Secrets of the barista trade
Shhhh, don't tell anyone
Saturday, Aug 26th
By Kami Rice, freelance writer
I know the drill. I’ve done it a million times myself: Customer X approaches the register but then steps back, looking indecisively up at the menu board. You give her a couple minutes. Sometimes her eyes look a bit panic-stricken as she tries to understand all the options and make a split-second decision before she upsets anyone standing behind her in line. If she makes no move forward, you, the barista, start with the questions: Would you like something hot or cold today? Once she answers this question, you’re off and running, each next answer narrowing her options.
Today, though, I was Customer X standing back from the counter, and the role of Universal Helpful Barista was filled by tall barista guy working on the other side the counter. When he noticed my indecisiveness and started with the questions, I wanted to tell him, “Listen, I know what you’re doing. And, really, you’re doing it well. But, it’s not a matter today of my not knowing the options. The problem is that I was going to get tea, but now that I’m here I don’t want tea. So, I’m reconsidering my drink choice priorities. All I need is time.” And a little tiny part of me wanted to add, “So, back off, buddy. Stop pressuring me.”
And then I wondered how many of my customers have wanted to say that to me: “Back off, barista girl. We’ll order when we’re ready to order. Don’t pull your I’m-so-knowledgeable barista routine on us, please.”
Sometimes it seems like there’s this myth out there that if you work at a coffeehouse, you should never have a moment of uncertainty when ordering. You should always be able to walk into any coffeehouse, step directly up to the counter and confidently order the most complicated drink known to humankind. When the order-taking barista comments on the drink’s complexity, you reply using your best I’m-so-intelligent-and-cultured (some would call it snobby) accent, proclaiming, “Oh, I’m a barista. I created that drink myself after years of experimenting to find the absolutely most sublime way to drink espresso.” Then, of course, everyone in the room who overhears your very loud proclamation immediately snaps to attention. After all, one shouldn’t be found slumping in the presence of the espresso king. And, they all want to know what you’re drinking, but you tell them that their feeble minds would never be able to remember it, and it’s questionable whether their palates would really be able to appreciate it. But, if they visit your coffeehouse, you’ll make it for them, since you’re the only person who can really make it correctly.
These are the things legends are made of.
But, alas, as with most things legendary, these things are not true. Only some baristas do that. I am not one of them. I like too many things and dislike too few. Therefore, deciding what to order is rarely an easy task. And, unfortunately, this little personality reality is not limited to coffee. Weighing all the options may usually lead to good decisions, but it sure doesn’t lead to life done fast, which can be a real problem in our faster-than-the-speed-of-sound-and-light-combined culture.
So, now I’m sure you’re wondering after all this build-up what in the world I did end up drinking today. Well, it was pretty basic really: a vanilla steamer with whipped cream. No espresso included.