This Barista Life: Part 1

As always I feel compelled by the passage of time, an hour gone, or a month, in this case it has been a year since I started working at Blue Bottle Coffee.

What began as an attempt at stable income has transformed into my life and family in the Bay Area. And more, a way of interacting with the world.

I began with no knowledge of coffee beyond the fact that I liked it and drank it in large quantities to make it through college. I first started drinking coffee the summer after my freshman year at Carleton, when I had snagged a job that required me to regularly be awake at 5:00 in the morning. My old roommates can attest, I am not a morning person no matter what I want to believe. From there coffee became more about a place, Blue Monday, of course. How many conversations, hours, laughter, tears, memories all tied up in that crowded little room with the mismatched chairs, all taking place over steaming cups of bean juice.

And I found coffee in my travels. Whenever I got a chance to explore alone, I would look first for a coffee shop and a bookstore, places in which I felt at home. This led me to coffee shops in Queenstown, Christchurch, Sydney, Dublin, Vienna, Lima, and all across the United States.

So when I was on the job quest last August, I felt drawn to coffee jobs. Little did I know all that would be in store.

I first experienced Blue Bottle down in Palo Alto, meeting with a friend of my sister. Of course, I walked past the place a few times before realizing where it was. (Blue Bottle never has the name on the building, only the symbol.) Once inside I felt as though I might be trespassing, these people seemed to know what they were doing, to be operating with some sort of purpose, to be achieving at high rates. Meanwhile, I was struggling to shower regularly.

But the feeling I came away with was warm and genuine, so when I saw that Blue Bottle was hiring, I jumped at the opportunity. I can’t remember what I said or did in the series of interviews, but something must have worked because a month after I applied, I was in training.

I was intimidated, but the training felt like school, so I sat front and center, took notes, asked questions, and was generally obnoxious as usual. And I found myself unbelievably entranced. Coffee brought together ecology, evolution, social justice, feminism, perfectionism, art, and people in this amazing combination. In one day we could talk about supply chains, extraction levels, and women in coffee all in the same setting.

And in addition to the intellectual stimulation, I got to make something with my own two hands. How rare a gift was that? For a person who has spent most of my life locked up inside my devious and ever-moving mind, to work with my hands is no small gift.

It was one of the things I loved so much about working in the prairies of Minnesota. To go out and touch the stalks of bending grass, smell the scent of bruising leaves after rainfall, listen to the gunshot of startled pheasants exploding into the sky.

I found this in coffee as well. All my creativity, my scientific inquiry, my people skills, and my drive were put to use here. Especially at my first cafe, the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

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