September 30, 2014

KIM | Just Want to Espresso Myself

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By TERESA KIM

Here are some words to chew on from your friendly, neighborhood barista as we wait for the dispatchment of apple cider and all things pumpkin-spiced across Cornell.

We all have our spot on campus: the spot in which all of our collegiate life seems to pulsate through — the beating heart. For most, it might just be home, atop our mattress comforters. For The Cornell Daily Sun staff, it’s unarguably 139 W. State Street. For me, it’s Libe Café. It’s where both my social and academic personas meet. But it’s also the spot that brings forth my other persona: the one who dons a black apron and constantly pokes her head into the pastry box to get your chocolate chip cookie. You’ve guessed correctly. I’m also a barista at Libe Café.

When I first took this job, I didn’t have any high hopes for it. All I really wanted to do was figure out a way to not fall short on my rent every month and save money. And of course, “Getting endorsed for ‘Customer Service’ on LinkedIn” isn’t a bad perk as well, adds Kaitlyn Tiffany ’15, a fellow barista compadre and Sun Arts and Entertainment Editor. These are the main motivations that would drive anyone, especially students, to try to find a part-time job. But now that I’m reaching my second year of employment at Libe, I’ve realized that this job has exceeded my short, initial list of expectations. In fact, it’s changed me completely.

Before you think that all the unhealthy amount of coffee I drink daily has rattled my brain and made me too philosophically Parisian for a column that comes midweek, hear me out. When you’re exposed to thousands of different kinds of people like I am, you can’t help but notice your own self start to evolve as well. To give you an illustration, here are the types of people who come in daily:

There are those who come after the café has closed. They brazenly walk past the CLOSED sign and the sight of the employees frantically trying to close up quickly, demanding that we deliver on their request for a quadruple shot latte. Perhaps you haven’t realized that we might be students who need to pull all-nighters as well? Then there are the divas who order extra-sweet iced mochas with whipped cream and then later complain that we made it “too sweet.” There are the no-nonsense customers who come with the exact amount of $1.89 for a small cup of filter coffee, and hastily leave before they’re trapped into conversing with me. There are those determined to complain over prices, the quality of coffee, the temperature of their tea, etc. each time they come into Libe. And there are the customers who want to get imaginative with their coffee, end up ordering what is really a beverage oxymoron (i.e. iced cappuccinos) and proceed to lecture us after we politely suggest that it is unadvisable for your to get that beverage.

I commend your creative efforts, but all we really want is the best for you in your pursuit of love, happiness and a good cup of coffee.

Nevertheless, there is a group that I love catering to. They are those who greet me with a smile, conscientiously ask me how my day is going, wait for my response and perhaps even take a witty turn on the conventional small talk — though I’m not saying that one must be witty to garner my appreciation. They do not fret when we make the occasional, innocent mistake, and they patiently wait for their coffee order to get out. Even when the atmosphere on campus intensifies and sours during finals week, they remain true to their ways. But sadly, they are a dying breed (although my ardent appreciation for these individuals will never go extinct).

Through my observations and the people I have met, including my coworkers, I have begun to notice what once went unnoticed by me. Before, I would thoughtlessly pick up my latte when it was called out. Now, I find great satisfaction in creating or receiving great foam quality in a drink. Like the life of any student, the life of a barista is also always on the move, honing the craftsmanship and motions that come with making great quality coffee for the academic masses. And we must do this all with a certain speed; there is blueberry bread to be sliced, cups and lids to be restocked, milk pitchers to be refilled and coffee to be brewed. And at the end of this human assembly line is a barista signaling that your coffee is out and ready, “AN ICED DIRTY CHAI ON THE BAR!”

The hustle and bustle nature of the barista life has taught me attention to detail. And this is significant to someone like me who had previously made minimal effort to notice my best friend’s haircut, let alone the effort that goes into a single cup of coffee.

Such is the life of a Libe Café barista. And I look forward to another year working there. As I write this, I ready myself to leave for my night shift. I look forward to sniffing the pastry box (a daily routine of mine), getting those coffee beans grindin’ and laughing with my friends there. Drop on by with a smile next time you’re at Libe in need for some coffee.

Teresa Kim is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at tkim@cornellsun.com. Her Meneutics appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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