unfortunately, it’s actually just an unstirred caramel latte, but beware: if you order this anywhere other than Starbucks, you may find yourself with a tiny cup of espresso topped with steamed milk and a drop of foam. But more often than not, we know what you meant, and we’ll make it for you anyway.
Working as a barista in any sort of environment can create a broad understanding of the industry, and with that comes a great appreciation for coffee culture. Most baristas are happy to share their knowledge with you, so if you’re the type of person to get nervous when it’s your turn to order, or you don’t know what anything on the menu means, this is your sign to get comfortable asking questions!
And if you’re looking for inspiration, an oat milk and honey latte made with high-quality espresso is the way to go.
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