A Day in the Life of a Starbucks Employee

Coffee before work . . . and after . . . and during

People always snicker when I say I wake up at 4:20, but honest, it’s gives me just enough time to shower, dress, drive, and get to work by five. Five, yes, in the AM, when it’s still dark, when your body is too shocked from being disrupted to react negatively. You are in wake-up and go mode. Luckily, caffeine can help.

So, naturally, I go right to Starbucks. For one cup of coffee. Some espresso. Another cup. And hours later, a frappuccino. Yes, I stay there all day. It’s what I do. I am in the coffee business.


Getting out of my car, the morning smells new. I tie my green apron as I walk to the door.

Good morning.

The shift on duty, Brad, grunts a response. He stumbles around and makes noises in the morning. While Jason doesn’t have remarkable early morning behavior, he does have remarkable hair. Stocky, with giant blonde dreads and a giant grin to match, this huge surfer dude is pretty chill.

Pastry case? I ask, eagerly waiting to hear my place on the duty chart, yet cautious about bothering Brad with questions so early.

Yes. It’s settled.

Jason will do drive-thru, Brad will count tills, and I will put the pastries out. This means Jason has to lug the heavy metal tables and chairs out, and I have to accidentally break some crumble berry coffee cake. I smile. I nibble on this sugary excuse for breakfast.

It’s very frustrating, because I never know which pastries go on what shelf. It’s an enigma. Asking doesn’t help. I do my best to follow the old chart. Top shelf: blueberry, cranberry orange and banana-nut muffins, cheese danishes, and croissants. Yes, corporate is intent upon having pastries that are difficult to spell, and coffee drinks that are even more difficult to pronounce. I’ll speak generally. Middle shelf: scones and coffee cakes. The most confusing shelf, in case you were wondering, is the bottom. A Bavarian cream turnover rumbles in. Iced lemon pound cake gets cozy. Marble loaf. Then, there’s three empty spots. The enigma!

Brad, what else should I put out?

I never do pastry case. His voice is deep and gravely this early.

I hazard some cookies, then he looks.

You can’t put those out. Bagels. Do bagels.

He could have said so in the first place. Oh well.

Five thirty, and I’ve done a simply appetizing job.

I used to hate COW. The intense smell of the grinding coffee beans used to make me nauseous. Now, it makes me want to eat the beans raw. Mmmm, espresso. COW, better known as, coffee of the week, means grinding and weighing nine filters of grinds for each of the four buckets. We all refer to this as COW, but no one finds this quite as silly as I do. So many COW jokes in my head waiting. Just waiting.

Now, everything is ready and I get to work with people.

I have to get this out in the open, once and for all, I am not a good barista. (Barista: person who works at a coffee shop.) We have a principle task to complete. I fail at this task. I’m not saying I spill hot liquid all over the pseudo-intellectual coffee consumers. But, no, I just cannot remember people’s names or the drinks that go with them. Lilette has it down to a science. She writes descriptive notes to herself, so she’s ready. Then, with a keen eye, she watches the blond ultra-toned woman walk in.

Can you get a grande extra hot vanilla latte for Diane started?

And every time she does this I die a little inside, knowing I’ll never be that good.

From seven to nine everyone’s getting their fix on their way to work and dropping their kids at school. The occasional business man takes twenty for a lowerfat cinnamon walnut coffee cake and a paper. And I think about how I don’t know prices for the drinks.

I’m a failure. A failure.

But, can you beat this, can you honestly beat my sincere good morning, my generous offer to leave room for cream, my inquiring after the status of your day? Can you? Because I am smiling. I’m smiling because Frank Sinatra is singing. I’m smiling, because people can only get so mad about a messed up drink.

So, the atmosphere is purple, brown and green soothing colors. The coffee siren reigns over the patio, while my manager smokes, Frankie wants a refill, and Mike’s enjoying his day off.

Okay, so I know a few names. I have a vague idea of a grande-mocha-frappuccino-with-an-add-shot-in-a-venti-cup, of a 6 AM venti-vanilla-cappuccino. Well, sometimes Miss 6 AM comes in at 8 AM, if she goes to them gym first. What is it with gym people and caffiene? But worse than gym people are picky people.

If you hadn’t figured out, or aren’t already one of these people, I’ll have you know that we don’t have customers, but connoisseurs. Picky people. People, like Tom.

grande-non-fat-140 degree-no-foam latte. If you don’t know his drink, and you’re holding a cup, staring at him blankly, waiting to take down his order, then-

My regular. Huge sigh. World off balance. Tom, then, slowly spelling out what you should have read all over his face. Do I not look like a latte? Are you stupid?

So, yeah, it’s tough. I work hard. Maybe I’m not sweaty, but hang out with me afterward and you’ll be craving the caffeine. My mocha covered, sumatra smelling, foam spilt clothes.

I’m Alanna and I froth milk. I blend beverages. I pull shots.

All day I hear: We need ice! Coffee’s expired. How many caramel pumps? Where’s the leaf cookies on the register? Make UBB. Charge the whip creams. She wants it 2 percent. Chantico only gets 140 degrees. Decaf frappucino last forty eight hours. Did you mark’em? Pull up to the window. Kill the shots. More white chocolate mocha. Eight-sugars-just-checking. Double cup? Of course! . . . and so on. That’s the lingo. Jargon. Music. The music of a coffee shop.

Meanwhile I ponder my questions. If someone orders a half of a sweet and low (which they do), does that mean their only getting the sweet? Or only the low? Why don’t they call half-and-half the not-so-redundant half? Does it really make sense to have a frappuccino light WITH whip cream? Would Mary Lou notice if I put six, instead of seven pumps in her extra-hot-no-water-no-foam chai? Would she?

So, the job requires some existential delving. Some big questions. Most importantly, what do I want to drink?

Nonfat-sugar-free vanilla-120-degrees-extra-whip-caramel-macchiato, please? 

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