The rush of cold air sweeps across the back of my neck, sending a chill through my entire body as another coffee maven enters the building. She joins the group of elderly ladies enjoying a game of bridge and reveling in their plans for an upcoming Florida vacation. At another table, two friends gossip and catch up on the latest news and events in each other’s lives. In the back corner, a man paces the floor while he takes a business call, another reads the next chapter of his novel, two students study for an upcoming exam and a group of seniors partake in a book club.
As I take in my surroundings, it simply amazes me how much can be accomplished over a cup of coffee. I can’t help but wonder, what is it that compels us to gather around the caffeinated watering holes that are our local coffee shops? Is it the subtly distracting neighborhood atmosphere that drives us to complete a task? Perhaps it’s the soothing sounds of the coffee shop playlist or the addictive aroma of roasted coffee beans.
The answer? D) None of the above.
Aside from getting our morning fix, it’s the baristas who serve us our morning cup of motivation that draw us to these spots and keep us coming back. These are the people who, more than likely, are the first ones we see in the morning. They see us at our precaffeinated, curmudgeonly worst, and yet they still welcome us back each day with a soft smile and a steaming cup of joe.
What’s a day in the life of a barista like behind the counter? I talked with several baristas from Heine Brothers’ Coffee (and sipped on one too many cups of coffee) in order to find out, and here’s what I took away from it all:
5 a.m. — Getting ready
Usually this involves the normal cleaning and restocking tasks, like refilling creamers and sugars, wiping down tables for people, watering plants and putting out retail coffee. Oftentimes, coffee shops receive orders from local places they get treats from. Opening baristas have to organize and put away orders from area shops. Then they have to make sure each coffee filter gets the perfect amount of beans or grounds. Each hour, the coffee is replaced with a freshly brewed batch to ensure its freshness.
“I begin my day by waking later than I should, brushing my teeth and then driving to work. Getting the shop ready, brewing coffee, timing out espresso shots for maximum deliciousness. Doing additional chores, waiting on our early morning regulars and finding music to suit our moods. Stumbling through the fog of waking up with my fellow baristas using sleepy and nonsensical conversation.” — Tyler McDaniel
6 a.m. to 9 a.m. — The morning rush
The morning rush hits and everything is a whirlwind for the next three hours. Usually the baristas know their first customers’ orders, so when they see them walk in, one of them is already getting the drink ready.
“The regulars come and go. The newspaper finds its way through the hands of various customers and becomes scattered among one or two tables. We hope the Pandora Obe delivers a pleasing selection of music (about 50/50).” — Andre Phillips
9 a.m. to 11 a.m. — Mid-morning reprieve
This is sometimes referred to as the “wild card hours.” It’s a peppering of regulars, not-so-regular business types and college students. The baristas typically take this time to restock and clean up the cafe. If a bank or grocery run is needed, it occurs during this time.
“Around 9 a.m. is when I finally get my 15-minute break. I go to the back room and sit down for a few minutes to catch my breath, suddenly realizing just how much my feet hurt and how hungry I am. Then, all too soon, it’s time to head back into the madness.” — Raleigh Shanks
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Time for “shift chores”
Things usually stay pretty busy on and off until around 10 a.m. When things finally start to slow down, the baristas begin their “shift chores,” the duties assigned to their specific shift … cleaning the cafe, restocking, taking out the compost and the trash. The next couple of hours are dedicated to general cafe maintenance and upkeep. Once all of these things are done, they may make themselves a drink and clock out.
“Activity tends to die down (relatively), and you can catch up on restocking, chores and coffee prep. Also it should be noted that within the shift, baristas do get some downtime and converse with one another and customers as well. We’re not always running around yelling and screaming.” — Andre Phillips
3 p.m. — Time for general office work
The assistant managers spend 15 to 20 hours a week doing office work (i.e. sales numbers, staffing, scheduling, planning). They also spend five to 10 hours a week working on any training needs for the company (reviewing materials or conducting drink training classes). Their days typically end around 3 p.m.
“There are about seven orders we do — coffee beans for the week, Creation Gardens, Nancy’s Bagels, Lotsa Pasta, etc. In between customers, we clean and restock paper products and pastries. At the end of the afternoon, we generally try to get caught up on chores, finish our orders and put orders away. My day ends at 3:30 p.m.” — Erica Brown, assistant manager
4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. — Winding down for the day
When the day starts to wind down, there isn’t that much excitement. The baristas working the closing shifts are assigned specific cleaning chores to perform each hour in order to get the shop closed that night and, when not busy making orders or cleaning, spend time conversing with one another and their customers.
Forget the odes to coffee. Here’s to you, baristas of Louisville! You truly are the heroes of the morning, and we raise our cardboard cups to you. Thank you for making it easier to face reality with every sip from that magical cup filled with life.
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