Thursday, October 14, 2010

Non-fat, Sugar-Free, Half-Caff, No-Whip Latte.

In the words of my friend Fran, I'm now a "coffee bitch." Sorry, mom. "Barista" also works. The thing about working in a coffee shop is that people take their coffee seriously. Coffee is serious. For some people it is the difference between a good and bad day, or between sleeping and being awake. You don't mess with people's coffee. You give it to them, quickly as possible, and as dark, or light, or whipped, or foamed as they want it.

This is a good experience for me. Mostly, because I needed a job. The last customer service job that I had was at a Deli in the UW-Madison Union, where the majority of our sales came from our homemade ice cream. I feel as though this new job partially redeems my past of less- than-sterling customer service. At the Daily Scoop Deli during college, I spent a large majority of my time sneaking spoonfuls of ice cream, and allegedly scaring way senior citizens by sticking straws in my cowgirl hat and pretending that I was a goat, according to one less-than-glowing customer review. When I was 15, I worked at the MarketPlace Deli and candy counter at Marshall Fields, in which I specialized in making terrible wraps, eating more ice-cream and candy (!), and staring at customers when they would ask me things like, "I want .74 pounds of the dark chocolate peanut butter cups, an eighth a pound of sour patch kids, a mixed bag of .15 pounds of liquorice niblets and .35 of cherry blossoms, but please make sure the niblets are mostly on top." It changed me, knowing that candy could be so complicated. Candy should never involve measurements. It should just be eaten, often, with no questions and a lot of smiling. These were all slightly traumatic experiences, in which I had to confront entirely new worlds filled with complex details, many numbers, intricate processes, and cleaning.

I was really nervous to start this new job, scared of my potentially disastrous existence as a barista. I thought about flying arcs of spilled coffee. I thought about confronting that little hot steaming wand that baristas use to heat milk, and the harrowing possibilities of such an encounter. There are a lot of hot things in coffee shops. There are also a lot of very impatient women who order drinks with 7 adjectives in them and then expect you to remember exactly how many squirts of non-sugar vanilla that they ordered.

All of this aside, it has gone well so far. After a week of opening at Dunn's (yep, 5:30 am), I feel fairly confident about some things, and in general I like this job a lot better than my previous ones. I have almost mastered the cash register, and have even learned several coffee drinks. I have made several terrifying encounters with the steamer wand, and I have survived. I am certain that it will always win. I can sometimes pinpoint what someone will order when they come up to the counter, and I love the people who always get just a cup of coffee.

I have always been a huge coffee-shop bum; during college I would go to a coffee shop practically every day to write or do homework and stay sometimes for hours. I still do this, but I think that my hours working behind the counter will make my coffee-shop slumming a little more moderate. Although I am free to make myself coffee drinks whenever, I think I will be sticking to my simple teas or chai tea lattes. Everything else still sort of freaks me out.

Something I can definitely say with confidence is how much stock people will put into a coffee drink. As someone who used to buy chai lattes almost every day, I can relate. I think that people love the idea that they can completely control and elaborate their coffee drink, until it is practically perfect and unique. Coffee shops have become an outlet of creativity for people before and during their work days. Maybe it's the only thing that some people can control during their days, hence the "double-shots" and "skinny" and "no-foam" and "no-whip."

I think I'm okay with slinging lattes in this interim before Peace Corps. It has been a few strange months and I know that this feeling of ghostliness and displacement will not pass away quickly, but at least I am busier now. I know that being in Madison right now would not solve anything, even though I desperately wish I was still there and that it was summer...But, I think this is more about a person who is missing than Madison itself.

Tonight my Varsity girls are off to play their first section game against De La Salle! Cheers for good soccer and a possible bid at state! Go SPA!

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