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The Broken Home of Corporate Coffee

It’s been almost 2 months since I have stopped being a barista. Part of me jumps for joy at all of the mental and physical freedom I have. Another part of me feels homeless. Not just because technically, while traveling cross-country, I am without a home. I walk into a Starbucks, and I feel like an outsider. Like someone who had a family, a dysfunctional one, of course, but still a family nonetheless.

This family understood things other people didn’t. And though I still get the inside jokes, hopes, fears, and annoyances of a barista, they simply don’t know that I am–excuse me–was one of them.

Now when I walk in and ask a question about the new holiday beverage, it kills me to know I didn’t get to survey the ingredients myself when the first batch was received. When the barista explains to me how something works at Starbucks, I suddenly feel like one of those know-it-all jerky customers who think they can do their job better than them.

And maybe I can, but that is not the point. I always hated former baristas who think nothing has changed since they left and think they are some kind of elitist now because they’ve been in a barista’s shoes, know how it’s supposed to be done, and ultimately rose above that pesky customer service job.

That is not me. I never want to be that. But I feel myself not trusting the baristas who wait on me occasionally. I sometimes feel their dislike of me or their job…maybe both, I can’t tell.

I wish I could make my own drink! I miss that perk so much. I miss the discount. Coffee is so expensive! I miss the banter at Starbucks – with my co-workers and my customers – my family.

This is now why I find myself more than ever enjoying local coffee chains or mom & pops. Connections can still be made.

During my travels the past couple of months, my experiences at big coffee chains like Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Vancouver’s awful Blenz, have been quite dull. Baristas are usually short with me and not caring enough to look into my questions or ask me how I am, or even make eye contact. Aside from Starbucks, I also have not enjoyed the coffee at these chains.

Don’t get me wrong — not every mom & pop shop have had the best coffee or service, but overall, they have been positive experiences.

I can share conversation with a barista; feeling comfortable asking questions. I could sit down at a communal table, and make new friends.

Why is the human connection fading in corporate coffee? It’s a chain reaction, no pun intended. Focus has shifted toward business and not community and connection, something Starbucks used to base their core values on.

So, do I regret quitting Starbucks? As I stand in line and look at the new holiday mugs and check my app for a free reward verse getting my 30% discount and partner beverage, I remember why I left.

My dysfunctional coffee family is now just dysfunction. In the nine years I have been in this family, they’ve grown apart. The great people are leaving one by one. The people still working there don’t really want to be. And the new baristas coming in, already seem hassled by customers’ high maintainence beverages. People have given up on the connection, frustrated with worrying about how quickly they can get a customer out of their line, and how much they should be charging them.

As for me, I’m still standing on line, paying for overpriced coffee drinks; why am I feeding this beast?

It’s like visiting your old neighborhood, hoping the humble house you lived in as a child will look the same. Instead, it has been renovated and added onto. It’s no longer your home, but you still come back once in a while to see if you can recognize it.

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