A barista (Italian [baˈrista]; English /bəˈriːstə/ bə-ree-stuh or /bəˈrɪstə/ bə-ri-stuh; from the Italian for “bartender”) is a person, usually a coffeehouse employee, who prepares and serves espresso-based coffee drinks.
A barrister (also known as barrister-at-law or bar-at-law) is a type of lawyer in common law jurisdictions who works at higher levels of court.
For those that didn’t know, I was a Starbucks Barista during my undergraduate degree.
Pretty random for a law student right? Well if you’re campus is lucky enough to have a Starbucks licensed store on site then you’ll know that most of the workers are students themselves. My student union was great in the sense that they hired students as it gave us the opportunity to place a toe in the working world while upholding our tertiary education. Sounds simple right? Wrong! I applied for a whole lot of working positions in and around campus. It was disheartening to get rejected for “not having enough experience” (Thanks for nothing Student Ambassadors!!) or not “meeting the required skills necessary.” It was just when I began to lose hope that I decided to apply for a barista position at Starbucks. I was so desperate to get accepted at this point you would think I was broke and homeless the way I am carrying on. I still remember using my African background as a motivation for why I should be hired since coffee beans originated from Ethiopia. Thankfully after five long months I heard that I was short listed, and I was beyond ecstatic.
It wasn’t easy; there was a group test, interview and a trial to get through. I honestly began to question why I was doing it in the first place. In fact, some of my law friends thought it was “social suicide” (even though they worked at a Starbucks themselves) while others were super supportive to the point where they paid that extra £2 from Starbucks instead of our library cafe just so I could serve them. I was buzzing when I got the job; I made sure I was fifteen minutes early to my trial and I even watched YouTube videos on how to make hot drinks in case I was ever asked. I learnt on the job and most of the time I felt out of my league so I spent a lot of time observing,cleaning and asking questions at first until I was eventually allowed to step in the arena of coffee-making.
My work colleagues? Well, they were brilliant and in every aspect too: they were brilliantly skilled, brilliantly intelligent, brilliantly critical,brilliantly competitive, brilliantly efficient and above all, brilliantly witty. I was incredibly intimidated the first few months on the job as I was one of the “newbies,” it seemed as though all the other newbies had more experience than me or they knew people working there so I was way out of my comfort zone with cliques. I wanted to fit in so badly that I tried to be as polite as possible and bite my tongue when necessary (which if you know me is very hard to do). I started to get so overwhelmed that I wasn’t making friends or that I was not on the same level in my manager’s eyes. I cried at the end of every shift in the beginning (cue the violins) and decided if I didn’t get signed off then I would quit.
But I didn’t quit; I stuck through it. I began to befriend my colleagues instead of seeing them just as work peers. What was so different between us? I was an international student that never indulged in alcohol, lived in the UK or knew how to make coffee. It was silly to base my isolation on that – in fact, majority of the time I was invited to hang out with them but I suppose the introvert in me felt self-conscious as to what they would think of me. Eventually, I realised we were all students and that we were all working towards similar goals. I kept telling myself this is the real world Aisha, work hard and get over yourself, and I did. I began to feel less intimidated, requested more shifts and even socialised a lot more. The Starbucks people were so easy-going and while at times my competitive streak came out, I admired their resilience. It motivated me to keep on par with them not just at work but even through academics. I was surrounded by, to name a few, English, Biochemistry, Economics, History, Engineering, Physics and even Politics students. We all had our own struggle but we at least had the joy of mocking and socialising with one another through it all (I’m looking at you Michelle!).
It was a great time: I learnt how to make every drink on the menu and remember customers drinks without them even asking (“Sup,skinny flat white, Matt?”). The balance of my degree and work started to equalise, and pretty soon, I was feeling on top of my game. I had a better relationship with my managers the more I opened up about my insecurities about the job. It reached a point where this position became an outlet to unwind and did not even feel like a job at all.
However, I did receive my fair share of backlash about taking the job. A lot of people questioned why I needed the job and if it was necessary to be a “waiter.” Maybe I didn’t need the job for monetary reasons but for my sense of self-worth, I most definitely I did. The current judge I am working with questioned why I took this job and he said it was good I started at the bottom because when he was a freshly qualified lawyer, he was making his boss’s coffee and buying his cigarettes for his first year. Lucky for him, he never quit and two years later he was the youngest partner in the firm.
On another occasion, I remember working a closing shift when a student came to order a drink and asked, “as a Muslim, how can you support a Jewish company like Starbucks?” While I do enjoy a good political debate, I wasn’t in the mood to engage and merely asked him if he read that Starbucks actually closed their operations in Israel in 2003, or the fact that Starbucks operates throughout the Middle east and Saudi Arabia. I questioned him as someone who is a Muslim, working for a company founded by a Jew, since when was antisemitism a thing again? As he was a Muslim too, I reminded him that our religion doesn’t teach us to hate other religions and if he’s so worried about “fuelling the Jews,” he should enjoy his hazelnut latte because he just did.
In fact, if any one has recently noticed during the recent crisis of Trump’s Muslim Ban, the Starbucks CEO actually promised to hire over 10,000 refugees over the next five years. Click here to read more.
If it was not clear already, I loved every part of my job at Starbucks. I met some great people who became family, I learnt how to make coffee to the point where I am a self-proclaimed coffee snob (jokes, I still think all that espresso tasted the same) and more importantly, I reached a level of self-actualisation that I had strived to achieve from the start. To the people that supported and to the people that didn’t, thanks for sharing your views because I feel like a much more skilled and sassier person because of it. If I could, I would go back to that condiment bar and wipe it just for fun because that’s how much I miss everyone and my barista job! I love you all a latte!!
Till next time,