Well-meaning folks ask me frequently what my “dream job” is. Besides being an obnoxious expression, it’s a question that I tend to shuffle around gracelessly because my “dream job” is one that we deem inappropriate, in our society, for someone who has reached a certain educational level. Nonetheless, I’m putting it out there today. My “dream job” is to be a barrista and to make your coffee. Yes, yours.
When I was a college freshman, I schlepped my coffee maker, coffee grounds, mugs and filters to my campus dorm room and set up shop. Luckily, though my roommate didn’t like coffee, she liked the smell, because to be quite honest, our dorm room smelled like a Starbucks with a decidedly underachiever complex. However, this story has a happy ending: today, I sometimes see Facebook statuses from my former roomie along the lines of, “Ugh, I neeeeed coffee stat!”, and I’d like to think my little dorm room coffee corner influences her coffee-guzzling ways.
During the second semester of that year, I worked at the campus coffee shop. It was located in the basement of the chapel, and therefore called Holy Grounds. Even as a skeptic, I’ll admit there was something holy about the espresso shots that I downed after trundling across campus in the freezing cold winter. I spent my morning in warmth: steaming milk, pumping syrup, and perfecting tiny foam caps on the top of cappuccinos. We arranged the milk just so: 2 percent to the left, skim in the middle, soy to the right. I made smoothies and Italian sodas as the weather warmed, and marveled at my philosophy professor who came in practically on the hour for a double shot topped with black coffee.
I suppose this sounds rather idealized. It was, and it wasn’t. It was repetitive work, hours on my feet, and it was the most “Zen” I can remember ever feeling. I learned very particular things about people by the way they took their coffee. I learned to anticipate what someone might also like, based on a beverage they liked to order, and to recommend it when they wanted something new. It became a grand social experiment for me. It also cemented my faith in the coffee shop as a “community experience”, which has influenced me to seek out that experience as I’ve moved around the Twin Cities. Being a participant in the coming together of a community, and a facilitator for making that together happen, was something I needed then and something I still enthusiastically seek now.
Throughout my job seeking years, I’ve listened to people belittle barristas, retail employees, servers, and bartenders, or say, “Well, at least it’s something”, with the assumption that a person can and should do better. But people who work in those industries are vital, noble, relevant, and necessary. I’d love to see the “just” taken out of, “Oh, I just work in a coffee shop.” Helping someone feel caffeinated, engaged, and happy isn’t “just.” It’s an important thing.
Even though I have barrista experience, I’ve been unsuccessful at getting “just” a coffee shop job since my days at Holy Grounds. Corporate shops like Starbucks, Caribou, and the Barnes and Noble cafe worry that I won’t sling lattes fast enough, and that in turn, having a more concise system to where things like syrup and milk are placed will slow down other employees. In my opinion, better organization makes good sense for everyone, but my opinion lacks corporate flavor. I’ve been unsuccessful at getting interest from indie shops as well, though they definitely represent the more hopeful side of the spectrum. If I had extra thousands of dollars, a willing partner, and a city that needed it, (mine doesn’t), I might consider opening my own shop. We’d have Braille menus, an accessible app, and comfy community couches that go on for days. “Dream job”, for real.