As many of you might know, I am a barista at Caribou Coffee. I just recently, in April, had my one year anniversary as an employee for the company, and I am now going on 13 months! I have only ever had two jobs, this being the second one. I get so many people asking me all the time what it is like to be a barista, so I have decided to talk about my job and why I have stuck with it for so long!
Before I get into the topic too much I want to address something. In my opinion, I believe that being a barista at a ‘chain’ coffee company, or a franchise, is much different than the life of a barista at a hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse, or a coffee shop. I have never worked at what I would consider to be a genuine coffeehouse before, however I have been to MANY (of which I eventually plan to do little reviews on), know a few people who have worked at one, and have also read many blogs written by baristas from them! In my opinion, and do not get me wrong, I still love the coffee that I serve and I am very passionate about making each cup a work of art, but I believe that franchises are all about being fast and making money. Whereas a coffeehouse spends time to do the little extra things such as putting your coffee into a beautiful mug and making a unique design on top. They are not so worried as to how long it takes, they are more about really making each cup of coffee to be as beautiful as possible (such as the lattes that are featured in my image at the top of the post. No, they did not come from Caribou…they were the lovely beverages my friend and I enjoyed from Black in Minneapolis a bit ago. They were amazing for anyone who might be curious to know!!). Franchises also tend to have hundreds of options, many do not even have any coffee or aren’t tea related at all! However when you get to a coffee shop, you will only find, for the most part, your very basic and regular caffeinated beverages such as a latte, a cappuccino, along with a few alternatives such as a smoothie or a cocoa steamer along with some teas for the individuals who aren’t about that caffeine life.
I have three different occupations that I would consider pursuing when I am an adult. The first, and more practical, is becoming a registered dietician or take up something in the nutrition field. The second would be to really devote myself to my instagram @balancingserena along with this blog and possibly make them my full-time career one day! However, the third option that I do not tell many about, for no particular reason, would be to open up my own coffeeshop. I would love to own my own business and become a full-time barista. I would never want to work at a franchise where I do now, nor would I ever want to have to deal with a drive-thru (aka my worst nightmare) again. I would want to open up a little shop that serves amazing coffee drinks, maybe makes some fresh pastries, and is a place to go that will bring you good vibes. It will be a place where you feel welcome. You will feel as though your beverage was crafted especially for you each and every time by someone who really cares and takes that extra minute to make your chai the best one you’ll say you’ve ever had, every time you come. I would love to do this because I am so passionate about what I do.
So what is it like to be a barista? Why do I love it so much that I fantasize about doing it as a full-time career option one day? First I would like to mention the negative sides of the job. With every rainbow that you come across, there was a rainstorm that preceded it. So of course with a wonderful job, you are going to have those negative aspects that are there as well.
- Being a barista can be exhausting, in many ways. The first way being because it is quite the mental game. Especially working at a franchise where we have hundreds of drink options, that is hundreds of recipes you have to memorize. Of course, it gets easier as time goes on, but I never fail to have a day once-in-a-while when I question if I remembered to hit grind on the beans or if I never even poured them into the grinder in the first place. It can also be physically exhausting as well. When you get hit with a rush, whether that be the early-morning crowd rushing to work, or the Sunday afternoon church crew that are getting their caffeine fix after a long service, it can be tough. As I said earlier, we also have a drive-thru at my store. So this means there can be days where we have a line of customers weaving throughout our narrow entrance and a line of cars outside just as long weaving around the building. You can imagine this gets to be chaotic at times. Throw in a shortage of employees, or the occasional episode of running-out-of a staple ingredient such as vanilla or mint, and it becomes a barista’s worst nightmare.
- The other downside to working as a barista can be the customer aspect. Now don’t get me wrong, this is also one of my favorite parts as well!! But I will mention that side later. When it comes to customers, you will occasionally get some that tend to be more difficult to work with. Sometimes you might get someone insisting that they want a latte with caramel and want to add some whipped cream on top. That beverage, equivalent to the Caramel High Rise that my store makes. When you try to tell people that though, they will insist that they don’t want your Caramel High Rise, they want a latte with caramel and whipped cream… Okay mam, whatever you’d like. You also get customers that can never be pleased. I have had times where I have had people ask me to re-make their beverage two or three times, have another employee make the same thing, and still walk out unhappy. Or maybe you have a customer that is furious because you cannot make them a certain item or use a certain product such as coconut milk, because we simply do not carry it. There is never a shortage of problems that a barista has to deal with when it comes to working with the public, especially considering many customers may be cranky and they are coming to us in the first place to receive their morning caffeine so that they can function normally!
You might be able to ask another barista, and they might be able to tell you many other things about their jobs that they despise. But for me, those two factors are the only ones that I have ever had as a reason to complain about my job. The best part is that I have many more reasons to love my job than just two. That is why I am so passionate about being a barista, I have found so many different aspects of the career to love and appreciate that I simply don’t have reasons to not love what I do!
- First of all, I love the knowledge that I have gained. Honestly, before working at Caribou, I knew almost nothing about coffee. I knew that you put in water and grounds, and out comes black liquid. Now that I have been working at Caribou so long, I have become so much more educated on coffee. I have learned the types of drinks, how it is made, the origins of many coffees, what it takes to perfect roast, I have learned about the different ways in which coffee can be made…there are so many different things that I am now knowledgeable about that two years ago even, I would have been scratching my head at!
- The love of coffee has got to be hands done one of my favorite perks of being a barista. Now I am not talking about your fluffy drinks with chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, candy pieces, and few shots of espresso with milk….I am talking about real coffee. I do love my lattes, and my mochas, but I never used to be able to sit down and enjoy a cup of black coffee, without at least enough sugar to a point where it wouldn’t pass a coffee DNA test. But when you spend countless afternoons having to make, talk about, work around, smell, and taste a certain beverage, you learn to enjoy it. I do not only enjoy it, but I also appreciate it. I appreciate the benefits that coffee can have such as the antioxidants, I appreciate the aroma that I now associate my peaceful, quiet morning times with, I appreciate it for so much more than just the Cup-of-Joe that some people consider it to be.
- The benefits of working where I work are also something to be mentioned. As an employee at Caribou, I receive quite a few. I get a free beverage when I work plus a discount when I stop there as just a customer. It has definitely helped save me money! I also receive some free coffee grounds, or tea bags, each week. There are many different perks that being a barista can get you versus just being the girl ordering on the other side of the counter!
- The community is hands down my all time favorite reason ever of being a barista. If this was the only positive part of doing the job that I do, honestly, it would be enough. I can not tell you how many countless people I have been able to meet through working where I do. Yes, I have befriended all my fellow coworkers, but so does everyone else at all other jobs. I am talking about all the people that I have met that are coming through for a cup of coffee. If you were a tourist, you might not ever make an effort to stop at McDonalds on your way through Hibbing, but coffee? Most people are always down for that! There are so many different characters that I have had the pleasure of meeting that I have never seen again. There are also the regulars that I see all the time. Many are people I always used to see, the difference is that we now know each other’s names and each other’s stories. We have a relationship and a friendship that was not there before. It always brings me so much joy when I see familiar faces walking through the door of the shop. I also get to see many friends, and even some of my family, more often than I might have if I had just been sitting at home. However, when I am there serving them coffee, or taking their order, I have an extra chance to say hi and see how they are doing! Being a barista has caused me to become much more of an extrovert. It has also allowed me on any given day to walk out of my house and almost always know the people that I run into at the store or on the street! I have the opportunity to touch other’s lives and try and make their day with a smile and their favorite beverage. I am also touched many times when a customer smiles back at me and thanks me as if it means the world to them that I was so polite or that they now have something delicious to sip on!
- The coffee is another amazing perk.. duuuh! This is a bit of a mix between the benefits of working at Caribou along with the appreciation for coffee that I have inquired. I mean, the fact that I work at Caribou Coffee has just opened up so many more opportunities for me to really get a good cup of caffeine. Maybe I need to run in to check my schedule, or stop by to just say hi to someone I know is working that day. Those are both reasons that I never had before to stop into Caribou. There are so many more excuses along with those that I am now able to use to make my way to the store! And of course, as you can imagine, I do not think there has ever been a day when I walked in without walking out with a cup of coffee in my hand (unless I finished it while I was there.. Even then I will usually get a refill though, or get a different beverage to go).
- Connecting more to who I am is another benefit that I have reaped since becoming a barista. I do not know how many of you have experienced this before, but the moment that I was given the job title ‘barista’ something clicked. I felt like apart of me was finally becoming who I was meant to be in a way. When I got that dream job, or the best job I could think of as a high-school sophomore living in a small town without many opportunities, I felt as though it allowed me to start embracing other parts of myself. I started slowly realizing that it was okay that I was more of an introvert. I realized it was okay that I tend to usually be the girl who does her own thing and does not always fit into the crowd. I was able to be accepted into that environment, verses my regular high-school environment where I normally felt out of place, I was treated as equal as everyone else. I could be Serena.
So when people ask me why I love my job, why I would consider serving others a cup of coffee for a living, this is what I tell them. I do not think that just any old soul off of the street has what it takes to be a barista, or at least not a good one anyways. Yes, maybe anyone can make a cup of coffee, but it takes passion and dedication for someone to turn that cup of coffee or tea from just a beverage into an experience and a moment to be savored. When you go to a real coffeehouse that possess this rare and amazing quality, you will know. That is what I like about being a barista. I do not just like making coffee, but I love creating beverages that tell their own stories and hold their own meaning.
Here is my favorite photo of myself enjoying a cappuccino at Kunnari’s. It was pre-grey hair, but I love the smile that I am wearing. I believe that is what every cup of coffee should bring!