Much like the ensemble cast of your favorite 90s sitcom, every cafe has a collection of well-known and well-loved characters. The folks you see behind the counter — expertly folding steamed milk into heart and leaf shapes, pouring coffee into your cup with one hand while magically brewing and grinding with the other, even changing the 500lb grinds garbage are all real people with real lives outside the tiny world in which you see them. But after nearly seven years of coffee wench life, I’ve noticed a trend in the types of people generally attracted to working in cafes. Let’s have a closer look at the barista in its natural habitat.
THE AFTER SCHOOL BARISTA:
You know the type. They surreptitiously check their phones while you, The Loyal Customer, are standing right in front of them, they sometimes take forever to even look up at you, and they’re generally disinterested in what they’re doing. This casual barista knows that no matter what they accomplish in their five-to-eight hour shift, they’ll still get paid the same amount of money and you’ll still buy coffee from them because they’re the closest cafe to your workplace. Typically, these baristas are high-school age, just working for extra money to spend on crappy music, crappier movies, and the tackiest clothing this side of the 80s. As much as this type of barista may annoy you, they tend to add a certain level of fun to their shifts and since they don’t take the job as seriously, if you get on their good side they’ll probably slip you some free drinks or pastries.
Directly opposite of the after school barista, these are the people who cling to company policy as if the Stasi themselves would bust through the door for the slightest infraction. The very idea of doing anything outside the lines of Head Office rules renders these baristas speechless. The Stickler is organized and meticulous and is usually Type A all the way. Often spotted gasping in fear when chilled out baristas forget to charge for soy or that extra shot of espresso, you can rely on these baristas to deliver you the exact same beverage, every single time, made exactly as the recipe states. In my experience, these folks do best on bar because they will make every drink right every time.
THE MASTER OF FOAM:
These are the coffee masters. They know everything about harvesting, roasting, grinding and brewing and they’re not afraid to tell you all about it. If you have a question about coffee, or tea, or basically anything at all, this barista should be your go-to-guy (or gal). Not only will they tell you from which region your chosen brew came, they’ll tell you which foods to pair with it, how it was roasted, the best brewing methods and maybe even a little about the farmers who grew it in the first place. I’ve noticed these people also tend to be the best at creating latte art. I was fortunate enough to work with someone who could produce anatomically correct male genitals in his latte art and I can tell you, that was the best latte I ever tasted.
THE DRAMA BEAN:
If you’re someone who lingers inside a cafe, sipping a cappuccino and probably working on your novel, you might have overheard some of the conversations going on behind the counter. Relationship drama, school drama, work drama — you can be privy to all of it just by eavesdropping. The Drama Bean knows how to make an entrance, usually by launching into some he-said-she-said gossip. There’s a startling trend that this barista will also usually be clumsy, and can always be counted on to drop an entire tub of coffee beans or manage to explode the whipped cream canister all over themselves. Tears and/or laughter will follow.
When there’s a line-up, or a spill, or a shipment to be put away, The Tank always comes in handy. Knows their job, inside and out, and can help even the most confused customer navigate the menu and come to a drink decision within seconds. Multitasking is no challenge for this barista and when you spot them on the floor, you know EVERYTHING is going to be done right and on time. The only downside to having this barista on shift is that they tend to be a moody bunch and if you get in their way they can get really grumpy really fast. The best thing to do is stand back and stare as they whip around the cafe, stocking and cleaning as they go. You’ll immediately get in their good graces if you let them know how amazed you are at their speed of service — they might even stop vaulting around the shop long enough to smile.
I fall directly into this category. Shift managers are usually lifers. We watch new baristas come and go, training each new crop of people and watching as they slowly reveal which kind of barista they are. We’ve been doing the job long enough to be able to read our customers and coworkers like a book. We’ve memorized so many orders that we can almost look down the line and figure out which coffees need to be poured. We’re the ones our baristas run to when they have work or life-related problems and when you’re accidentally overcharged by the newbie on cash, we’ll simultaneously calm them down while refunding your money. Lifers don’t always get stressed out, but when they do EVERYONE is on high alert. A lifer meltdown is quite a spectacle. But don’t let the name deceive you — sometimes a presumed lifelong barista will up and quit, and the whole cafe feels different without that familiar face.
Some of the best baristas are combinations of the above stereotypes. And like all ensemble casts, sometimes there are fights, and cliques, and occasionally all-out wars between the morning and night crews. But at the very core, we’re a family, united against long lines, ridiculous drink demands, bad tippers, and angry bosses.