Life Skills of a Barista

Ever look at your barista and see more than just a hand holding out a steaming cup of coffee? We aren’t just college students in aprons obnoxiously steaming pitchers of milk and getting syrup stuck in our hair in the hopes of a good tip; we are people who need coffee too. But we don’t get that coffee until after the 7:00 am rush.

From behind the counter, there’s a lot we learn about the world. From customers, to broken machines, to spilled lattes and burnt pastries, baristas have a front row seat to all of life’s good lessons.

I’ve only worked at PJ’s Coffee for about 10 months now, but I’ve learned my fair share of things about people and life in general. Here are some of those lessons!

Patience takes time to brew

When it comes to customer service and learning machines you have never used before in your life, patience is a slowly learned virtue. It was intimidating seeing my new co-workers quickly sending drinks out the drive thru window and the front counter in the span of 3 minutes. How could they stir a latte so fast without getting milk everywhere? How could they make four frozen drinks with only two blenders in record time? And with so. much. patience.

I am a typically patient person, with people anyway. The overload of tasks stressed me out at first, because I anticipated getting those tasks done. It took a while before the checklist taped to the back fridge became a calming task rather than one I tried to rush through while handling the customer service aspect at the same time.

Now, the five pumps of syrup in a large flavored drink is muscle memory, the steam wand doesn’t scream in the middle of the rush while I’m heating milk for three consecutive lattes and cappuccinos. I don’t cry after certain shifts anymore.

Life is the same. It takes a while to adapt to new experiences, but having a good support system (like my PJ’s co-workers) and remembering to breathe helps! Just be patient with yourself. A lot of times, the customer doesn’t even notice you took longer than a minute to hand them their drink. A lot of times, the only person giving you a hard time is yourself.

Barista Jessica! Isn’t she a cutie?

Don’t cry over spilled milk

Laugh instead!

I was embarrassed the first few times I messed up a drink, but I’ve learned to laugh at little bloopers like that. PJ’s has an awesome mix of customers, who usually laugh with me, or at me, but I don’t blame them.

Instead of getting frustrated, laugh. Because later on, I guarantee you’ll laugh. This is the third time you rewrote your paper? Laugh about it. Because you’ll be laughing when you get your degree and the things that frustrated you before seem so small.

“Life isn’t so serious!” – Mateusz Dabrowski, Owner & Operator of PJ’s Coffee, Gonzales

Working a morning shift with my boss is always entertaining. He teaches us to make conversation with every customer, not only to “make the tip” but to make their day better. He also reminds us that, “life isn’t so serious,” when little things get to us (unhappy customers, messes, mistakes).

Life is like latte art

You don’t have to be great at what you do, ultimately you should drink it all up, take it all in. Regardless of if the picture comes out pretty, the effort you make and how you react to it makes it worth it.

In my case, I SUCK at latte art, but, like I just said about mistakes, I just laugh at it. Customers appreciate when I try, so even if the foam mark is shaped like a butt or the panda stencil turns out like blob, it was worth it.

Drink life up, the ugly and the pretty. In the end, you will appreciate all of it considering how far you’ve come since!

Respect is like sugar – it stirs easy and tastes sweet

When you respect the people around you, they respect you right back, and it feels good, doesn’t it?

A huge part of being a barista is respecting the people you encounter. For instance, if an order is complicated, there are better ways to communicate with the customer rather than get outwardly annoyed. Respond with questions that might help you understand what they need better, and the more helpful you are, the nicer they’ll be regardless of if the drink is up to par.

The clichĂ© is “treat others how you wish to be treated” and it rings true anywhere. Customer service may be difficult at times, but the more considerate you are, the more appreciative anyone, even the grumpiest person will be.

Espresso-self honestly (I had to use a real pun in here)

Tell the truth! If you accidentally put whole milk in a cappuccino and they wanted soy, admit to the mistake and start over! For one, it will stop someone from having a really bad stomach ache. And it reiterates what I just talked about ^ R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Admitting to being wrong is a good quality in anyone. It shows that you truly care about the people surrounding you, that you’ve learned from your mistake or misunderstanding, and that being honest is more important to you than just knowing it all.

Barista Adam reading a short story he wrote at first PJ’s Coffee Open Mic Night

One last tip…

Treat everyone as if there’s a tip jar between the two of you. No, I’m not saying be nice to make an extra buck (that sounds terrible), I’m saying just be nice.

Sure, tips are nice, but seeing a customer excited to see me working when they come back to the store is much more rewarding. The people who return because they simply enjoy talking to you (over coffee) make being a barista so much fun.

I hope my barista experiences and lessons can help others (baristas and humans alike) too. One thing I still have to work on is getting my spirits down when people don’t want whipped cream on their drinks. (Come on, though, IT’S WHIP Y’ALL).

Anyway, the coffee is served. Thanks for reading! Everyone should be a barista at least once in their life.


Plain Jane!


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