The One That Makes Your Coffee

Today - our own prolific Matt Park tells a bit of his story and discusses the assumptions and misunderstandings that can come with the oft-lauded, oft-parodied vocation of... Barista.  


The author doin' his thang

"The barista has, for quite some time now, been an elusive creature. So much so that the title itself has recently been questioned with much skepticism. Is not 'Barista' just a glorified title for someone who provides various caffeinated elixirs to masses of tired professionals, all the while waiting in queue to enter the revolving door of productive citizenship?

It seems the barista has garnered a bad wrap for being a student of the arts or theatre or humanities or- for that matter- some poor shlub simply waiting for their big break. There is an assumed Point B: Some place in the distance. Meanwhile -Point A is the mile marker hesitantly referred to in a hazy passing recollection.

Whether it be graduate school or a "real job", there are most certainly baristas who are slinging coffee while waiting for that acceptance letter; or anxiously twiddling their thumbs by the phone, hoping to hear back from the big wigs at the nine-to-five they applied for. Some of us have no idea what we want to do next. A lot of us (myself included) are not seeking -or just waiting for- a ticket out of some over-caffeinated purgatory.

As for me- in high school I knew I wanted to work in the coffee industry. I thought I wanted to own a shop. However, due to a ton of pressure from family and friends to follow a path that would lead to what they labeled as "a real career", I went to college...or should I say-colleges. I spent nearly eight years in three different schools and changed my major four times. I finally graduated with a degree in English a little less than a year ago. I worked my way through school as a barista for a well-known international siren of skinny-latte-drinking consumers. It was less than ideal, but it provided for my family and, for what it's worth, they take good care of even their part-time baristas with things like health care plans, 401Ks and stock options. 

As I neared the completion of my degree, I was always on the look-out for the next big thing and for a chance to get out of the latte factory. I was taking a class with a friend of mine who happened to work at a local specialty coffee shop when he informed me they were hoping to fill a vacant position. I applied and got the job. It was worlds different from the drive-thru convenience coffee game. 

After four years of working with coffee, I was finally loving what I did for a living. The longer I worked in that shop the more I realized that I had lost sight of my dream. I knew what I wanted to do in high school and yet I was chasing the pot of gold at the end of some diploma. 

What I have learned now though, in my more than five years in the coffee industry, is that a barista can be many things. But mostly we are people looking for meaning in life just like everyone else and we have the privilege of serving other people in the process. It may be just a great cup of coffee that we are providing, but more often than not, we are simply living out life with other people who are passionate about coffee...or not.

So, what exactly is a barista? Well, it looks different for each of us, but this barista is a former English major turned coffee professional with a wife of six years and two daughters. I love my job and I love serving people. Yes, I love me a great cup of coffee, but I love serving that cup more and I love the interactions that are exchanged in the midst of transactions of money exchanged for goods."