Coffee and the City

After a recent vacation to my home city, I was bombarded by invitations to “go catch up” with old friends. Before I knew it, my calendar was colourfully filled with names of the friends I’d be meeting and beside with the names of cafes in which we’d be meeting in. Yup, in the span of 7 days, I calculated I’d be consuming at least 35 shots of espresso, sipping 70 glasses of ice water, mowing down 20+ gourmet wheat-free chocolate cookies in almost every area of Toronto …while saying goodbye to my hard-earned vacation pay. Soon my calendar became filled with what drinks I’d get and the order in which I’d consume them so as not to over-caffeinate and have heart palpitations by the end of the day.

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I couldn’t help but laugh at myself: as a Barista having served coffee for years, how could I possibly be planning my time off around coffee?! After discussing my dilemma with Friend 1, a busy, intelligent,  popular city gal herself, she confided that she was having trouble managing her limited time off: she complained that her life had become too chaotic, that it was impossible to save money, and she was struggling trying to make her unfulfilled personal goals a reality. After only a day of coffee dates, I decided to have my friends come to me instead: we took a long walk in the park (without our phones or pre-purchased beverages)…

According to my careful Coffee Girl research, here is what a typical day-off looks like as experienced by the young, hip modern city woman:

9am: Americano + steamed soy milk and oatmeal/low-fat muffin at Coffee Shop 1- catching up pn social media, browsing Facebook, online banking, taking ”Ms. Productivity” Instagram photo etc. “Me Time” $6

11am: Americano- meeting Friend A at Coffee Shop 2 –catching up on gossip, sharing stories of the week, making future plans, taking Selfie to post on Facebook $3

1pm: Raw, organic salad and almond milk smoothie at Hip Salad Bar 1 with Friend B –catching up on different perspectives of same gossip, sharing stories of the week, making future plans, taking Selfie to post on Facebook. $14

3:30pm: Iced -tea Lemonade and gluten-free chocolate cookie with Friend C and D at Coffee Shop 3 –educating new Friend Group on gossip, sharing stories of the week, making future plans, taking Selfie to post on Facebook. $6

5pm: Stop at Coffee Shop 4 to grab an Iced-Half-Caf Americano before going home to shower, change, text friends A and B about day and evening plans. $3

8pm: Fresh avocado rolls, seaweed salad and green tea at Hip Salad Bar 2 with Date A –having awkward, romantic evening while texting and tweeting status to Friends A, B, C, D and making plan with Friends E and F $0 (Date paid)

10:30pm: Gin and Tonics at Bar 1 with Friends E and F –planning next venue and where they should meet for coffee, texting Date B to come join, texting Friends A-F on what to text Date B and how they should follow-up with Date A $14

12am: Gin and Tonics 3-6 at Bar 2 with Date A, Friends A-F –Selfies…don’t remember rest of night.
$0 (Date paid)

Beverages Consumed:  12  Public Bathrooms Utilized: 10 Selfies Taken: 15 Pictures Posted: 8 Dollars Spent: $46 New Ideas/Personal Goals Discussed: 106 Ideas Actually Followed through With: 0 New Coffee Dates Made for Following Week: 25

No wonder it’s impossible for us working women to get real work done, and focus on ourselves, save money, keep up with the gossip, and save the world (all in under 120 characters or less, while snapping Insta-photos to tag and share!): We are just too distracted by the allure of the coffee shop and the beautiful beverages that provide us with the illusion on stability. I think we need less, not more, coffee to get us going! (But I totally just wrote this while sipping a Medium Latte I definitely didn’t make myself). At least I manage to fit writing in my busy, coffee girl schedule from time to time…

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-Coffee Girl

Productivity Report

The other day the Head of my Department called me into his office. There was a small pile of slighty-outdated electronic equipment sitting outside his door. He jovially requested that I facilitate their removal as he was concerned our colleagues might trip on the outdated products. There were also two large cabinets that were causing the hallway to look “dingy” and I was also asked to figure out a solution for that urgent dilemma.

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*The following is a real and accurate account of an actual incident that took place in my office. It has been recorded with my utmost honesty. I did not change any details for entertainment purposes*

I promptly double-checked the list of items, complete with serial numbers before I called Help Desk to arrange for their pick-up. I got a friendly email back saying that someone would meet me in the lobby the next morning. I follow-uped with a carefully thought-out “kindest regards” confirmation.

The next morning, I got a follow-up to my follow-up stating that Luke was ready to receive the items. I followed-up stating that I was ready to receive Luke. I followed-up to my own follow-up explaining that by receiving Luke, I meant I was in my office and unoccupied (and by unoccupied I clarified that I had not yet begun tackling my intensely large To-Do list). The fellow-up response was a lengthy one filled with empathy and anecdotes relating to my overflowing in-tray/inbox, but I managed to, somehow, infer that Luke was on his way down with a trolly and that I should leave my office now.

There was no Luke or man with trolley that could be Luke upon arriving in the reception area. I decided to wait quietly for him. The receptionist was concerned when she saw me standing there, unoccupied. She told me I would be bored waiting, that I must have a lot of work piling up, and assured me that she would call me in my office when Luke had arrived. By the time I wandered back to my office, there was a missed call and a message from the receptionist telling me that Luke had arrived. I wandered back, noticing that my in-tray was, in reality, still empty.

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I brought Luke and his massive trolley to view the small pile of surplus items around the corner. He asked if I had a copy of the list of items that had been filed with Help Desk so he could double-check that they were the correct items. I assured him there were no other surplus items. He said he still needed to double-check and he would require a pen to check off the items to make sure he was not missing any. I told him I would be right back with a pen. The receptionist asked where I was going, so I decided to save time and ask if I could borrow a pen. She peered down at the pen she was holding and said that it was her favourite pen and she’d rather not lend it out and that Ben and Martha had already borrowed pens but had not yet returned them. I noticed she had a highlighter on her desk and I said that would do instead. I promised I would bring it back and talk to Ben and Martha about pen etiquette. She nodded grimly saying that there should be a memo sent out addressing pen etiquette; I laughed, then realized she was not joking.

I apologized for my delay as I handed Luke the highlighter. “Are you sure you don’t have a pen?” he asked, crestfallen. “I always use a pen. And I don’t want there to be a inconsistency with my filing.” I retreated to my office and grabbed my favourite pen, a slick, clicky one, from the desk. After Luke had checked off the items, he wrinkled his forehead and pointed to the printer amongst the surplus items. “Is this item part of the surplus items to be removed?”

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“I think so,” I replied.

“Because it is not on this list of surplus items that was filed with Help Desk. I can’t take it unless it is on the list,” Luke looked very sombre.

Because it was a new colour printer, I wondered if perhaps it had been placed there by accident. “I will go ask the Department Head,” I grumbled.

The Department Head was in a meeting but ushered me at once. “Have the surplus items been removed?” he asked urgently.

“There is slight confusion over a printer that has been left next to the surplus items. Luke it wondering if  the printer is surplus, or just a printer.”

“Yes, I added that printer to the pile this morning. I don’t care for it anymore. Tell Luke it can be removed.”

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked curiously, thinking that I wouldn’t mind having my own printer.

“I just don’t care for it anymore,” the Department Head’s tone was final. “Now tell Luke to have the items removed.”

Luke was not impressed with the news of the printer’s urgent removal. “Because it’s not on the list, I can’t take it. Help Desk needs to be informed.”

“But Luke, aren’t you part of the Help Desk team? Can’t you tell them?”

“It must be officially filed.”

“So…should I go and type up a new document and send it to Help Desk? And then they’ll send you back down with the trolley another time?” I said slowly.

Luke nodded. “And you’ll need to get your Department Head to authorize it.”

“But he just said…”

“It needs to be filed and signed via written document with Help Desk.”

My heart sank at the thought of having to go back to that giant office with the newest, cared-for printers and interrupt the Department Head’s finance meeting again. “So…there’s no way, using my pen that’s right here, that we could just add this printer to the list?”

Luke frowned. “Well, technically we could…but we’d need the serial number.”

“Where can we find that?” I asked. “I can quickly Google it from my office.”

“Oh, no, there’s no need for that. It’s found on the bottom of the printer.”

“So…I can just bend down, pick up the printer and look?”

“If you want to,” sighed Luke. “Unless you want me to do it.”

“No, no. I insist! Allow me,” I bent down and looked at the code on the bottom of the very light, very uncared for printer. I read him the numbers as he slowly jotted them now on the list. He re-read the numbers out to double check. I re-read the numbers back to him to double check. Then together we loaded the items up onto the trolly.

“What about the cabinets?” I asked him, on the way to the elevator.

“Oh no!” Luke looked shocked. “Help Desk only deals with electronics! You are going to have to call Inventory and file a separate request with them. You’ll need your Department Head to sign off on it.”

I sighed. As soon as I arrived back at my office, I noticed my in-tray now had a few items in it. I also realized Luke still had my favourite pen. As I opened my outlook inbox to draft a Surplus Inventory Removal Request I saw that there was another e-mail from the receptionist; it was to the entire Department, RE: Pen Etiquette. There was also another email from Help Desk, asking me to follow-up with them on whether I was satisfied with the removal of the surplus items. I decided to go for coffee.

A few weeks later I saw the printer still sitting uncared for in our department warehouse. I took the trolley and brought it back to my office where it now has a happy home. I haven’t followed up with Help Desk yet.

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Who’s Got the Door?

I have recently realized that I have a mild phobia of using doors in public places. Now before you laugh, let me explain because you too might be affected by this contagious social disorder. As it is virtually impossible to eliminate the use of doorways in your daily life, there is a way to manage the anxiety you feel when forced to use a door in the presence of a stranger, either coming behind you, in the opposite direction…or *gulp* going at the same pace and direction as you!

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Coffee Girl’s Experience with Public Doorways:

As a Barista in a busy café, it was my responsibility to unlock the doors each morning. On weekdays, there was often a queue of the queenest-caffeine-fiends already formed outside at 6a.m. Pressed up against the windows, feet itching to get to the counter first, their frenzied energy halted as soon as I opened the doors, the coffee barely finished brewing. Suddenly the dilemma went from the Greedy-Need-To-Get-Caffeined to Who-Should-Enter-the-Café-First?!-And-Will-I-Be-Expected-to-Hold-the-Door-Open-For-Everyone-Behind-Me-Or-Just-Myself? The awaiting customers always peered over quizzically as though expecting ME to have to answer, as though enticing me to put them out of their misery and just PICK someone to go in first. But being the impartial service gal that I was expertly trained to be, doors are not my problem (since I am generally stuck for 8-10 hours behind them) and I always retreat to the counter and let the customers duke it out like the passive-aggressively-polite Canadian customers THEY are conditioned to be.

In rare cases, I will hold the door open to allow the queue to enter in a (slightly neurotic) orderly fashion. And if I sensed any growing rowdiness I would sneakily only unlock one door, forcing the extra-extra-queeners to do a double-take and resume their rightful position at the back of the line. If I got a complaint when they reached the register, I’d just shrug it off, telling them the door is out-of-service until further notice.

Working in an Office

Now that I am not safely tucked away behind the counter, getting to my office job every morning requires me to pass through three sets of doorways. On my first day of work, I was greeted by a confused-glare from a fellow employee when I did not hold the door open for him. In my defense, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to hold the door open for him, I’d just noted that his pace was quite a bit slower than my swift, efficient Coffee Girls trot, and I had already deemed him as outside My-Acceptable-Door-Holding-Vicinity (approximately 10-15 feet in front/behind me). However, later that day I was quick to notice that in office culture, no matter how far away/granny-paced the individual is,  Office-Acceptable-Door-Holding-Vicinity seems to mean anyone within eye sight, including those across the street/stopping to have a conversation with Martha, the HR lady/stalling on the way to a business meeting/NO EXCEPTIONS!

Awkward in the Doorway

Again, it is not that I dislike going through the doorway with my turtle-paced colleagues, it’s just that I feel like I am alone in my intense awkwardness to master this delicate art. For example, when I wait twenty-five aggrivating seconds for the finance lady from the third floor to saunter in, she will now be ahead of me. The dilemma morphs into: Who will open the next door? Do I engage in coversation? Share a “Case-of-Mondays” shrug? I am always relieved when the person behind me is carrying something, since then the choice is obvious: I will be the door-holder for the duration of our seemingly-endless journey together, until we are parted by another floor. Oh, sweet relief!

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The Door-Holding Greeting Exchange

Because I am new to the building, I still haven’t figure out what part of the building the majority of my colleagues (aka annoying door cloggers) work. I have no idea where they are going after we have (awkwardly) made it through the lobby doorways. If I say goodbye too early and they continue to walk with me, then there are several seconds of dead air, where eye contact must be avoided because I have already severed our door-holding-corridor-walking relationship. If we end up in the same place, I will then have to  smoothly insert a witty “fancy seeing you here!” or “are you following me, stranger?”, then we will usually have a jovial laugh together. If I see that person later, we will now have a shared experience to remise over. I now believe that awkward lobby door interactions are the basis of all appropriate office relationships. And if heaven forbid you have a negative doorway encounter, well, let’s hope you don’t have to schmooze near them in the snackroom, cuz that could take months of peppy office rapport and proper door etiquette to smooth over!

If I know the person is going in a different direction, now is the time when I can speed up and hope to avoid any other door traffic until I reach the safety of my office. Phew!

After You… No After you…No I insist, After YOU!

This annoying game of courtesy can go on and on forever. But who will be the first to muster up the courage to give in and just say: “Yes, you’re right, after me…sucka!”. I feel  a lot of time and productivity is lost because so many employees are stuck in this endless repetition for far too long. Am I not alone in wanting to STOP THE MADNESS!? We had it right in Kindergarten we when we weren’t afraid to claim our spot in the line for the slide, or push ahead for a chance on the swings. Finders keepers does not quite seem so immature anymore when it comes to claiming my right to walk through the doorway in peace.

To be the Door-Holder or the Door-Enterer?

If I’m walking with a group of people, I will generally quicken my pace so that I can be the door-holder. In my recent experience, I find that I get props for holding the door open for everyone, including the coffee-runners, late-comers, wheel-chair-riders and their drivers, copy boys and girls, and little children wandering in with their uber-pregant mommies  going to see “where daddy works!”. To be the holder, means you will only have to endure a brief moment of warm-awkward hellos before you can melt invisibly at the back of the flow and go at your own, invisible pace…while being hailed as the door-holding hero! Ha HA!

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Coffee Girl’s Biggest Tip:

Since I am already well-conditioned to be an early bird, like the service gal I will always be at heart, I have no trouble arriving very early to work. There’s nothing better then reaching my office alone, unlocking the door with my very own electronic code, and then slamming the door behind me! Though, now I am well conditioned to look left, right, and all directions with a smile, before walking through any type of opening. 

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NOW WHERE’S MY COFEEE?!

(AND Please don’t ask me my thoughts on Revolving Doors…!)

OFFICE GIRL?

After years of sloggin’ it behind the espresso machine, armouring the white collar folks with fancy caffeine, and watching them saunter away out the door with the rest of their smugly-suited crew, leaving me behind until the deja-vu of break #2…I, this apron-clad, blue-collared Coffee Girl, am now trying my dishwashing-chapped hands at something different. Yup, I’m exchanging my crowded coffee counter for a quiet cubicle. *sigh* Isn’t that what every service gal is supposedly dreaming of? Right?

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I’m not going to lie, after two weeks in my new workplace I still feel like a foreign creature trying to adjust to the interesting, new habitat. Yup, I am still quite confused by the code of conduct here. The bright lights, white walls, no strangers clamoring at me, no strange, mysterious smells hovering around… When I attempted to pile up the dishes after my first “Office Friday Afternoon Tea Rapport in the Boardroom”, my coworkers were shocked, and told me to put down the used Chinette at once; cleaning up messes are no longer my responsibility! *gasp* I wanted to cry out: But that’s all I’ve ever been trained for!!!! WHAT IS THE MEANING OF MY LIFE NOW?!

Etiquette I have learned in the last two weeks in order to slip into my new sterile, simulated surroundings:
9am...It's show time!

9am…It’s show time!

 

  • When your colleague gushes about her toddlers (with names like Sabrina, Mackenzie, Mason, or Taylor), her dog/husband, and the packaged resort vacation she just booked (planned at least ten months in advance), smile and nod along in pretend-mutual understanding. When she asks for advice, don’t bring up that your only interaction with toddlers/husbands has been through mopping up their spills by a cafe condiment stand…or that you are have an intense phobia of bikini-clad business people, sat stagnant in a pool, drinking a Marguerita and discussing mortgage payments!
  • You are not sending an acceptable email unless the body includes sentences like: “It has come to my attention”, “the current fiscal year” and “warmest regards” are included. Don’t forget to follow-up to any and all emails received, and begin each email with a comment about the weather and a statement about something interesting you might have done on the previous long weekend.
    E.g. “Good morning Leslie, How are you? I trust you are enjoying the balmy weather we are having. I went for a stroll through my garden over the long weekend, and tried a new quiche recipe I found in that new gluten-free cookbook I ordered on Amazon…. INSERT ACTUAL INTENTION OF EMAIL HERE…. I hope you have a great day. I look forward to following up with you in the near future. Warmest regards, Clara.”

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  • After you have taken the morning to bond with your colleagues and respond to messages in your inbox in a timely manner, you are in need of a break! However, you don’t trust the office coffee since it’s free, readily available, and wasn’t made personally for you. Also, you need exercise and a breath of air so you must, at your own pace, put on your coat and matching outdoor accessories and reconvene with your colleagues in other departments, and mosey on out for a fresher, safer,  more expensive, and overly customized coffee. After all my years as a Barista, thinking I was needed for my expert coffee making skills, this is a HUGE shock to me! If I had known that coffee was FREELY AVAILABLE to my hoards of grumpy, dependant office customers, I would have slowed down my speed of service in protestation of their nonsensical rationality. Though I must say, a break from the office is needed, so instead of my daily cup, I purchase a daily apple from the grumpy lady at the corner store across the street.
  • Forget struggling to pay rent, wondering where your next nourishing meal is coming from, if you will have time to sleep tonight…Nope, all those worries are nothing compared to: OUT OF TONER IN THE PRINTER! PAPER JAM! PHOTO COPIER OUT OF SERVICE! You are now at the mercy of machines, and wires that can be tripped over…repeatedly!

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  • It’s important that you dress appropriately for the office. My rule of thumb: if you look like you are an equestrian rider, could model for Reitman’s/The Bay, or Ellen Degeneres, you are presentable enough for the work place.

COFFEE GIRL WARNINGS: BEWARE OF…

  • Loneliness: After just a week I was upgraded to my very own office! It’s more spacious than my house, and could easily fit roommates and the guy downstairs comfortably beside my desk and TWO COMPUTER SCREENS! However, my only company is a neglected plant (Planty the Second) that I rescued and rehabilitated from an unused board room.
  • Blocked Websites: Apparently Tarot , Harry Potter, and Dress-up the Fairy sites are not considered productive uses of time here, and therefore unaccessible. (Freedom of Magic violation?! Can I consult my union rep about this?!)
  • Social Conditioning: Even though I am aware that my ecological footprint has increased with my giant office space that could house two entire immigrant families, that I am wasting more trees than ever with my need to sticky note and memo each document, that I am conforming to a hetero-normative sweater-vest culture, and my hippie-free-coffee spirit is depleting slowly…somehow, a teeny part of me still feels like I have succeeded in life. UH-OH! Is the brain washing working on me already? NO! Must rebel against the unlimited free packages of post-it notes and Sharpies, and the finance lady’s endless supply of brownies.
  • Loss of Identity: I am more than just a monkey in a suit typing out emails, right? Just like I was more than a monkey in an apron dispensing coffee, right?
  • The Great Keurig vs. Tassimo Debate: Be careful which side you choose; office politics are about to heat up, tension in the snack room could reach a breaking point…and whichever machine you choose to brew with, don’t get caught there inserting a decaf pod! Complaining about how much caffeine you need to get through your To-Do list is a sign that you are valiant over-achiever!

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  • Microsoft Outlook:  My colleagues forget that I have no idea how to set-up a recurring reminder on Outlook, set-up an appointment on Outlook, make a personal, professional signature on Outlook, … use Outlook! My Outlook inbox is my nemesis, rapidly overflowing, and and I feel trapped in a hilarious horror movie of folders, follow-ups, and forwards that I just can’t open! LOOK OUT!!!
  • DON’T PLACE PLANTY ON THE SHELF ABOVE YOUR COMPUTER! I came in early one morning to figure out how to set up my Outlook account. I noticed my beloved Planty looked a little dry, and dumped a glass of water into her large pot which I placed over my desk (so we can chat through the day). Just as my boss and the head of the department entered, water began trickling from the shelf, right on to my desk, in a steady stream. “You might want to tend to that water damage!” –Was all my boss said as he walked by… Luckily the computer room is always well stocked with spare parts. Oops! (My coworkers did not believe I could be responsible for the overflow and insisted it must have been the negligent service staff that overwatered it overnight…I was quick to defend the DILIGENT, BELOVED service staff!)

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Gone are the days when I arrived home burnt out, with blistered fingers, and a measly paycheck that does not reflect the yelling, screaming, and bio-hazardous goop I’ve had to endure each and every café day. Yet, there’s something special about being a Barista that I just can’t get anywhere else: creating art in every cup, making something special out of seemingly nothing, and never knowing who (or what) is going to come right through my store’s door…

As much as I appreciate the experience of this strange new world called The Office, the café will always be my home, where I sprouted my first roots. You can take the girl out of the coffee shop, but at heart, I will always be Coffee Girl!

I’ll be sure to follow-up with you in the near future. On your break, check out my typical day at the office:

 

Warmest regards,

Coffee Girl

A well-deserve tea break

A well-deserved tea break

 Acknowledgements:

The warmest of warm regards to Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre for the use of their beautiful office space for filming on location in Iqaluit, NU. http://www.qhrc.ca/ @Qaujigiartiit

Beautiful Office Music from The Jerry Cans “GN Song” http://www.thejerrycans.com/

My bro Nelly for the cool jam “Hot in Herre”

Anatomy of a Hardworking Barista

This diagram was hastily scribbled on a lunch break

(This diagram was hastily scribbled on a lunch break)

 

  1. Frontal Lobe-Overload:
    Symptoms: Brain burning sensations, humming sounds, momentary paralysis, meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow etc.
    Causes: Repetitive Multi-Tasking, Bombardment of Annoyances/Frustrations/Aggravations from Compulsive-Customizing Customers
  2. Super Sonic Hearing:
    Symptoms: Sensitive to noises/conversations/orders up to 20 feet away
    Causes: Low-talking/chronic muttering customers, customers who expect their Baristas to be mind-readers
  3.  Spill Radar:
    Built-in to all Baristas and can instinctively react to and sense any spills, mess or over-flowing garbage at the precise moment of eruption
  4. Location Sensors:
    Can detect if people are behind, around, in front, beside, above you, or sliding to float
    bar/register. Useful in tight counter spaces, or when dealing with stinky/creepy customers
  5. Nervous/Frustration Sweats:
    Caused by:  Ridiculously complex orders and unnecessary obstacles all directed at you, you, YOU!
  6. Caffeine Veins
    Caused by: Too many coffee tastings, espresso boosting
  7. Coat Hanger Smile
    Used to cover-up extreme dehydration, customer cynicism, and Barista Bitterness Syndrome
  8. Desensitized Nose:
    Caused by: breathing a hearty mixture of greasy sandwich fumes, cleaning products, old pastries, potent perfumes
  9. Chronic “That-Doesn’t-Feel-Normal” Back Pain:
    Symptoms: sharpness, concrete/stiff spine, all-the-time agony
    Caused by: Never sitting down, never sleeping
  10. Notre Dame Shoulder Hunch:
    Caused by: Leaning, reaching, bending, rummaging, contortionism, shivering, waving, never stop moving, etc.
  11. Octopus Arms
    *See number 10*
  12. Un-Funny Bone Bruising
    *See number 10*
  13. Eye Sores:
    Symptoms: blurred vision, squinting, near and far sightedness, crying, never closing ones eyes
  14. Pathological Lying:
    Symptoms: thanking everyone repeatedly, complimenting, too much small talk followed by feelings of emptiness
  15. Dizzy Spells/Seeing Fruit flies:
    Symptoms: Light-headedness, going in circles, temporary amnesia, little critters manifesting everywhere…oh they actually are.
  16. Antsy Pants
    Symptoms: Twitching, inability to stay still, anxious legs
    Caused by: Customers and Neurotic Bosses
  17. Flattened Feet
    *See nuumber 10*
  18. Angry Muscles:
    Symptoms: Loss of normal-paced movements, intense resistance to un-coffee-related tasks, muscles screaming out in protest to everything
    Causes: Being a Barista
  19. State of Pig Sty
    Causes: “If I only have 10 minutes, I will always choose eating over showering!”
  20. Coffee-O-Porosis:
    Symptoms: weak, hallowed bones, jelly legs
    Causes: Drinking only coffee (it’s free) due to lousy Barista salary and long hours
  21. Charred and Slitted Fingers
    Caused by: frequent burns, cutting bagels in a panic
  22. Over-Sanitized Hands
    Symptoms: chapped, red, Cinderella hands
    Caused by: Soooooo many dishes
  23. Mysterious Hair Goop
    You don’t wanna know the colour or texture’s of what’s been found in there…
  24. Caffeine Rash:
    Symptoms: mysterious redness, tiny red bumps, itchiness
    Caused by: ???? caffeine fleas? customer lice?
  25. Bad Luck
    Symptoms: tripping, falling, chronic clumsiness, same old routine expecting
    different results, “fail fail epic fail”
  26. Sleepy Body Parts
    Caused by: sleep deprivation. Then standing behind the register for hours…ZzzzYup, that just about covers it. When do my benefits kick in? Oh, yeah, that’s right: Baristas are never covered, unless in comes to shifts.Coffee Girl

INKED

“To remove my tattoos would be to erase my past. And then who would I be?”

-Coffee Girl

Photo on 2010-05-14 at 20.05

Ink is everywhere. Many people have tattoos these days, and your Barista is likely one of them. Wearing our emotions on our aprons; consistently designing latte art; talking to a variety of folks; using our hands in intricate ways. A cafe is  really an art gallery, and making coffee is creatively demanding work. Though we can seem like a bitter bunch, our tattoos are not a sign of anger, suppressed sadness, or an indication that we have some scary secrets to hide. Quite the opposite.

Ink is art. It’s a personal representation of one’s journey through colour, images, and symbols. For some, like me, pictures speak louder than words. Others have difficulty articulating their stories, or sharing their thoughts with anyone; their tattoos make their exteriors’ vibrant as their spirits, giving their shy silence a voice. My tattoos shine brighter than the skin I’m living in.

Ink is healing.  Tattoos breathe. They move. They are penetrable. Unlike scars, they are not a defence against outsider attacks. They welcome you. They beg you for conversation. They share with you, enlighten you. They promote healing through dreaming, and send a message that anything is possible; nothing can not be redesigned, or repackaged.

Ink is hope. Instead of scars, wounds can be replaced by birds, flying freely, and filling their wearer, and observers, with inspiration. Instead of masking struggle with pain, and pain with hurt, and hurt with anger, why not try ink? It’s the cry for hope instead.

Ink is life. Tattoos, even  in their permanent nature, are a reminder that each moment we throw away with our coffee cups is precious, salvageable. While we cannot change our history, we can add our own perspectives. Some like their coffee black, others prefer milky tea, just as my glistening ink soothes my hectic routine. Tattoos are my passport stamps, highlighting where we’ve been.  A tattoo is an admonition that there’s more out there yet to live. Just let your imagination guide you.

Inked is a damn fine Barista.

Coffee tree

A freshly blooming coffee tree

Memories of My Village Café

Two weeks, two hot, crowded and sticky cross-country bus rides on dusty pot-hole infested “roads” and one wide-eyed and weary me later, I am finally settling into my new home: Sandema, a beautiful, picturesque village in the Upper West Region of Ghana.

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Welcome to West Africa!

Already my daily routine has changed somewhat dramatically. Instead of rising before the sun, now I rise with it at 5:45am, not to serve coffee of course (I’m on “vacation”) but to go for a run down the road, through the fields and under that vivid green of tree canopies. If I don’t wake up early, the piercing African sun will melt me into my sheets making rising even more difficult. Breakfast means taking a pit stop for fresh eggs and bread from the neighbours and saying endless good mornings (“Salooa”) to the already up and working, and smiling, villagers.

I’ve already mastered lighting a charcoal fire outside and carefully cooking up a giant pot of rice, pasta or groundnut soup. There is often not enough cutlery to go around, but messy fingers work betterl! Then it’s time for a refreshing shower and that’s where this trip’s saving grace comes in: the bucket. The water often isn’t working at the community centre (where we sleep on the floor on mattresses under mosquito nets) so every morning, with no caffeine in my system, I have to trek across the road to laboriously pump a bucket of water from the bore hole, just like everyone else, and carry it back on my head (I always slosh a good amount down my front to the shrieks of laughter from the audience of Sandema youth that follow me). I feel like I’m five years old again (or maybe a baby elephant) when I get to cool off with a bucket shower: lathering up, dumping cool water all over and splashing around until I’m slightly-less dusty. Surprisingly, half a bucket of water makes for quite a luxurious bubble bath so I will think twice about my guilty pleasure of an epic 40-minute long hot showers back home in the city (not that I shower all that much; A barista has little time for extras like that).

Here's my local joint. Definitely no not-fat-no-foam lattes here, that's for sure.

Here’s my local joint. Definitely no not-fat-no-foam lattes here, that’s for sure.

When I am up and dressed in a pretty new gown made from colourful cotton fabric and sewed by the lovely seamstress down the road, it’s off to the market I go to buy fruit and vegetables (okra, eggplant, avocados, green oranges and lots of soup greens, which look like weedy-leaves…oh and I can’t forget the delicious mangoes!). I drink coconut water and fruit punch for refreshment as I carry someone’s baby on my back, carefully wrapped up in a sheet. Simple errands can take hours and a small detour take turn into an adventure since there are so many people to talk to, greet, meet and chat with and the next thing I know I’m in someone’s hut making stew, sitting at the hair salon keeping a girl company on her latest rasta style, or watching a Black Stars football defeat  huddled around a tiny TV and swaying as the town shakes and then erupts with paramount excitement!

My favourite part, most beloved part of this new dream routine is my new retreat, my heavenly sanctuary. Hidden in the middle of the wispy warm fields, through the long ticklish grass and surrounded by goats and small jungle trees stands the baobab tree, one unlike any other. It’s powerful, smooth branches extend in all directions, touching ground and sky and quietly beckoning me climb up into its wise, old depths. The holes and knots on its trunk are perfect to the slip my feet into and clasp my little fingers around and even though I was nervous at first (and a touch afraid of heights) I know I am safe and protected, so I now scramble freely up.

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The baobab tree

I have never seen so many shades of green then when I look up at its lush canopy; it acts like an umbrella, shielding me from the fierce African sun and my pounding thoughts. The branches reach up and out like pathways, each one ending in sprouting flowers and baobab fruits. There’s a comfortable nook and cubby-hole to sit and rest and then snooze. The tree silently hugs me as I lean with my back pressed against its sturdy trunk. From up here I am almost with the clouds, the blue sky and the town bustling in the distance, but I am invisible, like a small, silent witness absorbing and digesting the site before my eyes, the whisper of the leaves and birds drifting by my ear.

The smell is sweetly sour and the bark smells ancient yet alive, like the furniture in my late grandmother’s house. I am never alone for long. Giggles and footsteps break the mood and up slither two little children who look as though they were born in this tree; they can jump and play from branch to branch so effortlessly. Their agile bodies twist in all direction and they sway with the tree as it dances. If I’m lucky, one will climb out to the tiniest tips of the branches and bring me a baobab flower. Here I could sit for hours, laughing, singing, telling stories, learning and exploring. Or just sitting half-asleep knowing that after all the tree sees and all it has seen, in this moment in time, it is just seeing me, and for a moment I’m part of its extensive history, one that echoes with the breeze and beckons to the children, people and strangers who pass by here now.

Darkness falls early so I rush back to the centre to cook dinner and reconvene with my new family. Before bed, we laugh more and dance more and play cards and silly games galore. But as my head hits the pillow, my mind is once again buzzing along with the noisy crickets and bull frogs.

My new routine may not be about coffee or making the perfect drink, but the connections I’ve made, the people I’ve met, the peace I’ve found and the lessons I’ve learned is enough to get me  ”AH-HA!”-ing: here, I don’t need the caffeine or the pick-me-up and the customer follow-ups that the cafe brings; I have found it hidden in other settings. This village is my cafe: the locals greeting me multiple times a day are like my regulars and we look out for one another. The new drinks and food nourish me and keep me going throughout the day, energizing me on my way to market and treetop.

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I never knew the power of buckets until I came to Ghana!

There are always endless daily chores to be done and we all share the work, like my Barista team back home, repetitively cleaning out the urns, and re-stalking the fridge for today, tomorrow and the day after that. And my tree, (better than the big powerful espresso machines) where I feel the most relaxed, where I can learn/write and develop my craft. The peace and control I feel here reminds me of that steady calm that I have only ever experienced when I’m making lattes behind the espresso counter! Thank you Ghana.

Love, Coffee Girl

 

 

Every Rainbow

“Sexuality is fluid; whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.”

-Shane, The L Word

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Every human is mostly water, its life force is air. As humans, fluidity is in our nature.

Every fluid, including coffee is adaptable, it has no boundaries. Its flow is limitless until given a container.

Every order comes with a differently marked cup. The process for filling it is relatively the same, with just a few minor changes, depending on the customer’s preference.

Every cup wants to be handled with care, and filled lovingly with the finest product.

Every café is alive with unique flavours, catering to any individual’s desires.

Every date begins at the coffee shop. Love at first sip.

Every Barista learns not to discriminate between cups. Coffee is coffee, no matter what it’s put in, or how you choose to drink it.

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Every customer is welcome.

Hip, Stirred in NYC

Here I squat, with my Cafe Mocha, in the East Village (2nd Ave.7th St).

Coffee Girl in Manhattan

Coffee Girl in Manhattan

I’m the know-not, un-hippest trend-rejected girl here in the Lower East Side. Would someone PLEASE teach me how to bite into coffee culture in the biggest, hippest apple?

First off, I’m not really in New York City. But more like hipster central on the lower edges of Manhattan. Smooshed between funky necklace boutiques, angry-artsy tattoo parlours, Venezuelan tapas hubs, over-crowded organic-gourmet milkshake gallery-shops, and ancient dusty wine cellars, is me.

I want to be the local, I want to blend in…but the first thing I’ve learned is you can’t figure out how to breathe here, you’ve just gotta be born knowing. You either have It. Or It has to find you. I’ve decided I will probably spend my life staring at the finger of the person who is pointing out where It is, and I’m proudly saying i see It, but really staring, blurrily, five feet below where It is. The Have-Its are laughing.

Well here’s my best shot (espresso shot that is):

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NYC Coffee Shops. Now I  feel like I have been doing this wrong forever. new check-list:

1. Dingy? Whole-in-wall? With an essence of grungy Plaid? Bingo!

2. Strange unique name? Weird abbreviations? Foreign words? Named after a misunderstood artist? Or French lady? Ironic/witty? (aka NINE83, AbraCo, Cafe Collette, Grumpy).

3. Social suicide: Union square/anywhere within walking distance of a Starbucks, and well-lit places full of tourists, happy people, academics, mainstream, newly made clothes, Ugg boots, obese people. ugh, for shame…

4. There should be at least six obscure, freshly roasted blends on tap, the darker and blacker the better. Add extra points for more ironic names, aka Mundane Blend.

5. The more people wearing unnecessary hats, vintage scarves and lace-up boots the better. Oh, and plaid, duh.

6. Absolutely no children inside. No golden retrievers or labs waiting outside. If so, keeping skulking on by.

7. Obscure indie artist mix or mild punk music must be playing. Or side patio for cigarette rolling. Top 40 is a definite turn off, and will be turned off immediately.

8. Fresh baked vegan or white-chocolate-blueberry—pinot-soaked-pumpkin-oatmeal cookie type options. Or starvation.

9. Evil eyes to corporate coffee chains.

10. The Baristas behind the counter must be wearing awkward ties and blazers, skinny jeans and vintages tees, and yes, plaid. They should all be lattes-artists and very stoic and unfriendly. All words exchanged must be 90% sarcastic. Or silence.

11. Coffee is a necessary part of existing; you don’t look for a good coffee shop, you know where to go. Thank the hipster gods who made you this way.

12. Be picky. Be pretentious. Be an expert. Cuz you just are. Meh.

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OTHER NEW YORK TRENDS:

▪ Milk Bars: enjoy “homemade style” cookies dipped in different types of milk. From strawberry soy to cereal-soaked, dunk cereal bars in your jam-jar cup at the long wooden table.

▪ Design-your-own-FRO-YO! Frozen yogurt will never be the same because now it’s all about personal customization with gummy worms, lychee balls, on top low-fat peanut butter and sugar-free lemon drop flavours. Please don’t conform my cone!

▪ Obscure foods from ALL over the world: the harder to pronounce the better, and the more remote the country gives you bonus points.

▪ Gourmet hot dogs: This has actually been an Icelandic tradition forever but now it’s here, and waaaay more expensive.

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▪ Street food trucks: move over hot dogs and soft-serve, NYC has an excellent variety of street food all available in convenient roadside trucks. As delicious as they are sketchy, enjoy a gyro, Jamaican rice and beans and greasy chicken feast for a low low price. (Perfect for Occupying Wall Street!)

▪ Pies. Too bad I don’t like crust.

FIN.

Coffee Girl