Your groggy eyes startle open at the sound of an alarm, and in a dazed state you are suddenly certain something is wrong – your house has been broken into, someone is downstairs, you must act quickly, call the police!
As you valiantly leap from bed to take action, you realize it’s only your phone alarm, just like every other day, summoning you to your job. It’s time to be a barista again.
Thinking it entirely too dark to actually be time to get up, you glance at the clock as you shut off the beeping and unfortunately discover that your 4:00 a.m. wake-up call has come just on time. Nothing but the immense love of your job and the possibility of a busy morning’s tip jar gets you out of bed.
You stumble to the dresser and proudly don your uniform with the same vigor and zeal as a superhero on a mission to save the world. It reminds you of your idea to add a cape to the O’Henry’s uniform, as capes would set you apart from other companies’ barista teams – who wouldn’t love a cappuccino made by someone in a superhero cape? You make a mental note to share this idea with your manager.
Your shirt smells wonderful, because you washed it yesterday. People compliment how heavenly you smell wherever you go these days, being that before work you smell like fresh laundry (from repeatedly wearing and washing the same three t-shirts over and over again), and after work you smell like you left with coffee beans stuffed in your pockets. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh linens and coffee? It’s a win-win. Just another reason you love your job.
You throw your hair back into some sort of socially appropriate up-do, unless you don’t have long hair. You’ve probably washed it the night before, since waking up before 4:00 a.m. to do your hair is unacceptable no matter how much free coffee you’re offered.
After these few minutes of prep work, you grab your belongings and head out the door. Some days you’ve prepared your breakfast the night before and left it in the fridge to grab on your way out, and other days you decide you’ll pay to make yourself a muffin once you get to work. It can’t hurt to support the business that supports you, right? Plus, the muffins are tantalizingly delicious. You drive to work fantasizing about whether to pick the blueberry or the cholesterol-free peach.
Upon arrival, you meet the always-cheerful co-worker who is equally crazy about his 4:00 a.m. wake-up time or her delightful-smelling shirt, and you both begin to set up shop. You go through the motions, the daily grind, if you will – turn on the oven, pour the muffin batter tenderly and lovingly into the muffin papers, bake the scones and cinnamon rolls, test-run the espresso shots, brew the coffee. You glance eagerly at the clock anticipating the moment 6:00 a.m. arrives and you get to see your favorite regulars.
You are confident as you ready the café for the day, because between the hours of 5:00-6:00 a.m., nothing ever goes wrong. The coffee brewer never leaks and threatens to leave you coffee-less for the day. The espresso shots pull perfectly every time. Night shift has indubitably left everything in order, stocked and ready to go for the day ahead. There’s always enough muffin batter. And even if, hypothetically, of course, everything weren’t perfect, you’d just use your quick-thinking superhero-barista skills to fix whatever needed to be fixed and hope your regulars were running late that morning.
When the clock hits 6:00 you gleefully bound to the door, hardly able to contain your excitement, and you open for business, having pulled the steaming hot muffins out of the oven and displayed the scones and cinnamon rolls for all to see only minutes before. When your first guest enters, you feel a sense of overwhelming affection for this person who has made all of the morning’s efforts, now going two hours strong, totally worth it. You feel as though you have awoken and labored just for this moment, to serve this person his steaming coffee or her warm pastry with a beaming smile and radiance determined to start their days on the right foot. It’s one of your favorite parts of the day.
Your morning continues with similar joy, obviously loving your job too much to get overwhelmed by the twelve cups lined up next to the espresso machine and the line of people out the door, each one of whom is late to a meeting. You’re never intimidated by an order of three pumpkin-spice – one skinny, one all-the way and one hold the whip with an extra-shot – followed by a bréve au lait, four small lattes each with a different milk and two with flavor shots. Oh, and a few pounds of ground beans and a couple of catering orders to be filled. No, you smile through it all, not at all stressed and getting each order right every time.
Okay, so perhaps sometimes you get a little intimidated and mess up an order or two. Maybe you spill the Nutella drizzle all over the counter and into someone’s latte, or maybe the cinnamon shaker shakes a little violently onto someone’s cinnamon roll latte. Either way, you still love your job – despite the nervous twitch developing in your right eye. Is it the caffeine or the stress? You’ll never know.
In between morning rushes, you sprint back to the office to guzzle your own coffee and finish the breakfast you started an hour ago (you forewent both healthier muffin options and splurged on a scone like you do most days). You dash between the counters and the coffee and the carafes on the condiment bar making sure everything is well-maintained and kept in order. You grind beans, you stamp bean cards, you ask people if they want their receipt or room for cream. If you wanted to frown, you’d have to force yourself to do it.
You just do your barista thing, and you love it.
As the day wears on, you settle into your drink-making rhythm and find yourself inordinately excited when the planets align, your milk is steamed to the right foam/milk proportions and you make your best latte art to date. You stop what everyone around you is doing to make sure the art is properly appreciated, and your life is very nearly made when someone walks away from the bar audibly delighted at the beauty of her drink. You wipe the espresso grinds from your hands and clean the counter, stowing everything in its proper place, and you exhale a slow, gratified sigh. The morning rush has subdued.
You go about your daily duties – keeping the coffee brewed, cleaning and tidying, taking orders and doing dishes, interacting with guests and coworkers… until finally, it’s time to go. You gather your goodies from the tip jar – of course, you’d love your job without it, but it helps – and collect your belongings, saying goodbye to the guests and heading out.
After especially busy mornings, you might do something therapeutic like work out or go shopping and accidentally spend a week’s worth of tips on one clothing item. Often, though, you just go home. As you drive, you reflect on your day’s work, happy and content, glad to be perfecting your craft and making friends with more of the regulars. You walk into your house thinking about how much you love coffee, how much you adore the smell of your shirt (as you stick it in the wash to remove the Nutella and espresso stains) and you soak in the satisfaction of serving people a great product with a genuine smile.
And when you wake from your nap two hours later, you find your 4:00 a.m. wake-up call tolerable enough, and you can’t wait to do it all again the next day.
Written by Meredith
O'Henry's Homewood Employee