How I Became An Accidental Barista And Why I Loved It
Now that I know the difference between soy and rice milk, I'll never make jokes about the two again.
And just like our last "How I Became" story, I fell into this position out of friendship and a curiosity to try. For those who saw me, I was guest barista'ing for my friends over at Third Culture Bakery while they had their exclusive pop-up at 22nd and Guerrero. Though, a little out of the way, I wanted to make sure that they had all the hands they needed to serve their legion of fans. We will go into this point in a second. But first, just keep one phrase in the back of your head as you read this—"pop up"—that is all.
It all started because the barista on deck, Kelly Zhou, needed an extra hand serving matcha latte's and various pastries to the line out the door. As I arrived, I immediately asked Kelly, "do need an extra hand?" She turned to me with a bit of panic in her face, "yes... please."
I dropped my bag behind the register and immediately said, "put me to work." No experience making drinks, no experience on a register, but I'd like to believe I'm kind and sweet to people. I hope. But I started to take orders, write on cups, and made my first matcha latte. EVER. From 10am until 4pm closing. Though the type of people you meet vary from person to person. Someone who's very sweet to someone who demands the world of you (i.e IG food people.) I hesitate to call them bloggers because they don't actually write.
You feel so much magic handing off a drink or a box of goodies to someone who is as jazzed to be there as you are, it's thrilling, enthralling, and satisfying. The energy coming from their eyes as you swirl their drink or when you use the tongs to grab a scone from behind the glass, it's slightly addicting.
But in the heat of a busy 2pm, some people can say the wrong things without evening knowing it. Attention to food igers, at the end of the day (no matter how many followers you may have), we can't put you in priority over other paying customers. At least, this is my personal opinion (it isn't shared by Third Culture themselves.) When you ask me to cut open pastries for you to get a shot or that you NEED a knife for a perfect hand modeling snap—I'm looking at you and wondering, "shouldn't you come prepared?" Isn't this your livelihood? I need to help the customer who will willing pay for one of EVERYTHING on the menu. No freebies for you Linda, don't expect to be treated like royalty, because at the end of the day—dollars are currency, not likes. Again, this is my own opinion—not Third Cultures.
But this is the world we live in now, a pop-up, restaurant, or cafe can be dictated by their social count and yelp reviews, not even really being scored off their food. The food could be absolutely horrid but an amazing flatlay of the items on someone's highly followed Instagram could set the tone for the restaurant going forward; that's frightening in the most fascinating way.
But what else is to be learned here besides the customers themselves, it's also frankly, the business. The morals, goals, story, drive, fire—it all matters when you become a contract or full-time employee. For some who, say, work at Starbucks, it's just to make money. Who at Starbucks knows the brand story and can recite it by oath? When you barista for (example) Third Culture Bakery, you get to know the brand ethos so well, you recite it like it's your own business. I didn't work for them very long but I was telling customers the story in the "we" aspect. I inherited the story so quick that I would want to keep spreading their story even as a civilian. That's special, no?
We want to say THANK YOU for an amazing POP UP ❤️ 6 weeks of meeting so many of those who make our bakery what it is, we cannot do it without each and every one of you. All of us here at TCB are so humbled by the support and grateful to have all y'all on this journey with us! Special shout out to @andytownsf and @honey_processed at @highwirecoffee for letting us showcase their amazing espresso, to our talented friends at @deadbreadbakery @tsuchikara_pottery @bobcutmag for the collabs and support! And to all of our guest baristas @enterprisingken @anthonysrogers @tinnydinny who jumped in to help! And to the countless foodies who came and photog'ed our treats, we love you tremendz 💕💕 And most of all, TY to our amazing (awkward) star matcharista @miskellyneous for managing the shop and keeping things groovy and sexy (and awkward!) 👏🏼👏🏼 Stay tuned as we plan future pop ups and retail ventures to make more baked craziness! 📸 by @foodie.dreams ❤️ . . . #sf #sanfrancisco #popup #matcha #matchainsf #foodstagram #foodporn #foodie #thirdculturebakery
What did I learn from my time as a barista, and not to TLDR' it but when you feel an emotional connection to a small business instead of a corporate giant, you're more willing to put yourself in the owners shoes and assume their role as the storyteller. Whether it's through your words, the food, or the atmosphere—you are the liaison behind the counter. How incredible is that?
// Photos courtesy of Third Culture Bakery