A Barista's Life Behind the Counter

Baristas at three local coffee shops tell us about the rewards of wielding the steam wand.

We all have our daily rituals, but few are as beloved as that first cup of coffee. Gearing up for an early run, getting the kids off to school and braving the morning commute are all made easier by that rich, warm cup of caffeine.

Coffee shops themselves offer an extension of that feeling, serving as an oasis where you can rest and recharge, meet with friends or work away without distraction. For those of us who frequent the same place nearly every day (and, during particularly hectic weeks, sometimes twice a day), we tend to take it for granted that the folks behind the counter know us by name (or at least by drink order).

Destiny Martinez, Dunn Brothers Coffee

“We see people’s cars pull up and we know to get their drink going,” says Dunn Brothers Coffee barista Destiny Martinez. “Almost every person that comes in, I know their name and the basics about their life. It’s very rewarding from a relationship standpoint.”
Martinez has been at Dunn Brothers since the Woodbury location opened 11 years ago. As a coffee-loving college student who grew up in Woodbury, the job was a perfect fit. Plus, she admired Dunn Brothers’ method of freshly roasting coffee daily in the stores, a practice that costs a bit more but provides patrons with the freshest possible coffee.

As a trainee, the biggest challenge wasn’t learning complicated drinks so much as learning to stay calm and flexible under pressure. “We do basic training like shadowing and drink testing, but it’s really about being able to adapt to the situation and deal with the unexpected,” she says. “You can know everything, but someone could throw a wrench in it, so how do you work under that pressure?”
The busy, fast-paced morning shift isn’t for everyone, but Martinez loves the thrill of it. Her favorite drinks to make are simple ones that put the flavorful coffee front-and-center, like the vanilla iced nirvana, a blend of Infinite Black cold press coffee, vanilla syrup and half-and-half.

“It’s so delicious,” she says. “We don’t completely mix it, but pour the cream over the top for a gorgeous, marbled drink.”

Even after she graduated from college, Martinez continued to fit a few shifts at the coffee shop into her week. She even met her future husband when she trained him in on the job, and the couple now has three young boys who frequent the shop with them. “I love working here because of all the people I get to meet,” she says. “Even though it’s just a coffee shop, it’s kind of like Cheers. And I did get a husband out of the deal,” she laughs.

Corizon Parra, Panera Bread

If you’ve ever stopped into the bustling Panera Bread on Radio Drive, you’ve likely encountered Corizon Parra. In her 16 years at the store, she has become a jack-of-all-trades, serving as a catering coordinator, sandwich-maker and barista. Though she can do it all, Parra says working as a barista is her favorite role. “It’s the first thing I learned to do when I started, and you’re always making different things,” she says. “The time goes by really fast.”
As a former bartender, Parra loves talking to people and seeing the same regulars every day. Though she was new to the world of coffee drinks, she already had the people skills for the job. “You have to have the patience but also be fast,” she says, a balancing act that every barista knows well. You learn as you go, she says, and there is no substitute for on-the-job training. She often works multiple stations, so being able to multi-task and think on your feet are essential.

Parra likes learning how to make new drinks, but her all-time favorite to make is the caramel latte, an indulgent mix of freshly brewed espresso, foamed milk and caramel topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Her other favorite thing about the job? Her coworkers. “It’s such a good group,” she says.

Clearly, a love of people is as much a part of being a barista as a love of coffee.

Morgan Price, Caribou Coffee

“It’s all about creating a wonderful experience and doing what we can to make sure our customers have a great day,” says Caribou Coffee barista Morgan Price.

Since she started at the City Centre Caribou a year ago, Price has come to love the variety she experiences every day, though she prefers the evening closing shifts over the frantic morning rush. “It’s more relaxed, with lots of students coming in to do homework,” she says.

Though Price has a background in the restaurant industry, being a barista has helped her develop new skills. “You learn to work a register, and you become more outgoing and talkative,” she says. “You’re making friends.”

Price had frequented the location as a customer, and the superior service she received left an impression. “When I was looking for a new job, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to work for Caribou and which one I wanted to be at,” she says. Though there are multiple Caribou locations nearby, Price says it’s really rewarding when customers make a point of frequenting the City Centre store.

That personal connection is what makes the job fun, and the constant variety is a perk. “I love making holiday drinks, switching it up,” Price says. The job fits well with her schedule as a full-time college student, and she hopes to continue working with people after she graduates with her degree in criminal justice and criminology.

All About Coffee

1.Since the coffee plant was discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century, the delicious drink, initially made from boiling coffee leaves in water, has spread around the world. It became popular in America during the 18th century, and making the switch from tea to coffee was seen as a patriotic obligation during the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

2.Today, the global coffee industry is booming, and many companies are opting to source their beans through socially and environmentally-responsible partnerships with growers in Africa, Asia and South and Central America.

3.Dunn Brothers works with Fair Trade USA and the Rainforest Alliance to ensure that the coffee they buy is grown using sustainable farming practices and that the farmers who grow it are paid fairly. The company recently partnered with World Coffee Research, a research and development program that brings coffee scientists and growers together to improve coffee quality and the livelihoods of coffee farmers.

4. Panera’s full-bodied, 100 percent Arabica coffee is sourced from responsible growers in Central and South America who use a mix of traditional and sustainable farming and processing methods. And all of its coffee is 100 percent clean, with no artificial preservatives or sweeteners from artificial sources.

5. Caribou is the first major U.S. coffeehouse to serve only Rainforest Alliance certified coffee and espresso. The Rainforest Alliance focuses on water conservation initiatives and protecting critical wildlife habitats while ensuring that workers on certified farms have safe working conditions and access to housing and healthcare for their families.