The most important things about being a barista are providing great customer service and keeping the place clean. I think when people think about over and over pouring lattes with beautiful latte art they tend to forget that you have to also sweep the floor and do all the dishes. I actually had a friend named Ashley who always used to say that she wanted to call me Coffee Shop Ron, because I’m a pretty outgoing guy.
So, eventually, I actually got a job at the coffee shop and I knew nothing about coffee at this time. I drank a ton of coffee but I drank it with a huge amount of cream and sugar. Nothing about anything about specialty coffee or what even black coffee tasted like really. At that moment, I did not seriously think about the career of a barista, I did not prepare for an interview, I did not write a barista cover letter. The idea of trying myself as a barista came to me quite by accident. I decided to just try myself in this new role.
I got there and I started learning slowly about coffee and was working really hard. I got made full time within a couple weeks and then about three months after that I became the manager. It was probably the first time anyone had given me more responsibility I was hired with in about 10 years. So that felt pretty good.
You sort of being willing to do whatever it takes to get the shop open, get the shop running. Sometimes the espresso machine craps out at the end of a shift and you have to go in and fix it until two in the morning. It sucks but you need the espresso machine to be working by the next morning.
At one point I found an old barista magazine subscription under the counter and people had drawn little handlebar mustaches on the people on the covers and stuff and I just took it home and started reading it and realized that there was a whole world of people who were into coffee in a way that I had never even considered that you could be into coffee and it fascinated me.
How I found my path as a barista
I grew up in a really small town called Petersburg, New York . We don’t have a stoplight, we don’t have a sidewalk, we have one pizza place. As I was growing up I did a lot of hiking, fishing, playing outside, stuff like that. I quickly grew to hate it. At 14 I joined a punk band and started teaching snowboarding and felt further different from everyone in my high school.
I was a stubborn and naughty teenager at the time. I did not think about the future, did not study diligently, thinking about who I want to become, in what profession to find myself. I didn’t do career planning, didn’t think about how much does a cover letter cost or which career coach would be better to apply. I was not even interested in my vocational guidance test, it left me deeply indifferent.
I lived in Albany for about the past 12 years. I did some traveling when I was 19. I kind of squatter punk traveled around the Northeast, hitch, hiked and slept under bridges and all that kind of stuff. I got really heavily involved in drugs and alcohol during that time and that stuck through when I moved back to Albany. I was 23 I got sober and right after I got sober is when I started getting into coffee.
People say “find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and it is not true. It’s not true, I love making coffee, I love making coffee for people who maybe haven’t learned a lot about it and seeing the lights come on and having that a-ha moment when they taste something they really love.
That feeling does not matter when it’s one in the morning and you’re elbow deep in an espresso machine and you can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. Or when you’ve worked 17 days in a row and it’s 9:00 and you’re sweeping the floor and you’re wondering why you’re doing this. You’re thinking ” I’m a great barista, it’s 9:00 at night and I’m sweeping the floor and I’m not making any money doing it.”
You’re working, without a doubt, no matter how much you love the general subject matter, you’re working. But it’s that passion for doing something for yourself and doing something that you believe in. That makes you slough through all those moments to have the moments when you do get the a-ha moments or you see the lights come on in someone for the first time. And those make it worth it.