In 2013, a product named Briggo hit the market. The company’s CEO, Kevin Nater, claimed Briggo, an automated latte-making machine, could create consistent beverages at a faster rate than a human could. Everyone from Wired to Quartz pontificated about the now-potential eradication of a quintessential “starving artist” gig: The barista. Fast-forward to 2017, and Briggo has yet to expand out of its two Austin locations. (The company was founded there.) Starbucks, on the other hand, has grown from just about 200,000 employees to a staggering 265,000.
In other words, your barista isn’t going anywhere any time soon—so you may want to get acquainted. To be frank, it’s almost insulting that some entrepreneur assumed he could automate this all-too-human job. I say this from hands-on experience: I worked as a barista for a year, at a Starbucks in downtown Boston. Early mornings, petty patrons, even coworkers who flagrantly disregarded the law—I’ve seen it all. Here, firsthand, the 20 savviest secrets your barista is keeping from you. And for more on the wonders within your local coffee shop, read up on the 75 Amazing Health Benefits of Coffee.
Light roast coffee has more caffeine.
Darker chocolate has more cocoa. Darker cherries have more flavonoids. So you’d be forgiven for assuming that darker coffee has more caffeine—but that’s the not case. In fact, the darker a roast is, the less caffeine it has. As Thomas Hartocollis, co-founder of the Roasting Plant, explains, the roasting process causes coffee beans to shed attributes, including caffeine. So if you need an extra kick, be sure to order a light roast. And as a bonus, light roasts are naturally sweeter than dark roasts. As it so happens, switching to light roast coffee is one of the 20 New Year’s Resolutions Anyone Can Actually Keep.
We don’t really care about your espresso going sour.
An espresso shot goes sour in ten seconds flat. After that, the natural caramel flavor fades and the beverage becomes sour. The flavor degeneration is preventable, however, if a barista adds anything—milk, ice, water, syrup—to the espresso. But, if the coffee bar is slammed, and your barista is juggling drinks, chances are, they won’t pay special attention to that ten-second rule. So that’s why your double shot tastes different every time.
We also don’t care if it’s too strong or weak.
It should take between 18 and 23 seconds to “pull”—the term for turning ground espresso into everyone’s favorite sumptuous liquid—an espresso shot. If it takes shorter or longer, the espresso will be too weak or too strong. Again, during a rush, your barista likely won’t care.
Don’t ever order a nonfat cappuccino.
A rule of thumb, regarding turning milk into foam: It’s easier to foam milk if the fat percentage is higher. In other words, it’s effortless to create a big cup of foam out of whole milk, which has a fat content of 3.5 percent, while it’s wildly difficult to turn nonfat milk, which has a fat content of 0.2 percent, into foam. Trust me: If you order a cappuccino—a beverage that is mostly foam—with nonfat milk, your barista won’t be happy. Instead, order an extra foamy latte with nonfat milk.
Caffeine might not be the only stimulant your barista imbibes.
For those early morning shifts, baristas have to be at work before sunrise. Obviously, caffeine helps. But the bean can only go so far. As such, baristas may rely on other, potentially illicit methods for staying awake, such as Adderall. (To those not-so-law-abiding baristas, might I suggest trying a wee-hours “coffee nap?” The trend is certain to give you an essential early morning energy boost.)
Your baristas really are all millennials.
It’s not in your head: Your coffee shop really is full of young people. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, about half of 22- to 27-year-olds are “underemployed”—or working jobs below their skill level. The top job for those workers? Barista.
If you’re mean, you’re getting decaf.
Speaking of decaf, it’s not technically caffeine-free.
A 16-ounce cup of regular coffee has about 190 milligrams of caffeine. A 16-ounce cup of decaf has about 10 milligrams. So if you’re prone to caffeine migraines, it’s best to abhor coffee—in any form—altogether.
You don’t have to tip.
Unlike other employees in the service industry, like wait staff and bartenders, baristas are paid a full hourly wage. Tips are lovely and always appreciated, of course. But baristas don’t rely on them to make up their wage. (Again—still lovely.)
Long gone are the days where you pay a buck for a cup of black coffee and head on your way. You could end up paying $5 or $6 or, if you stop by Extraction Lab, in Brooklyn, $18 for a single cup of coffee. But if you’re a flavor connoisseur, these high-priced brews are well worth it; they’re made from high-tech machines—like Extraction Lab’s French press–beer tap hybrid, or Starbucks’s proprietary Clover system—that filter out excess toxicity and churn out consistently smooth, aromatic blends.
Pumpkin spice doesn’t have pumpkin in it.
The main ingredients? Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.
You can sometimes score free syrup.
If it’s not too busy, you can get free flavoring in your latte. Just order a regular latte, pay, head up to the bar, and kindly ask the barista for a pump or two of your favorite syrup. Chances are, they’d rather just give it to you than redo your order at the register.
Same goes for almond and soy milk.
“I’m so sorry, but could you actually make that with almond milk? I completely forgot.” (But, at the end of the day, whether you pull this trick to score extra syrup or premium milk, you’re only saving about 50 cents. Is that worth being a petty patron?)
And for pastries.
At the end of the night, the majority of pastries are tossed in the dumpster. If you show up near closing, and are especially sweet—or tip sweetly—you could score a scone.
Don’t be offended if your latte looks vulgar.
Despite the fact that latte art is tough to master, all baristas are encouraged to learn it. The first shape baristas we’re taught? A heart. (As pictured.) However, it takes a while to master even this most basic shape, and many mistakes result in latte art that bears a stark resemblance to male genitalia. (Not pictured.) We solemnly swear swear: It’s an accident.
Unless you’re a jerk.
There was one regular at our shop who would come in and, before paying, mention that he had more money than us—every morning. We “messed up” his latte art a lot. (Who’s the real winner now, Carl?)
A larger latte doesn’t mean more espresso.
An 8-ounce latte has one shot of espresso. A 12-ounce latte has one shot of espresso. Similarly, a 16-ounce latte has two shots of espresso, while a 20-ounce latte has two shots of espresso.
At Starbucks, there’s an order of operations.
And your barista will be extra grateful—and make your drink faster—if you follow this descending order of details when you make your order. It is as follows:
- Hot or iced (you only have to specify if it’s iced)
- Regular or decaf
- Number of espresso shots (single, double, triple, quad, and on and on)
So a “Small latte with two shots of espresso, but one decaf, and could you add some whipped cream and caramel syrup to that? Oh, and make it iced!” would be an “Iced, half-caf, double tall, caramel, extra whipped cream latte.” If you forget it, just look at your Starbucks cup. Those boxes on the side? That’s the order of operations.
There’s a better way to order iced coffee.
Everyone loves iced coffee. (According to Bloomberg, the increased popularity of cold brew is solely responsible for boosting the coffee market by 4.4 percent.) But the chilly treat has an Achilles heel: As the ice melts, the beverage ends up watered down. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix: Ask for coffee ice cubes. That’s right: Ice cubes made of coffee. Not all establishments have them, but it’s worth a shot. At the very least, you’ll be showing your barista that you know your stuff.
There’s a secret menu at Starbucks.
Yes, really—and it features everything from so-called Christmas Tree Frappuccino (peppermint and mocha, with matcha whipped cream) to a bespoke version of the Starbucks Doubleshot (that ever-popular 6-ounce gas station beverage). You can find the whole menu here.
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