“We’re all in this together!” my coworker yelled as the line grew longer and the espresso bar was wild with drinks.
“Like ‘High School Musical’?!” I replied.
“I hate that I like Zac Efron.”
“What are you? You’re not 13!” she said.
“I was once!”
“He has a YOLO tattoo.”
“Really?” I paused, losing a little respect for him.
“Well I’ve always loved Ryan Gosling,” I said. “You can’t hate him!”
The female customer I rang up nodded in agreement.
“You can’t hate him when you have a face that crooked and are a sex idol,” my male coworker replied behind the bar.
“And he has money!”
“He has a lot of money!” my coworker said.
“Well, when you work hard for it!” I said.
My coworker laughed.
“You said that so innocently!”
“She’s so random sometimes,” my manager said. “Let’s keep her.”
I’ll admit it: working at a coffee shop isn’t impressive. In fact, it isn’t impressive at all. Anyone can work there without a degree or background check. (I sometimes feel too smart to even be there.) It’s slave work and a position they just need to fill.
But to be good at it? To be good at your job? Oh that’s another story, my friend.
The first thing one of my shift leads told me (who uncannily resembles Bradley Cooper, I might add) was, “They don’t teach you any of this in school.”
They had me come in at 4:45am that morning to open the entire store: get the cold coffees and teas set and brewed, get the pastries unpacked and out on the counter, label the items and be ready to ring with full cash in your drawer by the time that door opens at 5:30am to a slew of regulars marching lazily through those doors, barely functioning without their morning cup of joe.
“They’re putting you through the fire,” he said.
Obviously, I had to learn fast. As one of the highest volume Peet’s Coffee & Tea locations in the East Bay Area (and one of the friendliest I might add, considering it being in a generally white upper to middle-class location), there’s some pressure to not disappoint.
I wanted to make sure I rang up that nonfat light foam extra dry short pull cappuccino with 4 pumps hazelnut 2 chicories in a porcelain cup for here, correctly. I wanted to make sure that bipolar lady who could barely afford her cup of coffee everyday was happy and not met by any aggression from people who may find her hard to deal with. I wanted to make sure that those people who came in every single day to order the same exact latte and same pastry knew that I remembered them, even as I fumbled behind the screen or called out the wrong name.
“You’re one of the good ones,” my coworker told me.
The work may be easy. You’re on your feet. You’re never not moving. If you’re not dealing with a customer, you’re brewing coffee, throwing coffee filters out, turning stop-timers off, arranging and cutting pastries, grinding, weighing and bagging coffee beans, pouring boiling water on your hands, dealing with customers who want their discount, latte or name right, or figuring out the weirdest orders all while keeping a happy face.
And honestly, I don’t mind any of it.
I’ve found that you really have to be a people person to survive in a coffee shop. You have to listen to customers, be patient, communicate everything on the floor with your coworkers consistently and like working in a fast-paced environment.
“You can learn at any job you take,” my employer at my (future) radio station said. “What makes you different and an entrepreneur is that you know this is temporary. You know there’s something ahead of you beyond this position.”
Working at a coffee shop is definitely underrated, I will add. And it still amazes me every day how some people just cannot function in a coffee shop.
“I like that you play music and write about music and share yourself in a non-annoying way,” he continued. “I want to help you.”
Yes, I might be “too good” for my job. I might even like my job. But if it gets me up in the morning a few hours earlier and gives me the kind of energy to power through the rest of my day, I won’t complain. At least for now.
And when I’m able to pour coffee, arrange pastries and grind coffee beans all the while talking to a customer while my coworker smacks me in the face with a milk cap and manages to make me let out a belly laugh at the same time, I know I’m in my zone.