Thursday, August 27, 2015

I somehow became a barista?

I've always thought that drinking coffee, especially drinking coffee without milk, was a hardcore sophisticated grown-up thing. Like it was a competition to see how little milk or sugar you can take in your coffee. I would see grown-ups walking around with their paper cups of coffee, and it was like they passed some kind of test in my head. It was a status symbol of adulthood. 

When I started working for my dad the summer after eighth grade, he and I went down to the cafeteria in his office building to get our "morning drink" to get us going. His was coffee. Mine was usually some variation of bottled ice tea or flavored water. 

Sometimes it was chocolate milk, especially if I was in need of comfort. Chocolate milk does nothing but comfort me. I always have a lot of chocolate milk after any kind of extremely stressful event, such as an audition. I never have and never will have any shame in having chocolate milk. I order it in restaurants and public settings all the time, and oftentimes there is a bit of hesitation on the other end. I look old enough to order alcohol if it's an option, and even if it isn't, I guess they expect me to have a soda, or even just the usual "just water for me, thanks." 

Surprise surprise, one morning, I decided to take the plunge and try coffee for the very first time. My first steps into mature-working-black-coffee-drinking-adulthood. We came back upstairs to his cozy office, with his desk in the back, two desks for his other two employees Mike and Mary, and then a couch and comfy chairs at the front for client meetings and me. 

From what I recall, it was Green Mountain medium roast with a splash of skim milk. I took a sip of it, acknowledging the strange taste in my mouth, trying to think of something witty to say, but I had nothing. 

I hated it. No amount of milk would cover up the awful taste, never mind the strange bitter aftertaste it left behind. How could millions of people drink this every day? How could so many people crave this, and grow even mildly dependent on this? I thought to myself. My biggest question was, how can anyone possibly enjoy this without any milk?! 

"You'll like it when you get older, it's an acquired taste." Every adult ever has told me that. That's what they tell me about coffee, as well as alcohol. All I could do was shrug my shoulders, and return to my beloved chocolate milk and flavored waters and wait for time to pass. 

A few months later, my freshman year of high school began. My dad would drive my brother and I to school when we lived at his place, and if we left the house early enough, sometimes we would stop by Dunkin' Donuts on the way to school. 

The only thing I knew about coffee at that point was: 
a) It's gross with no milk, wow 
b) If it has chocolate in it, it's a mocha, right? 

So I would always order a small iced mocha. It came to me with lots of chocolate on the bottom, full of ice, lots and lots of milk, and a hint of coffee. At the time, I had no idea what espresso was, or even that a mocha was an espresso-based drink. It still counts as coffee, and I can hardly taste a thing. Perfect! 

I felt like the most badass freshman ever, walking around with my iced mocha, making it last for three class periods (about three hours). Walking around thinking, that's right. We went to Dunkin' Donuts and I'm so awake with this cup of icey milky chocolate drink that still somehow counts as coffee. I'm just sipping it, no big deal. It's 10:00 in the morning, and you think I went off campus to get this? I didn't but wow I totally would because it's so good and I love coffee now. 

So intense. I know. 

I started getting-- stand back, everyone-- a medium iced mocha. Lord. 

My girlfriend Sarah and I were "techies" for the winter musical, and we worked backstage. I would get her coffee some days, she would get me coffee some days, we acted like we couldn't live without it, as if we were actually dependent on the caffeine, when I suspect we really just craved the sugar. Either way, it was cute and it worked. 

When I turned sixteen a little over a year ago, I was searching everywhere for a job, mostly because I wanted to spend the following summer doing art programs at colleges, and it was pricey. Of course, now, I'm spending my entire summer training Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taking care of some chickens and getting my act together in a lot of different ways.

Phase one of the job hunt:

I would email places in hopes of getting a response, but I quickly learned that emails can easily be ignored and trashed, and that the best thing to do, at least in my situation, is to put on an outfit I feel confident in and walk right in the store and ask if they need help. The worst they could do is say, "no, sorry." I got lots of rejections in person, but every now and then they told me to come back in August, or gave me an application and they said "we'll keep it on file and contact you if we end up having an opening."

Keep in mind that back then, my people skills weren't the best. Walking in and pretending to be confident and asking for a job over and over again wasn't easy. But hey, fake it 'til you make it, right? 

Phase two of the job hunt:

One day, my dad and I drove down a long stretch of road in town, and I vowed to stop at every store that seemed mildly interesting to work at. At my age, I couldn't afford to be too picky about where I worked. 

I took notes on the feedback of each one. I tried the mediocre pancake house, a chocolate store, the coffee house, a couple of gift shops, the pet store, and I saw the local doctor's office was looking for a high school student to work after schools as a receptionist-type person. I applied, and even got an interview. During the interview, I wore my purple "erase hate" shirt, and I was almost sweaty because it was hot out and I had walked there. Excellent first impression. Pretty sure I bombed the interview, too, because they never got back to me and I was too nervous to email them. Oh well. It smells weird in there anyway.

During that drive down the long road, I had been making very quick judgements and decisions of lots of places all at once. When I saw the cafe, I thought, "coffee? Sure, why not. Time to ask for an application!" 

One of the sections of the application said "Knowledge of coffee; other relevant skills and interests" and below, in a big empty box, it says, "Please describe why you want to work at Acton Coffee House and what strengths you possess that would make you a valuable member of our staff." 

I swear, when I wrote about how much a know about coffee, I wrote something along the lines of, "I don't know much about coffee at all, but I'm willing to learn! :) " With the smiley face, because I'm that professional. I figured there's some room for fun. It's not like this is a doctor's office or anything.

I handed in my application to the coffee house without even thinking twice about what it means to be a barista. Honest to god, I was so focused on just getting some kind of job. 

I didn't even know my title would be "barista." I didn't think about all the different kinds of people I would meet, all the Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts vocabulary I would learn to translate into English, all the drink preparations I would memorize, and the "regular" orders I would memorize, all the pastries I would come to know in love, all the nice customers, rude customers, and everyone in between that I would come across. I didn't think about latte art, or the warm fuzzy feeling I would get when someone says the drink is gorgeous, or that it was incredibly well done. I didn't think about any of these aspects of the job as a barista. I didn't even know that my next door neighbors, the family who I had previously known as "that guy who sometimes play saxophone," were the owners. 

I practice flute a lot with the windows wide open, and now I don't think my scales will ever be windows-wide-open worthy. Oh well. 

Phase three:

Profit! (I have no idea why they hired me).

It's been a year since I started working at Acton Coffee House, and now I feel so confident and comfortable there. It's nice and cozy. I feel pretty darn lucky for winding up behind the counter there.

I'm writing a separate post, with pictures, about all the strange drinks I've made, and the latte art I've done.

SWH









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