Lisa was an accomplished barista for 3 years. She is currently completing her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies at York University.
Being a manager at a coffee shop and making people specialty coffee drinks was one of the most rewarding things I have ever had the opportunity to do. But there are some things that are important for you to know before you make your next café visit.
1. It’s "espresso," not “expresso."
Are you pressing something expressly? Like . . . what? The term "espresso" comes from the Italian name for coffee, meaning "pressed-out coffee." Let's not disrespect this heritage!
2. “Can I get a cappuccino with no foam?”
Me: "So . . . you want an espresso with steamed milk?"
Customer: “No, a cappuccino with no foam.”
Me: [internal facepalms]
A classic cappuccino is bottom third espresso, middle third steamed milk, top third milk foam. A latté is bottom third espresso, added steamed milk, and a thin layer of foam on the top. Just ask for a latté, or even a latté with no foam if you really don't like foam is fine too!
3. Stop breathing down our necks while we make your drink.
We’re not going to spit in your macchiato. Trust us to do a good job and we’ll trust you to be a decent customer. Our boss hired us for a reason!
4. Get off your phone while we serve you.
First of all, this is just plain rude. But never mind the fact that you’re holding up the line and our ability to keep our staff rhythm going. Don’t tempt me to make your skinny sugar-free vanilla latté with half-and-half and an entire sugarcane in it. And decaf.
5. Use the damn drainage grates, not the garbage!
When you pour your coffee in the garbage, the next barista to take it out will more than likely have it leak all over them as well as our backroom. And here’s hoping that it’s not still hot because let me tell you how enjoyable burns are.
6. Serving you is not our only job when we’re on shift.
For the love of all things holy, don’t serve yourself. Your barista will help you when they get the chance to.
7. Free refills are not a universal policy.
We appreciate that you’re saving resources by bringing back the same cup to use, but not every store is corporate-owned and has the ability to hand out free drinks that easily.
8. Dry cappuccinos.
All baristas reading this . . . I can feel your annoyance from here. Scroll back to point two—you see how a standard cappuccino is made. All right, so a dry cappuccino is the same except that the top two-thirds is all foam instead of the middle third being steamed milk. So because foam takes up a higher volume in the frothing pitcher, we have to steam multiple times to make it right! Don't get me wrong, if you're a nice person we have zero problem making this for you. It's just that this particular drink takes extra time to make and can be a bit tricky, especially for trainees, so please be extra patient if you order this one.
9. Macchiatos are not caramel, and no, they do not come in standard sizing.
We get it, you love your mainstream Starbucks drinks. But don’t try to order their inauthentically named drinks at other establishments. A true macchiato is a single, double, or triple shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk, topped with a dollop of milk foam, and served in an espresso-sized cup, not a latté-sized cup.
10. Don’t complain to us about the prices.
I get it, finances can be tough. But don’t take it out on your barista who is working hard for the same thing you’re complaining about: money! We have no control over the prices. And no, we’re not going to give you a complimentary discount.
11. Please specify the size of your drink.
This is probably the easiest part of your order, yet a majority of people decide to leave it out. We can’t make your coffee if we don’t know how much to give you!
12. “Good afternoon what can I get for—” “Give me a hazelnut latté.”
Um, gee, thanks for cutting me off before I could finish speaking. My day has been fine, too, thank you for asking.
13. Don’t think you’re being smart by trying to scam the system.
We work here. We know every trick in the book, and it’s not going to work, Karen. Please do not ask for "a medium coffee in a large cup" so that you don't have to pay for the added cream and sugar. Or ask for a triple shot of espresso in a large cup where you just add all of the milk yourself afterwards (that's just an iced latté!). You're ultimately hurting your favourite coffee shop by running us of our money!
14. Extras or modifiers are likely to be extra charges.
We understand it can be annoying when your already $5 drink ends up being $7 because you need that extra caffeine kick to get you going. But it’s simple economics: extra goods, extra charge.
15. Be patient.
If you’re in a rush, don’t stop to get a drink and take your poor time management skills out on your barista! Being a barista takes a special skill (you know we have to get a barista certificate to work, right?) and these things can take time.
16. We are not bussers. Please clean up after yourselves.
Garbage bins are provided for a reason. Please use them!
17. “Oh, well Establishment A makes my drink a different way.”
Well this is Establishment B, and we make our drinks the way we make them, so I don’t know what you want me to do about that, Susan.
18. Asking for an iced latté with no ice is very contradictory.
Iced lattés consist of cold milk and hot espresso. Adding the ice brings the hot espresso down to a colder temperature. Leaving the ice out is going to give you a very lukewarm drink that won’t be worth the $7 that you paid for it.
19. Ordering four different drinks and expecting them to all be ready within three minutes is extremely unrealistic.
We only have two hands. You can see us trying our hardest so please understand that we’re doing our best while under pressure to make you your order at the highest quality possible.
20. And the most important: Understand that we are people with feelings, too.
Life can be tough, and coffee is a good way to keep pushing through that. But taking your stress or whatever you may be going through out on the barista is super uncalled for. Customer service workers are living in the same simulation of life as you are; who knows what we’re also going through? Be kind and thoughtful—both yourself and your barista will appreciate it and it will go a long way outside of the café.
© 2020 Lisa Hallam
KonaGirl from New York on July 14, 2020:
Thank you for the informative article about placing different orders with coffee baristas!
Mainly, people just need better manners! They need to learn just to be kind to each other. The old "Golden Rule". It always makes me wonder if their mothers ever taught them correct public behavior at home as they were growing up.
On the other hand, I avoid places like Starbuck's because I hate it when the barista humiliates me, making me feel stupid for asking a simple question. Sometimes the baristas also need better manners.
I do know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino but I didn't know what a macchiato is. Thank you for the explanation. Now I won't have to face another public humiliation by asking that question at the next coffee shop I visit.
Brian Lokker from Bethesda, Maryland on July 09, 2020:
Very nice article, with good points that all coffee drinkers should take to heart.
Liza from USA on July 02, 2020:
Hi Lisa, great article about the barista. I have never been a barista, but I am a coffee lover. Sometimes, as a customer, we do not know how is the life of a barista. As a customer, we know to order coffee that we think we know. However, I admit some might not knowing a lot about the type of coffee that has to offer at a coffee place or a restaurant. I enjoy the article a lot! Thanks for sharing.