This Barista Life: Part 3

Here we are and there we are and we are all together.

What was it like to once again pull up roots? This time moving back across the bay, closer to home and into the heart of the beloved Oakland.

If I haven’t made it clear, I love Oakland. I am less convinced at this point that Oakland loves me, but I will do my best to earn its love by fighting for it with every breath that I have.

I was excited, nervous, queasy to be meeting a whole host of new baristas, that first day of school feeling: what if they don’t like puns? what if they don’t like me? But I’m repeating myself.

And, of course, the thirst to prove myself, to put into play everything I had learned over the last nine months. My desire for perfection and cleanliness, my attention to detail, my abject humility.

They let me into a shining new cafe, and I was like a kid in the candy store. No problem was too small: should the for here set ups go under the espresso machine or somewhere else? Which way should the cups be facing? What does internal hospitality even mean?

I had too much fun nerding out, making puns, pulling faces, doing my cappuccino dance, etc etc etc. It is testament to my fellow baristas that my Ferry Building homesickness, though still intense, was not all-encompassing. I had the honor of helping to inaugurate a new cafe, and to welcome in a whole new neighborhood, hoping that we could learn from them, grow with them, and earn a place in their hearts.

I’m a little bit sentimental right now, if you couldn’t tell.

Anniversaries will do that to you.

So that’s where I’m at. A year at Blue Bottle. Still with so much to learn and so much to do. But I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished. Proud that I went from steaming my first ever latte to competing in a latte art throw down. Proud that I went from tasting notes like “chocolate?” to participating in production cuppings. Proud that I went from knowing no one to pulling shots for our founder and CEO.

I’m so lucky and so grateful and so overly-caffeinated, and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes me.


This Barista Life: Part 2, Ferry Home Companion

If you spend much time on this little blue dot called Earth, and especially if you live somewhere in the vicinity of that cacophonous nation called the United States, then tides and times will likely wash you up onto the shore of the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

My first day to work was also my first ever visit to the building itself, although I had heard of it, even looked it up on maps before moving out West. There was nothing to prepare me for the reality of it, though.

Picture the train station of your imagination, it’s huge, bigger than any building ought to be, and the ceiling is made all of glass, cut through with iron supports. And sunlight falls in and turns everything golden, catching in the dust beams. This is the Ferry Building.

Picture, too, everyone you’ve ever met. They are all there, many times over. I can’t count the number of people, those I’d forgotten, or those I think about every day who I ran into completely unknowingly at Ferry.

Not to mention the vendors. If the Island of Misfit Toys were real, it would be there. These honest, messed up, pantheon of people.

I didn’t know that first day, walking awkwardly through the crowd, that these people would become my best friends, this magical building my home.

The first weeks passed in a haze. Here I was and there I was, inside the building outside the building, learning names and faces and how to brew a cup of coffee. Stepping on toes literally and metaphorically. I can never thank everyone enough for their patience and compassion in teaching me.

Every day walking to work was like diving underwater again, never certain who or what I would see. Whether the woman trying to steal our tip jar for the umpteenth time, two men picking a fight outside the window, or David Beckham and family attempting to slide unseen through the crowd. Some days all three.

But time passed, and I grew as a barista and as a person. My latte art started looking like latte art, and my extraction levels were sometimes deemed adequate. People I respect started commenting, supporting me to look for new ways to grow.

When my manager approached me about going to help start a new cafe, my immediate first response was “no way”. It felt like being asked to move across the country again. Everyone I knew and loved was in the Ferry Building, everything I’d built was there, I felt comfortable, safe, supported. Which, of course, is why I knew I had to say yes. As with all of my life, if it scares me, I probably should do it.

I know I speak for everyone who has ever worked at the Ferry Building when I say it is a unique experience. Working there will stay with me for the rest of my life.

But as with all things, this too, must pass, and it was on to Henry House!

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.

California: Year One

Today, July 4, 2017, marks one year since I arrived in this strange world of California. It has been a year truly unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my near quarter-of-a-century life.

What a roller coaster. I spent a month in Palo Alto working every job that I could find. I moved myself across the Bay to Oakland. I got a job with Blue Bottle. Started working in San Francisco. Met my Ferry Building family. Celebrated Christmas with my sister. Jumped in the ocean. Ate a doughnut. Visited Portland. Got mugged. Joined my first ever real-world writing class. Gave my first ever reading. Adopted a kitten. Moved jobs. And, as of yesterday, moved houses once more.

Note to self: I know you think you can do anything, and you can, but next time don’t move all your stuff and then work a seven hour shift. That’s a recipe for a zombie-Laura.

I’ve been thinking about the United States a lot, you know, and the Bay Area in particular. And recently I saw a sign that says “America was Never great.” Which is both true and also not true.

The state of the United States is one founded on the removal of Native people, the enslavement of Africans, and the general principle that anything is okay if you have enough money to justify it. So, yes, the state of the United States has never been great.

However, when it comes to the people who happen to be living here, then it becomes more complicated. At least for me.

Because the people of the United States have done some pretty cool things. Like fighting for black liberation, women’s liberation, gay rights, trans rights, prisoner equality, and generally human rights across the board.

If the United States is anything, it’s the constant struggle of its people against the state.

This has come into the light upon my arrival in Oakland. I wrote about this before, but I’ve never felt more strongly the feeling and embodiment of community. This is a place where people are living out their beliefs.

Is there rampant gentrification, horrible landlords, a brutal police force and insidious racism? You better believe it. But I also firmly believe that the community is more powerful.

So this July 4, I am celebrating my arrival into this joyous community. I am celebrating the power of people everywhere to struggle against the oppressive forces that seek to destroy them. I celebrate the Native people who have endured, survived and thrived into the present. I celebrate black freedom and black community. I celebrate the Asian immigrants who built and are building the country. I celebrate women, cis and trans, strong enough to keep fighting. I celebrate all people working towards universal equality.

And that’s a lot worth celebrating.



A Brief Apologia

I’m not currently traveling. I’m not doing research on the cure for any sort of disease. I’m not even in classes at the moment, it being summer and all, but I am still writing. And I’m still thinking thoughts about things, things that I somehow feel would benefit other people.

So I’m going to post things I suppose, and people can or can’t read them depending on their preference.

What could I possibly have to write about? Books, movies, new exciting plant species that I’m learning to identify, the latest Northfield Gossip, maybe if I grow bold some of my worse short stories and short short stories. Get excited.

I’m currently thinking a lot about Dirty Dancing, so get ready for that to hit the webs sometime this week. Possible titles: Dirty Dancing: Better than You Might Think; Dirty Dancing: Why Would You Ever Watch the “Sequel/Prequel”; Dirty Dancing: Beyond Patrick Swayze in Black Pants.