Five Life Lessons I’ve learned as a Barista

It has been a year since I started my weekend morning barista shifts at Matter of Taste Coffee Bar in Downtown Kitchener.

When I first applied for the job, I was confident of rejection – Strange, I know. My availability was limited to weekends, I’ve had no prior experience at any cafe/restaurant type position, and I did not even know the difference between a latte and cappuccino!

Why did I still apply then?

The local food industry have always fascinated me. I suppose that stems from blogging about restaurant experiences. I was first introduced to espresso-based drinks during my visit to New York City. It is evident from the sheer amount of #dailycortado that people romanticize coffee. I was no different. I wanted to be a barista – it is the cool thing to be!

To my surprise/shock/horror, the bosses (hereby fondly referred to as PhD) accepted my application. I have been working weekend morning shifts since then.

 

“Are you sure you will have time on top of your 50-hour accountant work week??”

 

“Why are you wasting time serving coffee??”

 

“When do you find time to relax??”

 

“Do you need cash badly??”

 

“Don’t you have a hobby??”

 

This IS my hobby. This IS how I relax.

I am heading to Japan for 7 weeks this summer, and am taking a short hiatus from my weekend shifts. As I reflect upon my first year at MoT, I have summarized five life lessons which I have learned as a barista.

 

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1) Do it right the first time so you don’t have to spend double the time fixing it

In my attempt to prove that PhD had made the right decision in hiring me. I tried to do everything as quickly as I could as I equated fast with good. As a result, drinks were not made up to quality, orders were mixed up, cash change given to customers were wrong … The shop focuses strongly on quality as it is all a matter of taste. Hence, if a drink is not great, we dump it out and remake it. In my attempt to hurry through all the orders, I had wasted double the time fixing it.

PhD constantly reminds me that there is always time to take a breath. When things get busy, it is even more crucial that one stays cool, calm and collected. Take your time and do it right the first round.

 

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2) Don’t take things too personally

There will always be grumpy people as there will be nice people. At a high traffic coffee shop like MoT, it is almost inevitable that unpleasant things/people happen from time to time. Whether its customers with unreasonable requests, PhD questioning my accounting skills as I keep giving out wrong change, or me crying over spilled milk (literally), I have learned to take things in stride.

When things don’t go your way, don’t take it too personally. Tomorrow will be a better day!

 

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3) If you love what you do, you’ve never worked a day

I do not even remember when was the last weekend I’ve slept in, or had brunch with Y. I can however, vividly remember interesting stories of my shifts – how the gelato line-up at the Summer Lights Festival continued for over four hours, how kids’ faces light up when they see cute designs on their hot chocolate, how we made hundreds of cappuccino at the Tech Leadership Conference, how I would spend slower hours smelling the various tea jars, how taste-testing new baked goods is part of the job… and how much fun I have each time I show up for my “hobby-shift”.

Sure, like any job, some days would be better than others. However, I love how people think I am working but I am really not. I am just busy having fun.

 

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4) People have different taste and stories

Each day, MoT offers five different coffee on drip, an array of tea and a wide variety of espresso-based drinks. Similarly, the diversity of the crowd coming through the door at the shop fascinates me. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor, coffee geeks, just-need-caffeine people… I have learned to enjoy the stories and experiences of others.

I have also secretly fallen in love with memorizing people’s drink orders.

 

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5) There is always more to learn

Many people think that the barista solely determines the quality of a drink. In reality, majority of the work has already been completed through the bean sourcing and roasting process. The barista is almost like a performer – we just add the last 10% to the product and VoilΓ !

You may think that I am a skilled barista because I can make teddy bear lattes. However, the truth is that I have barely scratched the surface. A beautiful drink may not necessarily indicate a delicious drink. A delicious drink my not necessarily be beautiful. There is always more to learn.

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A year later, my availability is still limited to weekends, I now have experience working at a coffee shop, and the next time you come to the shop – ask me the difference between a latte and a cappuccino.

Thank you PhD for teaching me so much over the past year, I look forward to more caffeine when I get back from Japan!

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5 Replies to “Five Life Lessons I’ve learned as a Barista”

  1. I was waiting for this post! Thank you so much for sharing .
    I can somehow relate to point 1) when I rush in preparing a cortado/macchiato to a guest! almost always I under/over froth the milk … result: bad texture & no latte art =D

  2. I worked for “PhD” for 9 months a couple of years ago and completely agree with your revelations. I went on from MoT to do my masters, and the grit, determination, and flexibility I took with me from the experience carried directly over into my academic and professional life. I also left a complete coffee snob, which was just an added benefit. ;)

    Keep making those coffees. I’ll be sure to stop by in an upcoming weekend morning and enjoy (and/or quietly judge the quality of) a cappuccino.

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