My first real job, besides babysitting and helping out friends, was at the local community college bookstore. About a year into my grand career there, I was transferred to the coffee shop within the store. That’s when I discovered one of my great passions in life: Coffee. It brings us together. It comforts us in our time of need. It tastes great with cake and it made me into the woman I am today. Wow, coffee does all that, you say? Yes, it does, let me explain. After working over 3 years as a barista, I learned a lot of things, from how to say “thank you” in sign language to the proper way to hold your hands if you’re taking up belly dancing. Seriously though, being a barista taught me so many things that I never would have learned in a classroom and I know will help me in my career and life in general.
1. Be willing to try new things. I didn’t like coffee before I was a barista. Shocking, I know. I used to turn up my nose whenever my dad brewed a cup and rolled my eyes when my mom said she “loved the smell of coffee”. I just didn’t get it. I was stuck in my naive ways. That changed when my manager insisted that I down fresh espresso shots as part of my first day initiation, and I got scheduled for the opening 6:45 am shift. I suddenly developed a taste for coffee! Then, earl grey tea. That’s right, the girl that was partly responsible for Earl grey tea ice cream didn’t like earl grey. I have my lovely friend Amy to thank for my developed tastes. We worked the morning shift together for several years and through much determination on her part, I learned to love Earl Grey tea. The point being, if I want to grow and change as a person, I can’t be afraid of new experiences and being a barista forced me to embrace that.
2. How to talk to anyone. It should take around 3 minutes to make a latte. That’s not very long, but it sure feels like an eternity if your customer is standing there awkwardly twiddling their coffee- greedy thumbs while you steam 2% milk. My mom has always been good at chatting with people, but it wasn’t one of my strengths until I became a barista. It’s amazing how just asking how someone’s day is going, or if they have anything fun planned for the weekend can get someone chatting. Before you know it, you know all about their upcoming vacation, their newborn, and their favorite muffin recipe.
3. How to remember someone. Chatting makes you and your customer feel less awkward in the moment, but you know what will make you feel really awkward? When they come back the next day, and you can’t remember them! After that happened to me a time or five, I started rehearsing people’s names and stories in my head after they walked away. I found that if I just focused on them for a minute, I could remember them later. One term, a girl named .’Whitney’ came in every other day. So after she left, I would say to myself “Whitney gets a white mocha”. This is such a helpful skill to have, and the repetition of being a barista definitely drilled it into me.
4. Everything is a show. This sounds so jaded when I say it, but it’s true. Life is a show. If you are confident, people will trust you. If your hand shakes as you pour the milk, or you stumble around looking for lids, your customer will doubt your ability to make good coffee. They might ask for a different barista next time, or stop coming to your coffee shop all together. On the other hand, if you know what your’re doing, can recommend your favorite drinks on the menu, know the prices, and tell them which drink has the most caffeine, they’ll start to think that you really do make the best coffee! Taking ownership doesn’t hurt either. Saying phrases like “Yes, I do have vanilla syrup.” or “I have another pot of decaf coming right up” makes your customer think you know whats up. Be confident. If you act like your great, other people will think so too!
5. How to Make Coffee. Lastly, the most important thing I learned from being a barista is how to make really good coffee. Knowing how to make good drinks is a wonderful skill that I’m sure will serve me well in the years to come.
Being a barista can be scary; you have to talk to a new person about every 4 minutes, and the happiness of their day rests solely in your clumsy hands, but you learn to do it and eventually love it.