There are those who work to live (e.g. many who spend significant amount of time staring at spreadsheets), and there are the lucky few—those of us who live to work. I wake up excited every morning, because being a barista is the best job in the whole wide world. Want to know why?
First and foremost: coffee is delicious, and baristas have unlimited access to the stuff. This might sound like a small perk, but for the truly coffee-driven, being able to afford our insatiable need for mugs of steaming black is likely what drew us into the profession in the first place—though don't kid yourself into thinking it's particularly lucrative. Many of us have drunk our small, caffeinated dinners while closing up shop at night.
NB: If you are a barista at a cafe where you are not permitted unlimited access to coffee, you do not have the best job in the whole wide world. Find a new job, tout de suite.
Good for What Ails Ya
If you work at a desk and roll into the office with a hangover, what greets you but a blurry computer screen and relentlessly buzzing fluorescent lights? Not great for an aching noggin. But when you're a hung-over barista turning your key in the door in the morning, you automatically have the cure at your fingertips. Bonus if there are bagels involved, which is the case more often than not.
(Similarly, if you're going out to cut a rug after a long shift at work, you've got enough caffeine at the ready to forestall the need for a disco nap, thereby saving precious booty-shaking time.)
Baristas wield great power. Not only are they beverage alchemists, transforming simple ingredients into the delicious elixirs that bookend our existence, but they're also present for the most vulnerable moments in our collective lives: Those rough Monday mornings, that dreary midday lull, the initial jitters on that first awkward date. Customers put their faith in the folks wearing the aprons, and that's a beautiful gift, a grave responsibility, and a true privilege of the job. (Baristas: Use this power for good, not evil.)
And unlike bartenders, who also find themselves on the receiving end of folks' daily emotional burdens, coffee pros don't tend to have to mop anybody up off the floor at the end of the night.
In what we think of as the artisinal-coffee movement, the community almost across the board has proven to be strong, supportive, engaged, generous, and fun. Friendly contests abound (several cities host latte-art tournaments called Thursday Night Throwdowns; brewed-coffee competitions are gaining speed; and, of course, there are the national and global barista championships), as do inter- and intracity social events, fund-raisers, and even online communities.
But that doesn't mean coffee people are an exclusive in-crowd: Many a true love has bloomed over the exchange of a few bucks and the perfect morning cup -- my own included. Whether the barista is making friends, collecting pretty girls' phone numbers, or simply brightening a near stranger's day, there is that undeniable sense of "We're All In This Together" that happens in the corner cafe, but not so much in the cubicle.
Think being a barista is just something to do until that other "big break" comes along? Maybe it once was, but today's most successful and successfully caffeinated industry professionals kick-started their craft by setting down a long line of cappuccinos for bleary-eyed regulars.
The more one loves and learns about coffee, the better one's chances in turning that passion for peaberries into a full-time, full-fledged career in the business at large: A few years' hard work behind the bar can lead the devoted to their calling operating a roaster, buying and sourcing green beans, providing training and education, getting into sales or wholesale support, or managing or opening one's own cafe.
Now don't you wish you were up at 5 a.m. this morning, making lattes for the masses? I sure do.
About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook. Her latest project is Eat This Neighborhood, wherein she attempts to eat at least one thing at every single restaurant in the vicinity of her Chelsea apartment.