Barista Day One: Failure

I walked into my first shift at work. My hair tied back for the first time in years, a new black t-shirt tucked into my old, comfortable jeans and a green apron over the entire thing. Hands freshly washed, nerves gathering, the chaos outside the swinging door engulfed me.

It was a Saturday morning. Saturday mornings are notoriously the worst shifts to work due to the need for caffeine to carry a person through the activities of the day and the freedom of schedule that these customers have. The result is a line to the door from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon alongside a bombardment of people ordering from their phones. In short, this was not a shift you would want a person fresh out of training on.

I walked through the entryway and checked in with my manager on shift, Alex. He handed me a Sharpie and assigned me on a register. Relief flooded my body. I had used a similar system before. Register is simple button pushing, using the screen for cup codes, and sending marked cups down the line. There was little anyone could do to drastically mess it up.

Or so I thought. The first several orders were easy. Just a couple of lattes and brewed coffee. Then it went downhill fast. An elderly man came in for a plain, simple cup of dark roast. Easy. Until my Massachusetts accent made it sound like I was asking him if he wanted to start is morning off right with an Irish coffee and throw some liquor in there. To him, my asking if he wanted me to leave “room” sounded like “rum.” After that chaos ensued.

Customers threw words at me that I had never heard of before. Ristretto, machiatto, affagatto, bold, black-eye, upside-down, espresso con pana. Rapid fire of words that I had never heard of before. I had to have a buddy with me on the register to explain to me everything that was happening.

By noon my brain was flooded, I had been yelled at in full by several regulars, I had had returns, I’d made numerous mis-markings on cups that slowed the line. I was struggling. Alex came up to me and told me that it had slowed enough that I was going to learn bar. I was a little relieved. Bar was the fun part. Bar was where you learned latte art and created those perfect cups of coffee.

I messed up the first seven drinks that came to me. I’m going to be honest and tell you that I didn’t even fix half of those. The customers got them, walked out, and I let it go. I felt like I was an animal in a zoo. Everyone who had ordered was waiting at the end of the line, watching everything I did to their coffee. I had several yell at me that they had ordered a cappuccino and their cup felt too heavy. I had several say that it tasted too sweet or that they had wanted mocha and not white mocha. I misread cups, I hit the wrong buttons on the espresso machine, I burnt milk. I was a tragedy.

But I made it. And eight months later I’m equal in strength to people who have been working as a barista for years. Coffee is hard. There’s this perception that baristas know everything but I learn something new every shift. Many of my regulars know more than I do. You can’t hop into the coffee industry, as a worker or a lover of it and know everything immediately. It takes time. Based off my experience I realized how difficult coffee is. That’s why I’m including a guide below to help you out with those words that I didn’t know. There’s a lot of information to learn but even a quick look will help someone learn what type of coffee will appeal to their tastes. Coffee is hard but it is accessible to everyone and it is possible to not be overwhelmed by it.