Tell them that this is the way it works, and I know better than them.
~Peggy: Mad Men S2E8
“Panini poulet parmesan, s’il vous plait,” requested a customer. Being in job training for the past month, I knew exactly what I needed to do when a customer places this order – Into the Merrychef oven, the panini goes for 1 minute 5 seconds – the perfect amount of time to melt the cheese, warm the fillings, and lightly toast the bread.
On this day unlike any other, someone left the 15-tier cooling rack of muffins in front of the oven; not directly in front, but enough to create a slight inconvenience when opening the oven door. Feeling a little under pressure to serve the sandwich within a reasonable time frame, I quickly analyzed the situation remembering my co-worker’s infamous (at least to me) quote, “There are no problems. Only solutions.” Aha! Voila! It’s possible to fandangle myself in between the cooling rack and the oven with juuuuuussssst enough space to open the oven door and pop the pre-toasted panini inside. And so I executed the first solution that came to mind. A quick inhale of the stomach, a few awkward flailing of the arms, and an impromptu game of limbo later – slam! beep! beep! boop! – the deed was done!
Feeling like the queen of the world, I began my victory dance only to be met by a wholly entertained chuckle from my fellow barista & trainer, Charlemagne who just so happened to be watching this whole fiasco go down. “You always do life the hard way, don’t you?” Then with the littlest of effort, he rolled the cooling rack away from the oven, leaving a large margin of space to manoeuver around freely; no limbo required.
And this, my friends, is how I approach life – attacking problems with solutions that seem convenient at the time, but require the most effort in the long run, not because I’m incapable of considering more convenient solutions, but because challenge & curiosity have been my dear companions for many years. That’s probably how I ended up where I am today – on an epic café journey around the world with very limited funds and resources… because why not!?! Why not take the road less traveled despite the gargantuan potholes? Call me crazy, but it’s the best opportunity to test your survival skills, and if you fall… just get up, dust yourself off, and look for other possibilities. What’s the worst that could happen?
And you? How do you approach life’s daily challenges? I have a feeling you take the road less traveled, too. 😉
Just a quick update about what’s been going on in coffeeland chez Nicole.
As I mentioned in my last post, I found a job as a barista at Direction Coffee – a 3rd wave establishment (think hipster style café) – the brainchild of 2nd wave institution (think Starbucks)– Columbus Café & Co. This soon-to-be-opened coffeeshop is located in Paris’ Marché International de Rungis– the largest wholesale food market in the world.
However since the Rungis location doesn’t open its doors until Nov 7th, my job training was held at another Columbus Café franchise in champagne city, Reims (1.5 hour drive from Paris) from Sept 26th to Oct 29th. To say the training was an amazing experience would be an understatement. I mean…. just look at how cute my coworkers are!
AND Look at these 15 essential life lessons I’ve learned:
- A boss who micromanages is like getting popcorn kernels stuck in your teeth. They’re horribly annoying and it left unattended can cause major problems down the road.
- If you are stressed, I will be stressed. Bref.
- Sex jokes are the same in EVERY language. No subtitles required.
- Anyone can work a coffee machine, but not everyone can make a good cup of coffee.
- I can give quality work or quantity of work, but never both. I prefer to give the former.
- People are not always rainbow-pooping unicorns. Some people take advantage of your open trust policy, even to the point where they steal your stuff. Respect for people and their property is a lost virtue.
- For the first time in my life, I UNLOCKED MY BEAST MODE in public!!!! I used direct communication instead of passive aggressiveness in the face of a confrontation. It wasn’t so scary after all even in a second language. Take that, shy & awkward Nicole! Booya!
- I thought all French people were slim, fashionable, well-reserved, eloquent demi-gods… and then, I left Paris… o.O
- Customers are so weird and wonderful and the best part of my job.
- If you smile genuinely, 98% of customers will return your smile. The other 2% are those rainbow-less pooping non-unicorns.
- Being told “Your English is pretty good” by tourists is the most undeserving compliment I’ve ever received. But thank you, it comes naturally to me.
- There is nothing funnier than a customer tripping on a step and spilling a large hot chocolate and a large chocolate milkshake all over the wall and down the stairs… especially when the house is packed and the queue is out the door. Right, Charlemagne!?!?! 😉
- All of my coworkers can successfully serve non-French customers in English despite taking only a few English classes during their early school years. It’s kind of impressive.
- My coworkers at Columbus Café Reims are definitely the coolest cats in coffeeland. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces and I cried like a baby when I had to say goodbye to them… Ok… I was also a little tipsy at the time… but golly wow, it’s not every day that you work with lovely ladies & gents who start Disney singalongs at work et nous nous en bats les couilles!
- No one in France knows what a barista is.
So often when I tell people that I’m a barista, they have no idea what that means.I’m sure you already know, but just so you know…
What is a barista?
A barista is an artist and a scientist who just so happens to specialize in serving coffee. We create coffee (and non-coffee) based beverages, invent new recipes, design pretty latte art, and entertain customers (sometimes in multiple languages). At the same time, we taste, roast, grind, and weigh the coffee beans to precise measurements in order to create a formula for the perfect espresso. Yes, there is a formula. Then, we have to foam the milk to the perfect degree and texture. Throughout the day, we religiously check the temperature of the water/milk/pitchers/cups, the flow rate of water/espresso, and the grind/colour/taste of the espresso. If something is off, we must find the cause and change it. We aim for consistency and quality – A great cup of coffee. Every. Single. Shot.
What skills and knowledge are necessary?
Just a love of coffee and an eagerness to explore the world of coffee. As well, having a soft spot for people is always a nice touch because you kind of have to deal with them a lot.
The leaves are changing colour and beginning to fall. Time to pack my bags and move on. I moved back to Paris on Sunday (Oct 30th) and start the next part of the journey at Direction Coffee tomorrow (Nov 2nd). Allez-y!
“Whatever makes coffee grow, I’m into that.”