Tag Archives: barista

Traveling Barista Picks: Coffee Shop Playlist

Let’s face it, being a barista is sometimes a gruesome job.  We romanticize it, and how it allows us to pursue our dreams, and connect with people.  While that is all true, there is also the downside.  We’re often underpaid, overworked, and take crap from everyone.

The particular coffee shop I currently work in is definitely the busiest one I’ve experienced.  We’re never staffed properly and while I’m making drinks, a crowd of millennials are either glaring at me to see if I’m working on their frappuccino or they’re totally ignoring me while staring at their phone.

Still, there are those customers you connect with and look forward to seeing.  One moment, one person, can make or break our day.  I have selected a handful of songs that express our hot and cold feelings toward being a barista along with the romantic notion of connections over coffee.

Barista or not, we’ve all sat in a cafe with a friend, crush or a dream.

1. One In A Million – Backstreet Boys
This song was the one that inspired this playlist. When the Unbreakable album was released by BSB in 2007, of course, I felt like “One In A Million” was dedicated to me.

Notable Lyrics: The line’s out the door/Serving up fraps/Until she can’t take anymore/I see it in her broken smile

2. Taylor The Latte Boy – Kristin Chenoweth
We all love Kristin Chenoweth! This song is about a customer’s hilarious crush on a barista.

Notable Lyrics: But I saw him flip the lever and for me he made it triple/And I knew that triple latte meant that Taylor loved me too

3. Falling In Love In A Coffee Shop – Landon Pigg
What a sweet song! The title says it all.

Notable Lyrics: I never knew just what it was/About this old coffee shop I love so much/All of the while I never knew/All of the while, all of the while it was you

4. Starbucks! – Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots featuring Kelsea Ballerini
A silly country ode to the coffee corporation.

Notable Lyrics: There’s a tip jar on the counter/I’m about to make it rain/Hey its Bobby I’m not booby/Please stop messing up my name

5. The Starbucks Rant Song – Christopher Cristwell
One of my former Starbucks co-workers played this song for me years ago. Most of us would never be so mean, but we can all understand some of these thoughts that go through this guy’s mind. P.S. – He got fired for making this song.

Notable Lyrics: You get cappuccinos. You’re the pickiest of all. You didn’t order it dry, but you didn’t want any milk at all.

6. Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega
This song reminds me of my childhood. It’s about a diner obviously, but that was the coffee shop of the 80s and 90s.

Notable Lyrics: I am waiting/At the counter/For the man/To pour the coffee/And he fills it/Only halfway/And before/I even argue/He is looking/Out the window/At somebody/Coming in

7. Cold Coffee – Ed Sheeran
A sweet love song about wanting the person in your bed to stay.

Notable Lyrics: I’ll wake with coffee in the morning/But she prefers two lumps of sugar and tea/Outside the day is up and calling/But I don’t have to be so, please go back to sleep

8. You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Not a song about coffee shops or even coffee really, but I just love the line: “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee”. One day, a newby barista and I listened to this song on repeat after I taught her my trick to make cloud-like foam.

9. Cigarettes and Coffee – Otis Redding
There is no one quite like Otis Redding that can set any mood. I can picture this story in my mind and absolutely love when a song can do that.

Notable Lyrics: People I say it’s so early in the morning/Oh, it’s a quarter till three/We’re sittin’ here talkin’/Over cigarettes and drinking coffee, now, lord

10. Java Jive – The Ink Spots
My mother used to sing this song, but I never knew what the hell she was talking about. When I heard the song recently, it made me laugh realizing she wasn’t just babbling about “a cup, a cup, a cup”.

Notable Lyrics: Oh slip me a slug from the wonderful mug
And I’ll cut a rug just snug in a jug

11. Sugar Shack – The Fireballs
A fun oldie that puts you in a good mood!

Notable Lyrics: Well, it’s just a coffeehouse and it’s made out of wood/Espresso coffee tastes mighty good/That’s not the reason why I’ve got to get back

12. The Sad Café – The Eagles
This is another one of those great stories within a song. They don’t make artists like The Eagles anymore.

Notable Lyrics: Some of their dreams came true/Some just passed away/And some of them stayed behind/Inside the Sad Cafe.

13. Tryin’ – Little Big Town
This song is for all of us who refuse to stop dreaming!

Notable Lyrics: It’s been six years since she left home and she hasn’t made it big yet/Oh but there’s no second guessing baby, she’s got no regrets/She still works late shift down at the Greasy Spoon cafe/When she brings you out your milkshake you just might hear her say/It’s about hoping/It’s about dreaming/It’s about never not believing

14. Down – Mat Kearney
This song was recommended by some friends of mine who are huge Mat Kearney fans.  It makes me want to listen to more of him!

Notable Lyrics: I’m working late again slaving to make the rent
I’m slanging coffee with dreams heavy as cement
They’re coming one by one the face of falling love
I write a song with a prayer as I slide the cups

15. Black Coffee In Bed – Squeeze
I love the imagery in this song.  I have tons of journals with coffee stains on the pages, and it brings me back to how I usually write with coffee by my side.

Notable Lyrics: The stain on my notebook/Remain all that’s left/Of the memory of late nights/And coffee in bed

16. Me And Mrs. Jones – Michael Bublé
Hearing Bublé’s version of this classic gets you dreaming of a secret affair with him, which is why I chose his version over the others. I used to have customers who were both married to other people meet in our cafe every morning before they went to work. Sneaky jerks! All kinds of stories unfold at a coffee shop.  Baristas get just as many as bartenders do, if not more!

Notable Lyrics: We meet every day at the same cafe/Six-thirty and no one knows she’ll be there/Holding hands, making all kinds of plans/While the juke box plays our favorite songs/Me and Mrs. Jones/We got a thing goin’on/We both know that it’s wrong

17. Caffeine – Psychostick
This is the song on the playlist that will surely wake you up. Two of my oldest/best friends recommended this screamo-esque song for this playlist, and I couldn’t leave it out. It is in fact the only song on this playlist that’s straight up about coffee!  Be warned: Pretty sure the band was on more than caffeine when writing/recording it!

Notable Lyrics: Cappuccino is my mother/Frappuccino is my lover/Makes me feel exhilarated

Listen on Spotify!

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Coffee Shop Etiquette 101

There are some things you should never do in a coffee shop.  You may think your behavior is totally normal, but you might be royally pissing off your barista.  Who cares, you say?  Well, not only will your baristas secretly dread seeing you, you may actually be slowing down the pace of the cafe for other patrons.  So many people (most of them good people) are guilty of such bad etiquette that I thought I’d list some items here for all to see.

Pay Attention

working-in-retail-gets-me-every-time-65621This one should be obvious, right?  But in today’s world, NO ONE pays attention to anything but their phone!  You stare at your phone while waiting online.  You talk on it while placing your order, which is kind of rude, by the way!  Hell, ,you even pay for your coffee with your phone, but yet you never have your app ready at the register!  Worse yet, you don’t even have your order ready after waiting on line!  To top it all off, you complain about how long the line is and how we’re making you late for work… it could never be poor planning on your part, right?

However, lines can get pretty long during the morning and we try so hard to get you guys in and out quickly.  But sometimes, our customers don’t make it easy.  I’m not saying it’s your fault, but it’s everyone’s fault.  You don’t know what you want, so you stare at the menu board, trying to figure it out, even though, we both know you’re going to get a caramel macchiato, though you want to “try something new”.  You know what happened before you got to the register?  The person in front of you also couldn’t decide what they wanted.  And the person after you?  You guessed it, also decided to play on their phone instead of figuring out  what they were ordering.  In short, use your time on line wisely.

Don’t Stare!

When you’re at work, do you like it if someone is behind you, lurking over your shoulder while you type at your desk?  No?  Funny, us baristas hate lurkers too!  Staring at us over the espresso machine does not bring your drink out faster!  In fact, it totally creeps us out.  It also makes us nervous, thinking we’re not moving fast enough when in fact, you JUST placed your order and there are 10 drinks in front of yours.  And FYI, if you happened to have ordered food, hot tea or regular coffee, it is not the barista at the espresso bar’s responsibility to make those items, so don’t look at them wondering whether or not they’re making it.

Stop Explaining

Not to be rude, but we don’t need to hear reasons behind why you order a certain drink or why you don’t want to reload your gift card or how you spilled your drink.  We will gladly try our best to solve your problem and give you great service, no questions asked.  Yes, we love small talk.  Yes, we love building relationships with our customers, but just let us clean up your spilled drink instead of continuing to describe how it happened.  When placing your order, we don’t need to know why you want nonfat milk, but keep the whip cream.  We’ll make it anyway you want – no explanation needed!

No Touching!

Anything behind the counter or bar area is off limits to customers.  Just because you have long-ass arms that can reach a cup, straw or our water spout does not mean it is free to take!  In fact, if you touch a cup or lid, we are technically required by our quality assurance inspectors to toss those items out.  Just politely ask for something and we will be happy to get it for you!

Don’t Talk To Us Like Idiots

willywonkaThis one should go without saying, but nothing bugs me more than when people speak to me like my brain can’t comprehend much or they talk slow as sludge to me.  “I would like a… grande… mocha… extra shot… decaf… iced.”  And then they look at me as if waiting for me to ask them to repeat their order.  It actually makes it harder for me to take your order the more you slow it down.  As baristas, we were taught to call out beverages in a certain order.  We don’t expect customers to figure out our code, but telling us your order in a normal, audible speaking voice is best.  By the way, while we’re at it – if you specify the size and whether it is iced or hot first, that is a huge help to your barista.  We can’t mark anything on a cup until we know those 2 things.  Lastly, you repeating “decaf” five times is unnecessary.

Stop Spelling Your Name For Us

As a writer and awesomely intuitive name speller, this actually offends me.  If I ask your name, tell me what it is.  Don’t immediately start spelling.  Now you’ve thrown me off.  If someone asks my name, I don’t say, “Es. Ay…” I fully expect someone to think my name is “Essay” before I can finish spelling.

Also, if I ask you to repeat your name, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to spell it.  It simply means it is too damn loud between the blenders, the grinder and espresso machine to hear you.  Just repeat your name for us.  If I ask if your name is Sarah with an “H” or Zack with a “K”, don’t tell me it doesn’t matter.  I take my names very seriously and nothing pisses me off more than people spelling my name “Sandi” (as so many of my co-workers do).

Okay, wait.  Scratch this whole paragraph… maybe most baristas don’t care about spelling your name right at all.  Maybe some of them are snarky jerks.  But if you happen to come to my register, let me spell your damn name! 😉  Apparently, I am just a weirdo with a name spelling fetish.

The Traveling Barista is meant to be in good fun.  Baristas genuinely love their customers, but we deal with the general public on a constant basis and therefore need to vent heavily.

Have a coffee shop story you want to share?  Comment below!

Local Isn’t Always Better — at least not to their employees

One of the biggest problems with bad bosses is they don’t know they’re a bad boss.

I was excited to work for a local small business in Nashville. I thought this was my chance to learn “real” coffee and make latte art; to work for a place that didn’t use processed foods and artificial sweeteners. I wanted to be part of the community and grow with a business.

At the time, I didn’t have any intention of being a manager. I was still heavily involved in digital marketing work, and just wanted to be a part-time barista.

Sometimes, for me, part-time never happens. I am cocky in my abilities as a worker, especially in customer service.  I am a people person who processes and learn things quickly and knows how to be efficient, especially during peak rush times. I am not glorifying myself. I would never call myself the best writer or journalist or PR person (though I work hard and strive to be better), but when it comes to being a barista, I know I become an asset to any team.

This is the reason I never remain a part-time worker, in any field I go into.  I needed to get rid of something, and digital marketing was taking up all of my creative energy.  I wanted to reserve that creativity for writing, not PR/marketing.

This revelation is what led me to become the manager of the café. It felt rewarding at first, especially when the owner and I spoke of the future of the company. So many of my ideas were already affecting the business positively. The problem was, while the owner solely relied on me continuously, she kept telling me she couldn’t invest more money in me. In fact, she gave me two different pay rates. When I was on the floor working as a barista, I made less than when I was doing admin work. Yet, I still had admin responsibilities while I was in barista mode. It wasn’t fair, but I am a loyalist (as I’ve been told) and I believed the owner when she said she couldn’t afford to pay me more.

As months went by, and more work was piled onto me, (many times with the owner traveling out of the country while I stressfully made sure nothing went wrong) I began to realize nothing was going to change anytime soon. The rest of the baristas were under paid as well as myself. And I use the term “barista” lightly. We’re also kitchen staff that prepares homemade spreads and raw treats in an unqualified kitchen.

Oh, and the coffee? The owner could care less about coffee knowledge, and that was ridiculous.

She would pass off the continuous amounts of baristas quitting to the “nature of the business” and not the poor pay rate for the amount of work. She also loved to take away someone’s hours as soon as they gave their notice.

While I was on vacation, I had time to clear my head. It had been blocked for months, bogged down with work and the constant text messaging and emails from my boss and staff who rather contact me than her. My novel had been left hanging. My journal hadn’t been written in much. The gym was such a chore. My life was on hold in all areas while on her command I had to run around spot cleaning table cloths so she didn’t have to wash them!

I began thinking about all of the things my boss told me. Like how she didn’t personally make money off the business. Well, that didn’t seem to make sense anymore to my gullible mind. So many other things stopped making sense too. Like why I was still a manager for a company that didn’t value me enough or why I never thought I would be good enough as a manager for corporate coffee.

I left the old barista gig because of the decrease in my pay rate after I returned from 4 months of travel.  With a new district manager in place and an opening for a shift manager, I applied and was contacted immediately. They were offering me more money. More than what my current job was paying me to run a shit show. More than I ever made as a high paid barista in New York. Plus, all the health benefits, vacation, 40lk, stock, all of that free coffee and free lunch.  Oh, and proper break times, health code standards and better business practices!

It was a no brainer.

Where the conflict really lie was when should I tell my boss? I wanted to do right be her, but the timing of my new job start dated coincided with her being out of the country…again. I decided more notice was better and I was willing to work full-time for the last 3 weeks, plus help out while she was on vacation.

When I told her, it was all about her and her trip—even while I tried to explain I wanted to help out. She just walked away from me and when she came back over, she basically told me to leave.  She cut all of my admin hours, which would screw me over money-wise.

She continued to ignore me the next day at work and finally had a mature conversation at the end of my shift.  I didn’t see this as much as a change of heart as it was probably more of a realization that she would need me the next few weeks.

The past year, I learned the value of myself and unfortunately, I learned in business, you can’t trust someone just because you get along with them. My boss and I were friendly, and while she treated me with more respect than the other baristas, it felt like it was all for show in the end.

The other thing I learned is that I value structure and being an adult in the sense of having the experience to know when I’m being screwed. I like being a manager and having the freedom that corporate coffee gives me: I get to live out my free spirit lifestyle almost anywhere I choose, but still have things to fall back on like retirement, benefits and vacation time.

Life isn’t always greener on the other side, even when you work at a place that serves kale.

Back in the Barista Swing

It’s been a whole year since my last Traveling Barista post.  Unacceptable, I know.  I’m back, though and better than ever–barista-wise anyhow.  Life itself has been fairly vanilla, but that’s for a different post.  Anyway…

I had returned to Starbucks for my prolonged stay on Long Island.  After coming back to my home base from months of travel, and living on digital marketing and dreams alone, I was broke–and desperate.  I called up some Starbucks partner friends and I was back in at the snap of my fingers… as usual.  That’s the thing about Starbucks: It’s easy to swoop back in and start right back up where you left off.  Or so I thought.

While yes, it felt like nothing had changed–both good and bad–something important had changed: my pay rate!  They lowered my hourly rate by $2!  Granted, I was a high-paid barista, as well I should be with how many years I worked for the company.  Under the guise of equal treatment and how they couldn’t find my old pay rate and how it was up to partner resources (which is horse poop), my district manager and store manager dealt me this new rate.

After speaking to partner resources, I was told my pay rate was in the hands of the district manager.  I sucked it up and figured when I transferred back to Nashville, I could get it sorted out.  Wrong!  The district manager screwed me even more, lowering my pay rate another $2.  So now I was making $4 less an hour.  Seriously?!  Again, I was fed the “it wouldn’t be fair” line because other baristas in my district start lower.  I suppose my 10 years with the company means nothing.  They could care less about my hard work ethic versus the lazy, clueless baristas who don’t know how to handle an irate customer.  It wouldn’t be fair to those baristas… I see.

I knew it was bound to come to this anyway; me quitting Starbucks again.  I just didn’t expect to leave on such a sour note this time.  It was an eye-opener to know that experience no longer mattered in my job position.  I looked for other jobs, ones in different fields.  Writing, digital marketing (which I was already doing on the side, thankfully), even working at an animal hospital.

One day, I was actually looking at jobs while sitting at a local Nashville coffee shop called Atmalogy.  I had wanted to check the place out after seeing it on my HappyCow.net app.  They’re vegan-friendly and appealed to my hippie-like vibes.  I went to tag the cafe in my Instagram photo when I saw something they posted explaining they were looking for baristas.  I immediately emailed the owner, Heather, and she met with me practically on the spot.  Needless to say, I was hired and gave my 2 weeks at Starbucks with much glee.

While Atmalogy is very much a coffee shop, it’s also a place to have breakfast and lunch as well as to have parties and meetings.  This was just what I was looking for!  Not only do I get to serve local coffee and housemade syrups, but I get to put some of my culinary skills to use!  We make our own almond butter, hummus, avocado spread and more.  We even started selling candied pecans, which is my own recipe.  Pretty soon, we’ll be debuting a signature drink I created called “The LO-down”.

The things I began to hate about Starbucks and its streamlined, artificial, chemical-filled items are not an issue at Atmalogy.  The creativity that was stifled working for the corporation is now able to come out.  I actually have a boss who embraces my ideas!!  It’s so rewarding.

It just seemed like a natural progression that I would become a manager after 5 months there.  I was a supervisor at Starbucks years ago and hated just about every minute of it.  I hated all of the procedures, rules, and telling others what to do.  Maybe it was because I was younger and had a problem being an authoritative figure.  Now, I feel like it only makes sense.  I have too many opinions; too much experience to not be able to oversee and help take some weight off my boss’ shoulders.

It’s challenging managing a small business.  The bottom line is greatly affected when things go wrong, unlike at Starbucks where daily waste was no big deal.

What I especially love about Atmalogy is it being an outlet for local creatives.  We feature local art, events and vendors.  Some of my books are currently being sold there, which is awesome.  I look forward to seeing this still young business grow and being a part of it.  I’m also excited to see how this experience helps me grow as a barista and a person.


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.