What it’s like working the coffee bar.

When I get on shift at Peets, the moment I set foot on the floor I am in another world. Things look so different. I studied zen so much in the last two years, and I sometimes wondered if that was some kind of an escape, maybe even a part of hubris at wanting to become enlightened. But what I found is that that’s all an academic distinction. The minute I am in that store there is nothing but each motion, without almost any distraction. There’s just too much to focus on.

When I’m at the register, I’m balancing incongrous orders in random bursts. The control system is designed with a careful logic. In many ways it’s an unsophisticated ideograph that doesn’t exist the way people talk. It may look like I’m just typing in a terminal, but I’m not. I’m translating from chaos to logic. When people walk up to the counter they begin quickly announcing things. Most of the time it’s before I even have a chance to log in, not from distraction, but because of the limits of human computation and motor skills. The people I am trying to help with their order may not know this. While I am parsing the infromation and holding it in my memory, I am also balancing listening to announcements from my teammates, a bell sound for finding mobile orders, the sound of the oven, and watching for the door and making sure we’re all balanced in the small corridor where we work.

Because I miss reading journalism and going to press conferences on c-span I bought in bulk a reporters notebook so that I can write down any information that might be missed when orders get changed. It’s practically like being a mentat. There’s nothing that prepares you for this. Most of the people I help, and I’m starting to know, are absolutely respectful and wonderful people, but occasionally we do get experiences that are less than kind. There’s also a sense of protocol and kindness that we have to maintain to keep ourselves from becoming too forefront from the experience. It’s a careful balance.

There are so many people who work in retail. Most of the time a lot of us work at minimum wage, and in my current role without benefits. It’s a very difficult job, and I recently spoke with a PHD who doubted that they could do the job. So why are we so many times unappreciated?

The baristas I work with love what we do. I know, at least this very moment, nothing I would rather do. I could be anywhere. But I’m loving giving coffee for a small exhange every morning in a complete offering of love. It’s a moment I don’t take lightly. So much happens in the chain of events that leads to the moment that I place a coffee in front of the register for one of our visitors. A combination of science, agriculture and technology, weather patterns and rains, the interaction of seasons and the movements of the earth and sun. Nothing can match it. Nothing in the visual design of our company nor any of the conversations we have. Is it just a coffee? Yes. It’s so much more, and yes it’s strong. It’s strong because a lot of us are holding each other up. It’s strong because of the careful attention paid in every step in the process, people who give so much of their time in love for coffee. It doesn’t make much sense. I don’t know why this particular drink, apart from chemical reactions leads to such a fever pitch both for those of us who love coffee, and the tasks we bring to it. If coffee production stops would the world ground to a halt? I don’t know, but it’s possible.

The next time you’re at a Peets take a moment to realize that behind that cup is a radical act of love and teamwork. We’re moving at the speed of light, as one organism. And never forget that espresso is a technology, the greatest and fastest way that we can move at a speed that doesn’t sacrifice artistry. Tomorrow, when I wake up again and step back onto the floor, I hope to bring my absolute all to every moment, so if you’re in line waiting for us, because we are so busy, just know that we can’t wait for you to get your coffee either, and we’re performing acrobatics for very low pay because we love what we do. I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this, but don’t take it for granted. Every moment I am in that store is an act of radical love.

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