June 26, 2019 – New York, NY
I took my first sip of coffee towards the end of a night I spent at church. My youth group was having a lock in, and despite the fact that we brought sleeping bags, we planned to stay up all night.
After the excitement of spending the night in the church wore off (we played tag, hide and seek, manhunt, and then accidentally hit an old stained glass window while playing catch), I struggled to stay awake. One of the leaders started to brew coffee. I’d always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled rich and chocolatey. It smelled like I’d want to gulp up every sip.
That first sip was bitter.
And so was the second sip, so I got to adding cream and sugar. For years, I could only drink coffee if it had a few hefty scoops of sugar and enough milk to make the beverage resemble my skin with a summer tan.
In my last year of high school, my hometown was finally getting a Starbucks. At the time, I worked at the library, but I wanted more money for when I went to college. So I applied and got hired as part of the opening team.
I got to wear the green apron donned by baristas who existed in some of my fond memories with my friends. We went to Starbucks every Monday, where we talked about boys and schoolwork and the fruity drinks we ordered. We went to Starbucks every Monday until we didn’t, and that’s growing up.
And now that I was grown up, I was working a real customer service job and getting free coffee as a benefit. Each week I took home a pound of coffee beans, and I started to use it to make coffee for myself before getting to school for the 7:30 bell. Sometimes I even had breakfast sandwiches from closing the night before, and I”d throw those in the microwave. The sugar was on the other side of the kitchen, so to save time, I stopped using it. For a while my coffee resembled milk more than the coffee. But by the power of free coffee, I learned to drink it black.
After ending my time in high school working at the Starbucks in my town, I moved on to different Starbucks stores in Boston, coming back to Connecticut for breaks.
I looked forward to being back in Connecticut, because we had a drive-thru, so us baristas could talk to each other from across the building. Certain coworkers of mine would hear all the details of my love life and I’d listen to them talk about theirs. It was like an eight hour therapy session that kept getting interrupted by customers. And some customers knew how to interrupt. Once, while talking to a customer, another one came in between us and gave me the middle finger because his drink was taking too long. Another time I had a man walk behind the counter and zip up my dress that was already 99% zipped. One customer ordered his drink from me in a way that maximized the product he got and minimized the cost, then he made a joke about ordering like he was Jewish in front of my coworker who actually was Jewish.
And sometimes we’d still be cleaning way past close. And I got scheduled for multiple opening shifts a week, which meant I had to clock in by 4:30 in the morning. And despite covering any shift I could, I rarely got days off when I asked for them. And if I felt sick, I decided it was easier to show up than to look for someone to cover my shift.
While I loved the free coffee and the free Spotify, I could only live that lifestyle for so long. Before returning to Orlando to work, I spent this past summer working in the Starbucks that fostered my love of coffee. I was surrounded by old and new friends, and all my early morning shifts meant that I had the afternoons to myself.
Our boss organized a trip to the Starbucks Reserve in New York City. Baristas from another town would staff our store while we boarded trains to the city and marvelled at the New York Roastery. I opened that day, which was perfect because I earned the money I’d spend on the train ticket.
We found some seats facing each other on the train, where we whispered gossip and shouted jokes. Knowing that the menu would be different from any other Starbucks menu, we began to study it on the train.
I’d learned a lot about coffee from Starbucks, but even looking at that menu, I found that there was still so much to learn. They had single origin coffee beans that could be used to make a cold brew or an espresso shot or even a cup of coffee. There were a variety of beans to try, and flights were available. The possibilities overwhelmed me.
Because I had to wake up before five in the morning often, I became a fan of cold brew. And because I’m human, I love ice cream. So I ordered a cold brew float.
I’ve had coffee from small cafes, Turkish coffee, French press coffee, coffee in Italy, Joffrey’s coffee, Dunkin coffee, mystery coffee from a diner coffeepot. To this day, I haven’t tasted a coffee better than the coffee I had in that Starbucks Reserve.
I had the Peru El Lirio Starbucks Reserve coffee. With my Starbucks discount, it cost about seven dollars. I haven’t bought a coffee more expensive than the coffee I had in that Starbucks Reserve.
My coworkers laughed when they saw what I’d chosen. My love of cold brew and sweets was well known amongst the group. Like most cold brews, it went down smooth. I remembered why I used to like milk and sugar in my coffee. The bitter coffee and sweet cream complimented each other well. I was unsure if I should mix the ice cream in with the coffee or drink the coffee then eat the ice cream. I settled doing a little bit of both. I mixed some in and then at the end of it all I had a few spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream. It was locally made Blue Marble ice cream, and after I finished my scoop, I wished I had more.
There was a bar upstairs that sold cocktails inspired by the Starbucks Reserve coffee. We all lined up at the bar and gushed to the bartender about how much we appreciated our boss for organizing the trip. He gave us some whiskey barrel-aged cold brew to try, and we kept thanking him like he’d given up a lung for one of us. But everyday we did similar acts when we gave out a coffee on the house, so it was really just good karma.
My time as a barista was some of the most stressful times in my life. But I met great people, and I developed a love of coffee, and I gained customer service skills that would help me to work in Disney, so it really wasn’t all bad.
Less than a week after this trip, I ended my employment with Starbucks for a second time to go work in Disney for a second time. I didn’t know if I would return, but after having worked there since 2016, making coffee was starting to get old.