Behind the Barista

Marlin Agoub/New University

By Sofia Farooquee and Cleo Tobbi

Almost every college student has walked into a Starbucks Coffee chain at least once after getting their acceptance letter. Whether it is to wake up for an early 8 a.m. class or stay up for a late-night study session, coffee has become the drink of choice for many students. During finals week especially, the line to the on-campus Starbucks can extend outside the double doors towards the Student Center.

Sadly, our Starbucks coffee does not magically appear to us as if we were in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Actual people make our coffee and with that, errors, compliments and interesting orders arise.

Baristas of Starbucks are often not talked to or acknowledged by the sleepy students who stumble in for their cappuccino or expresso. Regardless, a friendly barista is always there to take your order, no matter how many extra shots of espresso you need to get your day started, but being a barista takes a lot more than pushing buttons on a machine or pulling espresso shots, at least if you want to make a career of it.

The average barista starts their day early. Coffee beans, expresso beans, mochas and pastries are all prepared to be served fresh in the morning. The equipment also needs to run perfectly before the first customer orders. You need to ensure you’ve got all your supplies on hand: the right coffee, the right grind, the appropriate cups and saucers and of course knowledge of how to create different expresso drinks. As the last customer is finally served, everything must be cleaned. The expresso machines, the coffee machines, the syrup pumps, the pastry trays, the oven, the fridges, etc.

Working on an on-campus Starbucks can be especially hectic. Baristas-in-training go through spilling numerous cups of coffee, putting too much whipped cream and mocha drizzle on frappucinos, and failing to correctly call out that iced decaf-quadventisoynofoam vanilla latte(or other such drinks).

Baristas Shanta Hereesh and Rebecca Clouse are familiar with the world behind the bar.

“Anyone who works during any rush hours would say that it is horrible, but for me I feel like it is a challenge,” said Shanta Hereesh. “Honestly, all my fellow baristas and I always have a blast during BOGO’s and other special events because we are a team that works really well with each other.”

Shanta agrees that it is the customers that make her day at work worthwhile. If a barista can make a customer’s day by being hospitable and finishing their order quickly, it helps to put the barista in a better mood knowing that they have pleased the customer.

“The best part of my job is that I get to meet all these new customers,” she said. “I love to always surprise them when I remember what they had ordered last time.”

Clouse has been a Starbucks employee for about two years and has solely worked at the one on campus.

There are typically six or seven workers “behind bar,” taking custom orders, making drinks of all temperatures and cleaning up any scalding hot accidents. This is all done to produce the sometimes-multiple, daily cups of coffee UCI students so desperately need to sit through lectures and complete assignments. Because they have so many assignments, the Starbucks is never without a customer. It is always filled and always loud, buzzing with chatter, blenders thunderously blending and in between the calls of various names for pickups, smooth jazz plays in the background.

“If there is no line, it only lasts about a minute,” Clouse said, looking at the line that was already almost to the door.
The 24-hour business hours during finals week are definitely the busiest outside of the everyday morning and lunchtime rush.
“I like the buzz!” said Clouse with much enthusiasm. “It gives you something to do.”

But, being a mere human and working in such a busy environment means there is always room for error, and sometimes students make a barista’s mistake seem like a crime.

“A guy came back and threw down the lid [of his cup] and said, ‘what is this? This isn’t coffee,’” Clouse said as she mimicked how the dissatisfied customer threw down the lid to his drink and pointed at his inadequate coffee with an angry face.
Although that particular customer was upset with his drink, Clouse was pleased to tell me that people like him were a rarity at our UCI Starbucks.

“Students are really chill and understanding,” Clouse said with a pleased grin at the thought of her fellow students. “Even if they’re stressed, they’re still nice.”

Some students, rather than scolding the baristas for their under-par drink order, relish in the fact that someone asked how their day was going. Clouse told me that she liked making someone’s day better by simply allowing him or her to vent while placing his or her order.

Some students like the on-campus Starbucks so much that they frequent it every day around the same time. Many even come back for refills and some even stay, finish their drink and order another kind when they are done.
But what makes Starbucks, uniquely “Starbucks” are the custom drinks. There are few orders that do not have alterations, and the only ones prepared the same way are when a barista yells out, “Hot coffee! Hot coffee!” Even then, the customer will take their black coffee and use sugar and cream to turn it into various shades of brown and tan to suite their preference.
With the hundreds of students bustling through the 7-foot double doors of the on-campus Starbucks every day, lines are long and students battle to find seating, but they can at least count on baristas who love their jobs and enjoy providing their fellow students with a cup of coffee and a place to vent.