The Irreverent Guide to Ordering Coffee

I work at a grocery store coffee bar. Which is probably the bottom of the barista barrel, I don’t actually know these things. As a former student, my relationship with coffee has primarily been trying to find places that will inject it straight into my veins. As far as I know, those places don’t exist. The moral of the story is that I survived college without a caffeine addiction, and now I have one.

The worst part of any job that is even vaguely related to retail is the customers, and anyone who is being honest with themselves will tell you that. Not to say that there aren’t amazing, awesome customers who consistently brighten my day, but I also feel like the punching bag for customers who are mad that I can’t read their minds. So let’s talk about ordering coffee, and how to do it!

1. USE YOUR WORDS: I am going to present you two ways to order coffee. Both are wrong, but one is more wrong, see if you can guess which it is!

A: Um. I need a coffee.

B: I need a small mocha with three shots and soy milk, you stupid whore.

If you said that option B is preferably to option A, then you are correct! I do not advocate calling your barista a whore, because that’s rude, but option B has all the important parts of a coffee order. Let’s break it down: “I need a small mocha with three shots and soy milk, you stupid whore.” Small– this conveys the size of the drink you want, which is very important. Mocha– this tells me what kind of drink you want. I know you don’t want a house coffee, or a regular latte, you want a delicious, chocolatey mocha. Three shots and soy milk- Here you have conveyed any special instructions! This is important because now I’m not going to pour whole milk into my little pitcher, steam that, and then when I start pouring it into your cup have you yell “oh but I wanted soy!” It saves time, product, and makes everyone happier. When someone walks up and says they want a coffee, I assume they mean a houseblend, usually they do, sometimes they change to a latte. People have gotten angry with me for asking what size beverage they want. When the election was on, I went home, called my mom and said “the future of this country is in the hands of people who get angry when they have to pick a coffee size.” It’s ridiculous. If you don’t know what you want and need a minute to think, say that, it’s appreciated! If you want to see a cup to gauge how much 16 ounces is, that’s fine! When you have to order a coffee, tell me exactly what you want, and ask any questions you have, but don’t stand there and expect me to read your mind.

2. THIS AIN’T STARBUCKS (unless it is): tall, venti, and grande. Do you know what these sizes means? I only do if I see them arranged in size order on the Starbucks order board. When you go to a place that is not a Starbucks, it’s good to refer to their order board and see how things differ. Our macchiato is listed with espresso shots and not lattes? Hm, before ordering one, double check that it is actually what you think it is (It’s not. A macchiato is traditionally espresso “marked” with a small amount of milk and some places still make it that way). Also check to see what sizing method your current joint is using. Some places keep to the Starbucks sizes, some use ounces, some have smalls, mediums and larges. Just give it a look. The place I work measures in 12, 16, and 20 ounces. The most common thing that happens is a customer comes in and orders a tall. According to the Starbucks website, a tall is 12 ounces. So why is it when I ask a customer to clarify what a tall is, they throw out anything from 8 to 20 ounces? I’ve come to believe that the average coffee drinker just goes to Starbucks, yells some random words, and hopes to walk away with an enjoyable beverage.

This segues nicely into 3. READ THE MENU BOARD- ALMOST everything you need to know is up there, basic drinks, prices, sizes, and what we have available for options. Sure, we don’t have a list of flavors up there so you have to ask me for that, but we DO have a line on our sign that says “flavor shots .50 cents” so you know that they’re an option. We also list all the milk substitutes we have available, so when you ask for your latte with rice milk, you don’t have to add on a snotty “if you even have that.”

Be nice to your baristas, if you use your words to tell us exactly what you want, then you will get exactly what you want, and everyone will be happier for it.


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