Raise your hand if coffee fuels your mornings. If you can’t get through a full day without at least one cup, or if the only thing that will get you out of your afternoon slump is that sweet sweet blast of midday caffeine, well… I’m not one of you. (I like to take my coffee at irregular intervals, like once every few weeks and prepared so light and sweet it’s essentially a milkshake.) But I see you and respect you, because something I can totally stand behind is ritual. So to all you must-have-my-morning-coffee types out there: Salute.

But you know who REALLY deserves a commendation? The baristas whose job it is to satisfy all your coffee cravings, who prepare and sling both hot and cold beverages for the sake of keeping people caffeinated, especially in a chaotic, stressed out city like New York. I chatted with three of them to learn what that’s really like, and they were, unsurprisingly, full of insight. Below you can read their quick-fire answers to questions I culled from the biggest coffee freaks at Man Repeller, which cover everything from what’s going on in the world of milk (mylk) alternatives to how to dress for the job. You might want to grab a coffee for this one.


Sarah, Barista at La Colombe

Sarah Lowe is a 24-year-old barista at La Colombe. She’s been working in the coffee industry for two years.

What milk alternative gets the most play? Any predictions for the next big thing?

Here’s what I’ve got about the non-dairy milk world: Oat milk is the most recent craze, but for a reason. This isn’t a secret as anyone who drinks coffee regularly in New York knows about it at this point. I personally love it. There’s no added sugar, it’s creamy and the taste is totally neutral in coffee. I think we’ve tried making milk out of most things, specifically nuts, and ideally they’ll only get better in taste and better for us. Macadamia milk is, in my opinion, the most underrated nut milk out there. (It’s expensive but when you drink as much coffee as I do, it’s worth the cost).

Does anyone even order real milk anymore? Do you feel like they are hardcore/honest/earnest/true when they do?

All the time. There is about a halfway split between non-dairy and dairy drinkers. I feel as though most people who order dairy just like the taste better and don’t feel the need to fix something that isn’t broken for them. Maybe not hardcore but definitely honest, earnest and true.

What makes someone a “regular” customer? How does one level up to favorite customer?

Regulars at La Colombe are customers who come in almost daily and talk to me like I’m a real person. You would be shocked by the number of people who order their coffee without looking up from their phones. My favorite customers are those who are kind to me, who know my name and who invest, even just for a few minutes, in what’s happening before putting in an order.

Does it annoy you if you see the same customer every day and they never ask you what your name is?

For some people, getting coffee is just a part of their morning routine and I can respect that. It does annoy me when customers come in every day, ask for complicated orders, don’t want to pay for all the components of that order AND don’t know my name. It’s that type of entitlement that really irks me.

Do you judge patrons based on what they order?

Okay. Of course there are drinks that I think will taste less than great but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t order them or that I won’t make them. We all have different tastes, different likes and dislikes. For example, steaming milk and putting it over ice is unsettling to me but hey, you like what you like.

What’s your weirdest/funniest interaction ever with a customer?

Once a customer couldn’t remember what they had gotten the last time they were here. Each of the baristas on shift had to go over to talk with them for five minutes and try to figure out their exact order. After all of that, they realized they had ordered a drip coffee. A drip coffee. I mean.

Do you pay attention to who is tipping how much and for what?

I do pay attention to who does and does not tip. It’s not about how much but whether they do at all. I understand not tipping for putting a croissant in a bag but everything else can be discouraging. I do notice when a customer tips with change from the dregs of their pocket on a five dollar latte but even that is better than not tipping at all. (TIP YOUR COFFEE PEOPLE, PEOPLE.)

What has been your best day on the job so far? Tell me about it.

The day that always sticks out is when a customer mailed me a card to the café. Her dog had recently passed away and she started crying in line when she thought about how often they had come to get coffee together. We talked for a little bit about her dog, how big of a part he was to her morning routine, and the loss she felt in trying to go through it without him. I received the card after we spoke and she thanked me for taking the time to talk with her. I still have it as I’m a sentimental mush. Everyone is going through things and while our entire lives can’t stop, sometimes we take a moment to check in and acknowledge that everything isn’t always okay.

Do you ever go overboard on caffeine because it’s free?

Every. Single. Day.

Did your style change in any way when you became a barista?

For sure. Comfort wins out over style, although I try to maintain both. My wardrobe feels split between real-life clothes and work clothes with definite crossover between the two. My clogs are something that I avoided buying for a long time but now wear constantly, both at work and out and about. My back has been living the dream ever since.


Michelle, Barista at Patent Coffee

Michelle Mo is a 26-year-old barista at Patent Coffee and a production assistant at Sey Coffee Roasters in Brooklyn. She’s been in the coffee industry for four years and you can find her art here.

What milk alternative gets the most play? Any predictions for the next big thing?

Oat milk and any dairy alternative are pretty big. Oatly is obviously out there and people love it, but it sucks because [the brand] keeps running out. Minor Figures (another oat milk company) is starting to get popular because its milk pours super well and you can make latte art with it.

Does anyone even order real milk anymore? Do you feel like they are hardcore/honest/earnest/true when they do?

A lotta people still order regular milk. I noticed it’s especially still popular in midtown. Like why not drink it if you can? I’ve def heard some people say the same thing — “sometimes you can’t beat the real thing.”

What makes someone a “regular” customer? How does one level up to favorite customer?

I think a regular is someone that consistently goes to the same shop three to four times a week. Personally, you become my favorite customer if you’re willing to look me in the eye, say “hello” back when I greet you, appreciate what I am serving you and maybe consider tipping because yo, it’s a gratuity-based career.

Does it annoy you if you see the same customer every day and they never ask you what your name is?

Not really. I like to keep my life and their life separate… like I’m their cool drug dealer.

Do you judge patrons based on what they order?

Nope. Your money, your drink.

What’s your weirdest/funniest interaction ever with a customer?

My shop is not only known for having delicious coffee and a speakeasy in the back, but it’s also known for having CBD cold brew. One day two guys walked in and started raving about how they were gonna get “fucked up” on some CBD coffee. They were being super obnoxious and asked me to tell them about it. Sadly, as I started to explain that CBD is not psychoactive, they began to talk over me and FaceTimed their friend to say that they were in a cafe about to get high on coffee. I kinda lost it and yelled “I HATE MEN” (not thinking anyone would hear me) but — LOL — someone did: A customer I’ve only seen once before. He just started laughing and said I’m hilarious. We high-fived.

Do you pay attention to who is tipping how much and for what?

I normally only pay attention if the person I served was rude.

Do you ever go overboard on caffeine because it’s free?

I did once when I was in college. I used to drink five to seven cups a day, now I just taste every few hours to check in on consistency and “dial-in” (ensure the coffee that’s made matches the specs for a particular recipe). I do get over-caffeinated when I dial-in coffee though and that’s the worst.

Did your style change in any way when you became a barista?

Like fashion style or the style of coffee? For coffee: I used to drink a lot of cappuccinos and espressos. Now all I drink is filtered coffee. For fashion: Nah, concert black foreverrrrrrr!


Darnell, Barista at Grey Dog

Darnell Burns is a 21-year-old barista and community manager at Grey Dog. He’s been in the coffee industry for a little over three years. 

What milk alternative gets the most play? Any predictions for the next big thing?

Hands-down it’s oat milk. A lot of the people I serve are really into oat milk and it’s definitely growing. It’s a bit comical because when we first began offering it as a milk alternative, it seemed like something I had to persuade people to try. Now tons of people request it before I can even list any of our other options!

Does anyone even order real milk anymore? Do you feel like they are hardcore/honest/earnest/true when they do?

This question deserves multiple answers! Coffee is something that’s tailored to the individual needs and desires of the person drinking it. It fits into routines, connects people, and is really satisfying when prepared for your tastes. There are definitely still people out there who prefer their coffee with good ol’ nostalgic milk. Some like it so milky that I can’t help but cringe, and some like it so dark and roasty that I swear I start sweating. Regardless, I think it’s really cool that everyone ends up with a drink that they’re personally infatuated with.

What makes someone a “regular” customer? How does one level up to favorite customer?

To me, regulars don’t necessarily have to regularly come into the store. It’s more that they facilitate a relationship that exceeds the kind of typical interaction you may have with another guest. And that is replicated any other time they come by/you see them.

Some customers see absolutely no need to build a relationship with me because I’m literally just satisfying a need of theirs. Others go out of their way to pave friendships and it always feels fantastic.

Does it annoy you if you see the same customer every day and they never ask you what your name is?

No, not necessarily. There’s always a lot going on and plenty of things to pay attention to. This kinda goes back to what I touched on earlier.

Do you judge patrons based on what they order?

Nope! Some of the coolest drinks (and meals) have come from trying out new ideas and playing with what’s available. I live for secret menus…

What’s your weirdest/funniest interaction ever with a customer?

The greatest and most fun times are definitely when you’re trying something new with the customer — anything from trying out new coffee blends, new ways of preparing different types of coffee, or even customer requests that are rare AF and really something that you’ll be sharing with them, you know? It’s a novel and surprisingly intimate experience but also a wonderful opportunity to open up with someone new.

Do you pay attention to who is tipping how much and for what?

Very little. Sometimes measuring tips can be a way to see if I satisfied a customer. Like there are times when I don’t feel like I connected with someone and they’ll tip after I help them and I’ll go, “Oh, they must’ve liked our exchange after all, otherwise why would they have even tipped me?”

Do you ever go overboard on caffeine because it’s free?

Totally and I need to stop. There are some days when I find I keep drinking coffee throughout the day. It’s more for taste and less for caffeine, but I never drink decaf so you see where that puts me. I have a love/hate relationship with my heart apparently.

Did your style change in any way when you became a barista?

Definitely. It probably came from developing my flow behind the counter but that calm and methodical approach to movement and action has kind of trickled into how I dress, carry myself, and even interact with people.

Photos by Bridget Badore. 

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