Join 3,411 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


“as both Pierre Bourdieu and latte orders have taught me…”
March 12, 2014 2:10 PM   Subscribe

As it turned out, when I started working in Brooklyn, the most difficult to serve were the ones who wanted—or expected, really—for you to be cool, or at least receptive to a certain projection of hip-and-coolness. It was nice, at first, to have a job that let me swear and show my tattoos, but the pleasure of that freedom waned somewhat when most of my interactions became about the "fucks" and body modifications. If I had a quarter for every time I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree, holding up my end of a conversation about New York’s small presses or the most recent issue of The New Yorker, my tips certainly would have been better.
Molly Osberg: Inside the Barista Class
posted by RogerB (195 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Could someone explain the heatlamp coffee mad-scientist thing in the lead picture? I thought I was a coffee snob, but apparently there are worlds that are beyond my reach.
posted by Think_Long at 2:18 PM on March 12


Answered my own question.
posted by Think_Long at 2:21 PM on March 12


It's a siph---awww.
posted by sibboleth at 2:24 PM on March 12 [8 favorites]


"If a customer was particularly bad we exercised one of the only powers we possessed and 'decafed' them. To covertly rob a caffeine-addicted asshole of their morning jolt was truly one of the sweetest pleasures of baristahood, and one that my subsequent professions haven’t come close to replicating."

Revenge is a grande best served decaf.
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:24 PM on March 12 [56 favorites]


You had me at Bourdieu. Thanks for this.
posted by ChrisTN at 2:32 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Oh, gods...this picture...It's the 21st century version of the snooty sommelier.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:33 PM on March 12 [12 favorites]


I read this this morning and thought about it a lot -- while the piece is very interesting, I think that although the process of customers seeking "coolness" validation from her (the barista) is just as tedious as she describes it, there is also a lot of validation going the other way that she either doesn't recognize or leaves out. I also think there is a lot of class/sex stuff going on that isn't acknowledged?
posted by jfwlucy at 2:36 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


"If a customer was particularly bad we exercised one of the only powers we possessed and 'decafed' them. To covertly rob a caffeine-addicted asshole of their morning jolt was truly one of the sweetest pleasures of baristahood, and one that my subsequent professions haven’t come close to replicating."

Do not meddle in the affairs of baristas, for they are subtle and quick to anger.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:39 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


Oh, gods...this picture...It's the 21st century version of the snooty sommelier.

I'm probably a bad person but all I want to do is punch that guy in the face forever.

Also is it like, Coffee Week on MeFi?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:46 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


"I'd like a large double-shot soy latte with light theory, please."
posted by octobersurprise at 2:46 PM on March 12 [8 favorites]


> I also think there is a lot of class/sex stuff going on that isn't acknowledged?

The author mentions that the only way she was able to get out of the job was by inheriting some money, and is up front and grateful about that. And practically the entire article is about how women in particular have expectations around how they interact with their customers. Given that she can't change who she is, I think this piece is pretty well-done.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:53 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


there is also a lot of validation going the other way that she either doesn't recognize or leaves out

From the second paragraph:
More than anything else, though, I was asked what else I did. [...] "When you aren’t making coffee."

I may be a bit tin-eared, but that sounds like the opposite of validation to me.
posted by phooky at 2:54 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I was baffled many years ago when I first heard the word barista: you mean there's a word for the food/beverage-industry server person whose specialty is coffee? (Obviously, I'm not a coffee drinker...)
posted by Melismata at 2:56 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Super fascinating…I don't even know where to go with it all, so I'm just hoping there will be lots of comments in this thread to read and ponder over later.

My only complaint is that I really, really wish the photos had captions and credits. I'm dying to know who, what, where and why in every one.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:57 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


If I had a quarter for every time I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree, holding up my end of a conversation about New York’s small presses or the most recent issue of The New Yorker, my tips certainly would have been better.

This sentence gives me a headache. I can't parse it. If she had quarters for showing her degree the tips would be better? Cuz she would add the quarters in with the tip total? Huh? Or would her tips have been bigger if she mentioned her degree? Okay then what's with the quarters?!? Blarg!!!
posted by ian1977 at 2:58 PM on March 12 [47 favorites]


Great article if you want to further cultivate a hatred for class/cool performativity. Really, how fucked up is it that people participate in this highly coded back-and-forth of "I'm into neat things, and I acknowledge that you're into neat things, and that's neat"? I feel like an outsider for not really making any chit-chat at all when I order a cup of coffee. What server really wants to put up with the bullshit of "reading" me? You can certainly seek cultural validation from any number of people in your life if you need it that desperately, don't seek it from someone who's paid to minimally and pleasantly interact with you.
posted by naju at 3:00 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


"If I had a quarter for every time I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree, holding up my end of a conversation about New York’s small presses or the most recent issue of The New Yorker, my tips certainly would have been better.
This sentence gives me a headache. I can't parse it. If she had quarters for showing her degree the tips would be better? Cuz she would add the quarters in with the tip total? Huh? Or would her tips have been bigger if she mentioned her degree? Okay then what's with the quarters?!? Blarg!!!"


I think this is something we all need a liberal arts degree to understand? But no, seriously, I don't get it either and just skipped that part after the second attempt.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:00 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


My only complaint is that I really, really wish the photos had captions and credits.

They're all from Flickr, and the links are at the bottom.
posted by enn at 3:01 PM on March 12


Awesome! Thanks, enn!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:01 PM on March 12


If I had a quarter for every time I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree, holding up my end of a conversation about New York’s small presses or the most recent issue of The New Yorker, my tips certainly would have been better.

I interpreted that as "if I had a quarter tip each time", so more people asked her about her degree (or however she determines that she showed it off) than tipped her.
posted by jeather at 3:05 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


I may be a bit tin-eared, but that sounds like the opposite of validation to me.

Well if being a professional barista was, like, a career path, maybe it wouldn't be. I assume though that it's just like all the customers who, when I used to drive cab, would be all "but what do you really do?" Because, you know, I was a white American guy in Minnesota.

So I'd say "oh, I do some writing" and then they'd be all relieved, because that sort of meant that they weren't exploiting me exactly, they were subsidizing the arts! Or maybe it just indicated that somebody who looked more-or-less like them, and could put a couple of fucking sentences together to the point of seeming educated, hadn't fallen this far. Therefore, the system still worked!

(note that this wasn't in NYC, and it was pre finance-opocalypse, so it was different circumstances. But I assume the sentiment isn't so dissimilar.)
posted by hap_hazard at 3:09 PM on March 12 [19 favorites]


One of the things I appreciate about this article is how it goes from the corporate bullshit of Starbucks and big business, to a much more insidious kind of bullshit in the "purveyors of cool, and, I guess, coffee too" local places. I mean - that job application where she had to choose between The New Yorker and New York Magazine? Christ. In some ways the customer demands at these places are even worse than the bluetoothed businessmen at Starbucks, which is really saying something.
posted by naju at 3:11 PM on March 12 [18 favorites]


I was pretty sure he lived exclusively on the bagels he’d come by the shop on a nightly basis to collect.

It's like two different sentences crashing on the autobahn!

Edit: wait. I get it. I think. He lived on bagels. He would come by the shop to get them. I read it as bagels he'd come by (ie found) at the shop.
posted by ian1977 at 3:12 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I used to be a barista, and then worked in the office of a "cool" coffee roasting company that also had cafes. I got a similar start to her working at a not-starbucks corporate chain, too.

I'm probably a bad person but all I want to do is punch that guy in the face forever

I can almost guarantee if the guys an asshole it's either because the customers suck, or an affectation. I've met a lot of guys who look like weiners in that kind of way working at cafes/for the company... but they were nearly all totally normal guys who were fun to talk to and not assholes if you worked there.

Everyone is kinda a bit suspicious of the customers because you constantly get terribel customers. I've worked in fast food, and other shitty CS jobs. Nowhere have i encountered people as stupid, shitty, or entitled and just fucking assholey as i have as a barista.

Everyone from women who won't trust a man to make their drink(and of course, the more common reverse of that) to people who just seem to openly want to fuck with you and waste their time because for a tiny second of their day they have some semblance of power over someone, or just hopelessly clueless people who you try your best to help out in good faith who snap on you when you do.

I could also write a HUGE rant about this kind of stuff:

The author mentions that the only way she was able to get out of the job was by inheriting some money, and is up front and grateful about that. And practically the entire article is about how women in particular have expectations around how they interact with their customers. Given that she can't change who she is, I think this piece is pretty well-done.

At the high end "cool" shops getting hired in such a bizarre circlejerk. I've also been repeatedly uncomfortable with how in a place that has multiple stores and a relatively large amount of employees for a local small business type place, all but maybe two or three employees are at least white-presenting. There's at least an unusually high concentration of GLBT people.

It's absolutely a weird ritual getting a job though. You have to either know the right people, have worked at a similar place they respect before and have the right attitude/presentation, or at some places being a well known local artist/musician would probably also work. It varies quite a bit from place to place. At one place i worked, for instance, they seemingly will NEVER hire anyone under like 22 or 23, and i was for quite a while the second youngest employee in the entire company out of a pretty big pile of people.

There's also a bunch of performative weird stuff about being a lady barista at a lot of shops, and several friends of mine have burned out on it REALLY quickly.

Sort of a hodgepodge of thoughts, but i have a lot to say about this. Several good friends of mine still pull coffee on the front lines too.
posted by emptythought at 3:13 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


This is fascinating to me, as a guy who spends a lot of time in college-town coffeeshops. It is very different here. You never ask the barista "what else do you do" because what else they do is go to college. I mean, as far as I have seen, you get to the front of the line and the barista says "what can I get you" and you say "some coffee" and they get it for you and quite possibly they say "here you go" and you say "thanks" and then you use their wi-fi for a couple of hours.

It is cool.
posted by escabeche at 3:17 PM on March 12 [24 favorites]


If I had a quarter for every time I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree, holding up my end of a conversation about New York’s small presses or the most recent issue of The New Yorker, my tips certainly would have been better.

I interpreted that as "if I had a quarter tip each time", so more people asked her about her degree (or however she determines that she showed it off) than tipped her.


I interpreted that as poor writing that was never edited.
posted by incessant at 3:21 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Oh, gods...this picture...It's the 21st century version of the snooty sommelier.

Oh hey, I was at that shop just this morning. (And yes, I recognized it before I clicked through to TFA.) Luckily the regular staff aren't pretentious at all.
posted by asterix at 3:21 PM on March 12


Apparently, the alternate title was "Our Baristas, Ourselves."

(A friend of mine is the author, and I'm delighted to see it here.)
posted by likeatoaster at 3:22 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I'm probably a bad person but all I want to do is punch that guy in the face forever.

FWIW, when I was a barista for a month, I was basically required by my job to dress like this.

If he was doing some crazy latte art thing or using a type of coffee equipment that is super obscure, I would be willing to consider him more of a d-bag, but a chemex? It could literally be this guy's first day as a barista. He could hate that outfit, hate being there, hate coffee, and want to punch everyone else in the shop.
posted by Sara C. at 3:23 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]


'For an extra quarter, I'll show you my degree or talk about a New Yorker article.'
posted by ian1977 at 3:24 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


This is fascinating to me, as a guy who spends a lot of time in college-town coffeeshops. It is very different here. You never ask the barista "what else do you do" because what else they do is go to college. I mean, as far as I have seen, you get to the front of the line and the barista says "what can I get you" and you say "some coffee" and they get it for you and quite possibly they say "here you go" and you say "thanks" and then you use their wi-fi for a couple of hours.

It is cool.


Word up. I mean, I've been to a LOT of coffee shops, chain and non-chain, in Seattle (coffee heaven) and Portland (hipster hell) and I have never had an interaction that was NOT exactly like the above, except if I personally knew the barista, in which case it would be exactly like the above plus a quick "How's it going? Cool. See ya."

IOW: does not compute.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:26 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


It could literally be this guy's first day as a barista. He could hate that outfit, hate being there, hate coffee, and want to punch everyone else in the shop.

To be fair to the dude, that's the cupping area, which is only open a couple of times a week (and for which you have to make a reservation). The regular staff doesn't dress like that at all.
posted by asterix at 3:26 PM on March 12


My parsing:
(If I had a quarter 
  (for every time 
    (I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree, 
       (holding up my end of a conversation about
         (   (New York’s small presses) 
          or (the most recent issue of The New Yorker)))), 
 my tips certainly would have been better.)
She showed off her liberal arts degree by being able to talk about these things. It's kind of bullshit that you have to have a certain cultural capital to work for barely above minimum wage with zero benefits.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:27 PM on March 12 [30 favorites]


It's excessively ironic that she makes a passing reference to Bourdieu as a way of signaling her erudition and cultural savvy, but doesn't actually find any space in this interminable essay to think through the subject with his sociological insights, despite the fact that the kind of status-designating acts and behaviors she talks about are the empirical subject of his most famous and influential work. That makes her seem no less pretentious than the people who she describes as wanting to give her mix-tapes or talk about art and culture, really.
posted by clockzero at 3:27 PM on March 12 [17 favorites]


I'm probably a bad person but all I want to do is punch that guy in the face forever.

Yes, he's committed the cardinal sin of wearing a blazer while making a cup of coffee with a chemex.
posted by incessant at 3:28 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]


Oh, gods...this picture...It's the 21st century version of the snooty sommelier.

Frankly I think a lot of this hipster-bashing sort of thing is thinly veiled gender policing and homophobia.

My work coffee shop is owned/run by Australians. Their Pandora or whatever auto-selections are basically identical to mine when I use those services.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:30 PM on March 12 [13 favorites]


To be fair to the dude, that's the cupping area, which is only open a couple of times a week (and for which you have to make a reservation).

relax everyone, no pretense here, it's just the reservation-only cupping area
posted by theodolite at 3:32 PM on March 12 [50 favorites]



(If I had a quarter
(for every time
(I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree,
(holding up my end of a conversation about
( (New York’s small presses)
or (the most recent issue of The New Yorker)))),
my tips certainly would have been better.)


So she is effectively saying 'if I got a quarter more from some of my customers I would have more tip money.' Okay...agreed!
posted by ian1977 at 3:33 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


that's the cupping area, which is only open a couple of times a week (and for which you have to make a reservation). The regular staff doesn't dress like that at all.

All the more reason to think that he is required by his job to be insufferable, and probably hates it as much as you do.

When I was a barista (for a month), guess who got to do the pour overs for cuppings? Me. Because pour over was one of the few tasks I had actually mastered after three shifts.

Also, frankly, a lot of people who work in coffee are actually really nice people and not snooty assholes at all. It feels weird to me that, in this FPP of all places, people are looking at pictures of baristas and being all "LOL WHAT A CHUMP", when the article is specifically about the cultural transactions people are actually paying for when they pay for an expensive cup of coffee.

If you went to this guy's house and he was dressed like that and had a dozen chemexes out and wanted to pour you a sip of each of 10 kinds of coffee, christ, what an asshole.

But in the context of it being his job? It's already shitty enough to have to play Super Cool Alt Girl Coffee Princess as part of your job. Now I also have to put up with you judging me for it? Judge my manager. He's the one who came up with this whole charade.
posted by Sara C. at 3:34 PM on March 12 [33 favorites]


relax everyone, no pretense here, it's just the reservation-only cupping area

I would never in a million years suggest that Blue Bottle is pretension-free. (I mean, Jesus, the copy on their menus is insufferable.) But that photo really doesn't demonstrate it.
posted by asterix at 3:37 PM on March 12


If you went to this guy's house and he was dressed like that and had a dozen chemexes out and wanted to pour you a sip of each of 10 kinds of coffee, christ, what an asshole.

I'm with you on the outfit but I'd be up for the coffee tasting party anytime.
posted by jeather at 3:38 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


The shop help a corner in a small, unassuming neighborhood, and I lived down the street, in a row house I shared (or more precisely, was crashing at) with friends, flanked on either side by Somerville’s ubiquitous Virgin Mary yard shrines.
help?
posted by unliteral at 3:38 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Bizarrely loud buttons aside what exactly is wrong with the way he is dressed? *folds arms of vintage tweed blazer over wooly grey vest*
posted by The Whelk at 3:39 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


The weird thing about the photo is the way the people in the background are looking at the man, I think. They look like they're surprised by what he's doing.

This is also where a union might be useful. I don't know how a multi-employer union might work in NY, though. You could also play it for the bohemian jackasses: class-struggle is, like, super-bohemian, man. You aren't living a real artistic life if you haven't joined at least one radical political movement, man.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:39 PM on March 12


Yeah, one of the few things I miss about being a barista was when the roasters would come visit and we'd all do tastings of really fantastic freshly roasted top notch coffee.
posted by Sara C. at 3:40 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Here's a few places where the sentence goes off the rails for me:

If I had a quarter for every time <= idiom phrase, with inflation
I showed off my expensive liberal arts degree <= confusion…is she doing this by accident or on purpose?
holding up my end of a conversation about New York’s small presses <= coffee press or printing press?
or the most recent issue of The New Yorker <= Ha, zeugma!
my tips certainly would have been better. <= circular argument, see beginning

So we have two different mentions of money (three if you count 'expensive'), two different New York referents, a coffee press and a printing press, and the possible assertion that a liberal arts degree enables one to hold up their end of a conversation about such presses (which I'm seriously starting to doubt).
posted by iamkimiam at 3:48 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


Wow, this was really long and I admit to skipping over a few paragraphs but I'm not sure what the basis of the critique is. Is it that a lot of customers at specialty coffee shops in "hip" and expensive areas are assholes?

This is perhaps one rare case where a listicle would've done a better job! 10 Types of Asshole You Meet as a Barista in a Hipster Coffee Shop

I definitely could've just missed the sort of cultural critique such a long article is probably aspiring to be.
posted by cell divide at 3:48 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


I was a barista for a decade. And I wasn't working my way through school, either, though I had more than a few co-workers that were.

Now I started around 2000, when the coffee house thing was probably going through its second wave of popularity, where a decent espresso was one thing, but an excellently pulled one was another. I was trained by some pretty well respected baristas at the time, who were from Batdorf & Bronson, a small (then) roastery that came to Atlanta solely because they had been convinced by a brother and sister team who had opened up a Seattle-style coffee shop in the Highlands. It wasn't like hiring some snot-nosed kid and flinging him at an espresso machine. You had to be trained, trained, trained to make every drink consistent, delicious, and attractive. It was interesting. It was fun. I liked it. My old co-workers were like a pirate crew: foul-mouthed, tattooed, and eager to meet up after a long shift for a drink or two.

But after a while, the demands of the customers does wear thin on you, especially if you are a female barista. There is some unassumed notion that they will be happy to flirt with you, to listen to you talk to them about how cute you are, or even worse, to think they want to date you. You're often told to "smile! it makes you look prettier!', or worse, be told that if you want a tip, by God, you'll kiss their ass.

I sometimes miss it. But mostly I don't.
posted by Kitteh at 3:54 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


At the high end "cool" shops getting hired in such a bizarre circlejerk. I've also been repeatedly uncomfortable with how in a place that has multiple stores and a relatively large amount of employees for a local small business type place, all but maybe two or three employees are at least white-presenting.

In Toronto, Starbucks also seems to have a much higher percentage of white baristas than you'd expect compared to the city or other chain coffee shops.

As for cupping: I thought cupping was always with the grinds in the cup? and then you lift them off with a spoon.
posted by jb at 3:56 PM on March 12


Look at this fucking hipster barista. (Still available, kids! Get the next Tumblr book deal now!)

Ever since I saw the creepers talk entirely too long to at my cute female record store coworkers and their frazzled attempts to politely extricate themselves so they could, y'know, do their jobs, I've made it a point to be as perfunctory as possible. Especially these days with the crazy customer service requirements that require the staff to compliment you on at least one purchase or something else equally ridiculous, it strikes me as suspect to assume this person is actually being friendly because they want to be rather than because they're required. (Maybe this says something about me, I don't know.)

That said, the time I worked in food service also inculcated in me a desire to be as polite as possible, too. People are just tryin' to get by, man. No need to make it any harder on them than necessary.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:59 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]


I think the sentence everyone is getting his or her knickers in a twist about makes perfect sense if you read "If I had a quarter for every time I ..." as "If I more often ...". In context, she's clearly just trying to suggest that playing at being hip and educated would've increased her earnings. It obviously should've been edited but come on, people, it's not hard to figure out what she's getting at.

Why mentioning money or New York should cause it to go "off the rails" is entirely obscure.
posted by kenko at 3:59 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


you mean there's a word for the food/beverage-industry server person whose specialty is coffee? (Obviously, I'm not a coffee drinker...)

Not historically in English. [ngram] It was imported from Italy along with the espresso craze, really, but it works quite well now that there are specialty coffee shops.

It doesn't refer to Flo who serves up warmer-burned "regular" and "decaf" down at the diner.
posted by dhartung at 4:01 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Since I haven't lived in Somerville since the days when it was just the Diesel and ... that other one at the corner of Day and Holland ... what coffee shop is she talking about here, exactly?
posted by mykescipark at 4:04 PM on March 12


that other one at the corner of Day and Holland

The Someday?
posted by jessamyn at 4:08 PM on March 12



The shop help a corner in a small, unassuming neighborhood, and I lived down the street, in a row house I shared (or more precisely, was crashing at) with friends, flanked on either side by Somerville’s ubiquitous Virgin Mary yard shrines.


help?


I read that several times before I realized I was reading an article in bad need of copy editing.

I eventually decided they meant: "The shop held a corner in a small, unassuming neighorhood..." meaning that's where the shop was located.
posted by bswinburn at 4:09 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


As for cupping: I thought cupping was always with the grinds in the cup? and then you lift them off with a spoon.

That seems like a recipe for either over or under extracting. Maybe it's how cupping is done by professional tasters at roasting companies, but I've never seen it done that way in a coffee shop, whether for the general public or for staff.
posted by Sara C. at 4:09 PM on March 12


If I had
a quarter
for every time
I showed off

my expensive
liberal
arts degree,

forgive me,
my tips certainly
would have been better
posted by mosk at 4:10 PM on March 12 [19 favorites]


"Why mentioning money or New York should cause it to go "off the rails" is entirely obscure."

I just meant that having several different senses of the same idea (money), referent (New York(er)), or word (press) in one sentence is confusing. They crossed over the literal/metaphor line for me too much (e.g., one can hold up a conversation and one can hold up a New Yorker). Also, 'presses' are related to coffee, printing (of magazines) and liberal arts degrees.

(I'm actually starting to wonder if the sentence is absolutely brilliant.)
posted by iamkimiam at 4:17 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


Oh, I also forget the general belief amongst certain types of regulars that if you work at a coffee shop, then you must be uneducated. That was always fun.
posted by Kitteh at 4:18 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I think the Somerville coffee shop held a metaphorical corner, because it sounds an awful lot like True Grounds in Ball Square. I used to live a block away from it, and it is indeed a nice, relaxed place, one of the few things I miss from Somerville.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:28 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Dear lord that was a long article, but it does give a nice idea of just how much Greenpoint has gone to shit already. I wish she would move to Queens; for now there isn't much of a scene and nobody to worry about being cool towards.
posted by ReeMonster at 4:50 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


(e.g., one can hold up a conversation and one can hold up a New Yorker)

Until you pointed out the zeugma it hadn't occurred to me at all: it seemed clear that the conversations were about the presses (literary presses!) and about the latest issue. Why, after all, would physically holding up a copy of a magazine help?
posted by kenko at 4:50 PM on March 12


I don't really get the hate here. I try to treat coffee shop employees right, because I try to treat all service people nice. And, because I get paid reasonably, I tip well (assuming they aren't jerks) because I've seen way to many people tip nothing or 5-10 cents on their $5-10 coffee order, and that makes me want to punch them in their stupid heads.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:50 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I read that sentence as being intended to say that if she had a quarter for each time, it would total to more than her tips.

Our reading comprehension contains multitudes.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:52 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


all i can say is that i'm more the donut shop type - i tried the coffee shops a couple of times and all people do is stare at their laptops and phones

and if i had a quarter for every time you guys overparsed something, i'd own heinz and you would be paying SO MUCH for a plate of beans
posted by pyramid termite at 4:55 PM on March 12 [16 favorites]


That seems like a recipe for either over or under extracting. Maybe it's how cupping is done by professional tasters at roasting companies, but I've never seen it done that way in a coffee shop, whether for the general public or for staff.

That's not really cupping, that's a coffee tasting.
posted by jb at 4:57 PM on March 12


Dare I say that that sentence would be perfect for a New Yorker 'Block That Metaphor' snippet?
posted by Flashman at 4:58 PM on March 12


Sara C.: "If you went to this guy's house and he was dressed like that and had a dozen chemexes out and wanted to pour you a sip of each of 10 kinds of coffee, christ, what an asshole. "

What. He'd be an interesting friend who dresses with conscious intent and is so geeked out on coffee he wants to share it with everyone.

That guy would be awesome!
posted by danny the boy at 5:00 PM on March 12 [15 favorites]


If everyone on metafilter had a quarter for every time they showed off their liberal arts degree by critiquing the everloving fuck out of some random sentence in an article on the internet... this thread alone could practically pay for a new sock-puppet account!
posted by hap_hazard at 5:00 PM on March 12 [22 favorites]


With this thread, I could knit one.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:06 PM on March 12 [8 favorites]


I am surprised people attempted conversations before they got the coffee...but really, barista is a G-rated bartender who replaced the record store guy in that department...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:08 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


I've recently weaned my coffee intake down to just on the weekends (it makes me jittery and gives me belly troubles), but I get my java here where the quality is excellent and I've never encountered any attitude. YMMV.
posted by jonmc at 5:11 PM on March 12


This sentence gives me a headache. I can't parse it. If she had quarters for showing her degree the tips would be better? Cuz she would add the quarters in with the tip total? Huh? Or would her tips have been bigger if she mentioned her degree? Okay then what's with the quarters?!? Blarg!!!"


I'm probably overthinking the plate of coffee beans, but I interpreted this within the context of the article as "The customers who were older, rich, male, attempting to be edgy, liking 'fuck' and tattoos, may have been assholes but at least they gave me tips, while the young hipsters who wanted to discuss my degree and the New Yorker didn't give me any money, because they thought treating me as a human being was enough."
posted by Daily Alice at 5:12 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


"The customers who were older, rich, male, attempting to be edgy, liking 'fuck' and tattoos, may have been assholes but at least they gave me tips, while the young hipsters who wanted to discuss my degree and the New Yorker didn't give me any money, because they thought treating me as a human being was enough."

or, to quote a wise man "Fuck You, Pay Me."
posted by jonmc at 5:17 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: critiquing the everloving fuck out of some random sentence in an article on the internet
posted by billiebee at 5:21 PM on March 12 [14 favorites]


If society ever wraps as much pomp and pretension around the consumption of steaks and beer as it has the consumption of coffee, I will likely starve to death.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:21 PM on March 12


Wow, kind of interesting how much snark (both direct and indirect) this piece generated...
posted by anguspodgorny at 5:22 PM on March 12


I have to say, having been to many coffee shops in NY including lots of the artisanal ones in hipster areas, I haven't seen much of the obnoxious behavior she describes. I'm pretty matter-of-fact and polite but not-chatty in my interactions with baristas, and I feel like the vast majority of customers are that way. I don't see a lot of status-seeking conversations about indie film or The New Yorker.

Is it possible she's exaggerating the frequency of her most annoying interactions for dramatic effect?
posted by shivohum at 5:26 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


This is just to say

I drank
the coffee
that was in
the Chemex

and which
you probably
made
for breakfast

Forgive me
I...oh- you seem
to have
stabbed me
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:29 PM on March 12 [47 favorites]


His clothes are fine; but he looks like he hasn't washed his hair in a month.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:29 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


If society ever wraps as much pomp and pretension around the consumption of steaks and beer as it has the consumption of coffee, I will likely starve to death.

Certainly lots of pretension, signifyin' and whatnot around both beer snobs and fancy steakhouses.
posted by naju at 5:33 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I may be misreading totally, because this person might as well live on Mars as far as I'm concerned, but I thought the idea was that there's an emotional labor component to some kinds of service work: part of what you're selling is a chance for your customers to feel something. And that's kind of uncomfortable when what you're selling is to give extremely-privileged people a chance to feel cool by association with your seemingly-hip but also fairly-precarious and not-really-glamorous life. The 1%ers get to feel like they're pals with the cool folks who have tattoos and make art and say fuck a lot, and they don't feel like they're exploiting anyone because they think the baristas are just being baristas to support their other, hipper pursuits. But the 1%ers never focus on the fact that the cool kids don't have health insurance or a viable retirement plan.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:34 PM on March 12 [43 favorites]


Since I haven't lived in Somerville since the days when it was just the Diesel and ... that other one at the corner of Day and Holland ... what coffee shop is she talking about here, exactly?

Excellent question! My guess, given that it's a.) on a corner b.) pretty indie c.) surrounded by Virgin Mary shrines d.) been around for a while

is that it is....wait for it...

What used to be the Somerville Toscanini's, now known as The Biscuit.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:35 PM on March 12


Actually, scratch that. This is a deeper mystery than I thought!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:41 PM on March 12


.oh- you seem
to have
stabbed me


HAH!.. Priceless, simply PRICELESS.

This is why I love metafilter.

thanks for making me smile very very broadly WhiteSkull. Thanks...
posted by anguspodgorny at 5:47 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Wow, kind of interesting how much snark (both direct and indirect) this piece generated...

You have to be careful when writing a memoir of experiences which entails a lot of "get a load of these ludicrous artsy jerks"-type reminiscing. It's hard to maintain sympathy when you seem to be looking down on people who you're characterizing as pretentious, because that can easily come across as a rejection of their coolness (i.e., that they're not cool enough) rather than a rejection of their conception of coolness or of coolness itself.
posted by clockzero at 5:49 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


I think the Somerville coffee shop held a metaphorical corner, because it sounds an awful lot like True Grounds in Ball Square.

Yeah, I got the impression it was True Grounds, too. It opened in 2004 an' everything.
posted by Spatch at 5:57 PM on March 12


It's really interesting to think about this in the context of the "Should I ask my barista out" Asks I feel there's been at least a few of.
posted by corb at 6:18 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


> Is it possible she's exaggerating the frequency of her most annoying interactions for dramatic effect?

My takeaway was not the annoying interactions, but that a prerequisite for the job (at least in the areas she describes) includes being fluent in middle/upper-middle class references and expectations in a way which ends up being something of a trap. The unused BA is what makes her able to fill the role of lifestyle prop in the first place, but it's also an expense which barista-ing cannot recoup and in fact hinders her from recouping in the future for reasons which ironically tie back into that lifestyle prop role. The nature of the position also obscures the expense and precarity. "What do you do when you're not making coffee?"

I don't know how true that is, but I thought it was interesting and I'm sympathetic to the idea of a degree being a luxury good for people other than it's holder.

(or what ArbitraryAndCapricious said.)
posted by postcommunism at 6:23 PM on March 12 [24 favorites]


but that a prerequisite for the job (at least in the areas she describes) includes being fluent in middle/upper-middle class references and expectations in a way which ends up being something of a trap.

But I'm not sure it's any more true of baristas than of waiters at a decent restaurant. Yes, courtesy and pose and grammatical language are expected at a high-end coffee shop, perhaps moreso than of the typical Dunkin Donuts worker.

Yet she claims that baristas are a victim of processes that reduce "workers’ personality traits and educations to a series of plot points intended to telegraph a zombified bohemianism"

I mean, that sounds good and no doubt gets page views, but as you point out, I'm just not sure it's true.

I might see this marginally in that these coffee shops are typically meant to evoke some kind of cool, hipstery atmosphere. And perhaps some of the baristas have tattoos and sport other symbols of the counter culture, and that adds to the allure and mystique of the place.

But the kind of world she describes, where patrons largely converse with the baristas in order to stroke their egos and bolster their membership cred in some bohemian club, just seems like a caricature.
posted by shivohum at 6:40 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


My takeaway was not the annoying interactions, but that a prerequisite for the job (at least in the areas she describes) includes being fluent in middle/upper-middle class references and expectations in a way which ends up being something of a trap. The unused BA is what makes her able to fill the role of lifestyle prop in the first place, but it's also an expense which barista-ing cannot recoup and in fact hinders her from recouping in the future for reasons which ironically tie back into that lifestyle prop role. The nature of the position also obscures the expense and precarity. "What do you do when you're not making coffee?"

It would have been great if this were the essay that she wrote, instead of the muddled, over-written, and indulgently prolix piece they actually ran.
posted by clockzero at 6:46 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


This is just to say

I drank
the coffee
that was in
the Chemex

and which
you probably
made
for breakfast

Forgive me
I...oh- you seem
to have
stabbed me


This is the only good parody of this poem ever on this site ever

Ever
posted by sweetkid at 6:52 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


> His clothes are fine; but he looks like he hasn't washed his hair in a month.

His jacket collar is flipped up. The hair, twenty bucks says it's a combover.
posted by jfuller at 7:04 PM on March 12


I had the same takeaway as postcommunion and ArbitraryAndCapricious. There's a lot of substance there - glad I could read past the style.
posted by muddgirl at 7:13 PM on March 12


Or whatever style problems other people are noticing, rather.
posted by muddgirl at 7:14 PM on March 12


> His clothes are fine; but he looks like he hasn't washed his hair in a month.

His jacket collar is flipped up. The hair, twenty bucks says it's a combover.


We should make a show that helps out dudes like this one: MeFi Eye for the Schlub Guy.
posted by Pudhoho at 7:29 PM on March 12


no I tired that once and it lead to the fires and the screaming and the trial and I'm better now, I'm better now.
posted by The Whelk at 7:34 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


One should be honest about how performing class is part of the barista job. It's not too hard to understand why this is so - a coffee shop is a social place in a way that, for instance, a supermarket is not. If you're part of a class that formally allies itself to egalitarian principles, it's hard to perform that class when you're being served by someone of a less favoured class. Hence the social necessity that you and your barista are of similar status.

The flip side of this is not to ignore the benefits that baristas get out of this relationship. Baristas get recognition as part of the creative class at a point in their lives when their low earnings often make it hard to stake a claim to class membership. I noticed someone mentioned the lack of health-care or a retirement plan - well, those are precisely the things that tend not to matter very much to someone in their twenties with a degree in their pocket and an easy familiarity with favoured-class culture.

In this specific case, the author finally 'escaped' due to a chance inheritance, right? Yes, it looks like a random piece of luck. Certainly the death of a family member is more or less a chance event; but was it particularly lucky that she was able to move into a non-service career that fit her class? I'd argue that it wasn't - as a member of the creative class, which she already was, there were a whole bunch of things that could have happened to help her do that. In an alternate reality her article ends with that editor she served giving her the job.

Guys, if you've got advantages because of your position in the social superstructure, accept that fact, ok? The middle-class isn't yet so shrunken that one is either a '1%er' or a member of the precariat.
posted by topynate at 8:15 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


I think everyone has the right to whine some from a bum to the 0.0001% but some of this barista stuff... I'll freely admit I've barely physically worked a day in my life though I've got some mileage/wear and tear from the mental work. My father worked. He has a broken body and a metal hip.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:20 PM on March 12


It reminded me of this bit from Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride:

The Toxique is Roz's latest discovery. Roz is always discovering things, especially restaurants. She likes eating in places where no one from her office would ever eat, she likes being' surrounded by people wearing clothes she'd never wear herself. She likes to think she's mingling with real life, real meaning poorer than her. Or that's the impression Charis sometimes gets. She's tried telling Roz that all life is equally real, but Roz doesn't appear to understand what she means; though maybe Charis doesn't put it clearly enough.
posted by jaguar at 8:32 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


It's funny, I work at Starbucks and it really is night and day...apparently. Maybe it's because our location serves a huge professional, young-money demographic (basically techbros) rather than an artsier one, but I've never had any customer seek my validation on pretty much anything. The other day a customer just about passed out when he was struggling to remember the name of a historical event and I correctly offered up "Treaty of Tordesillas". Like, I'm not sure he thought I even knew what history was. People have spelled out names like Phil and Mary and James for me.

I don't think I've ever even had a customer, even the nice regulars who I talk to almost every day, ask me a single thing about my actual life or opinions-- musings on which macchiato to get notwithstanding. (The Barista Bechdel Test: did at least two customers ask you about something not directly related to coffee? Congratulations, I guess you don't work at Starbucks!)
posted by threeants at 8:35 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]


Interesting article. Some insightful comments. What if I see myself in her caricatures? I guess I'm now officially over coffee shops since that whole 3rd space idea just doesn't gain traction in practice. The only time I've seen a true 3rd space come about was by accident, not by design, at a rock climbing gym. You can't really engineer these things.

What's the opposite of performative?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:03 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I feel like there is a whole emerging class of people who are upper-class by virtue of serving rich people, while not actually making much money.

A barista making $10 an hour has way more social capital than a Walmart employee who makes the same amount. Working as a barista is a quirky talking point on your resume, while working at Walmart is a huge black stain. (Can you imagine a Walmart employee talking herself into a magazine position?)

I'm afraid that this is reducing social mobility even further since poor young people are locked out of a large swath of even the low-paying jobs (because rich young people are taking them).

Not that I know how to fix this.
posted by miyabo at 10:17 PM on March 12 [11 favorites]


Between this and the other thread about retail jobs I'm suddenly very glad to work in a liquor store. Mostly because all my customers know that pissing me off will result in my not selling them the addictive substances they need to handle the stresses of their daily lives and as a result they are very nice to me. I, in turn, harness this same fear of being cut off to encourage my own treatment of the local weirdos working at Jittery Joe's nicely and it's why they, in return, are so nice to me.

♫♪ It's the circle of liiiiiife! ♪♫
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:30 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


A barista making $10 an hour has way more social capital than a Walmart employee who makes the same amount. Working as a barista is a quirky talking point on your resume, while working at Walmart is a huge black stain. (Can you imagine a Walmart employee talking herself into a magazine position?)

Does it really confer such a dividend, to have worked at Starbucks? Do people regard that as impressive? It seems like pretty conventional work. Or do so many people with college degrees work there that a sort of metonymy occurs, and barista comes to signify middle-class kid?
posted by clockzero at 10:45 PM on March 12


I feel like there is a whole emerging class of people who are upper-class by virtue of serving rich people, while not actually making much money.

What's really sad is that this isn't a new thing, at all.

This is the exact meaning of the servant class. It disappeared for most of the 20th century, but it's very much on it's way back.
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 PM on March 12 [12 favorites]


Can you imagine a Walmart employee talking herself into a magazine position?

You realize The Awl is just a website on the internet, right? I don't think they even pay their writers, and if they do it's unlikely to be more than $50 for a feature article like this. They certainly don't care what sorts of retail work you actually pay your rent with.

Also, none of this is about Starbucks, at all. Starbucks is fast food. Elite third wave coffee shops in hip neighborhoods are a whole other thing.
posted by Sara C. at 10:54 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Not Starbucks. Starbucks is one tier above McDonald's, like Pret or Au Bon Pain.

If I get a bag of coffee at my local coffee shop of the class discussed, it has a logo on it "direct trade" because fair trade was not fair enough. Apparently direct trade involves going on business trips to Costa Rica to shake the dude's hand who grows the beans. Pics later.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:00 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


And in case you'd like to hear it set to music, here you go.
posted by How the runs scored at 11:03 PM on March 12


But the kind of world she describes, where patrons largely converse with the baristas in order to stroke their egos and bolster their membership cred in some bohemian club, just seems like a caricature.

It's A Thing™ though. It may not be as much as it used to be, as i think the group/generation of people truly obsessed with that kind of thing are nearing 30 now as that whole fixation(heh) peaked around the early-mid to late 00s with along with the whole indie/hipster/fixed gear bike and sweatervest scene. That was when i was pulling coffee as well, towards the end of that, and i absolutely remember it being a lot more of a status job and a status/class performance/in group thing to go to the "hip" shop and have friends there during that time period. It's really waning now, and honestly at this point it's just more that people appreciate quality tasty coffee than going to the coolest shop. Hell, i hear people talking about places they used to praise that never had good coffee in the sense of "nah, i don't really want to go there, the coffee kinda sucks" when the entire point previously was just that the place was seen as awesome and had a big rep.

The people who grouped it in with record store employee were on point. Just as record stores were starting to close/die out, the same Aura Of Coolness and fixation shifted to baristas as that also became a cool thing to be a connoisseur of. It seems like it has now shifted to "employee at hole in the wall food shop fixated on some bizarre thing like artisanal custard sundaes or malaysian street food".

I'm not the david attenborough or steve irwin of this shit though, so go ahead and take this with a grain of salt. just some observations.

I noticed someone mentioned the lack of health-care or a retirement plan - well, those are precisely the things that tend not to matter very much to someone in their twenties with a degree in their pocket and an easy familiarity with favoured-class culture.

It's worth noting that all of the 3rd wave mini-chain coffee shops(including stumptown, as far as i know, which was mentioned in this article) that i know of absolutely have healthcare and benefits in general if you work more than a silly low number of hours a year, which is to say basically any employee who works there for more than 6 months gets benefits. You do not have to be full time, at least in my area.

It's actually not that bad of a job, from that standpoint. And especially when you consider that you're making quite a bit more than minimum wage and taking home $80+ in tips a night in addition to your regular paycheck. I've known people to get way more in certain shops/areas, and i've also heard it's more in the NYC boroughs.

I'm only a little bit out of the loop on this stuff, but moreso on other stuff...
posted by emptythought at 11:04 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


I AM BLAZERMAN
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:38 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Also, none of this is about Starbucks, at all.

Actually, part of this is about Starbucks. Specifically the section of the article where the author, uh, talked about Starbucks?
posted by threeants at 11:40 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


OK, I"ll take a stab at it:
In my Brooklyn job, I had to make use of my liberal arts degree all the time, like when customers engaged me in conversation about New York's small publishers and the New Yorker. Boy howdy, if I had a quarter for every time that job required me to be well-informed about literature, that'd add up to more than I actually got in tips!

This basically agrees with the nested parentheticals upthread. What I don't get is the immediate context. If most interactions were about swearing and body modifications, that should lead into a complaint about the barista's degree being wasted, not used (however shallowly), right? But the hip-and-cool clientele who yap about indie cinema probably also talk about literary stuff, so I think this interpretation checks out.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 11:55 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I find it profoundly depressing that people successfully complete a post-secondary degree and end up with a career serving coffee. And that people in the US increasingly go into debt to get that degree, and STILL end up serving coffee is just mind boggling. The whole system seems broke.
posted by modernnomad at 12:27 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


"MeFi Eye for the Schlub Guy"

That sounds ridiculous, like how the theme song I imagine for that show to be. Some hidee-ho wild west camp thing where a cowboy in a blue shirt rides in on a fixie to rescue hipsters from fashion faux pas(i?). Maybe this is one of those times where the full name actually works better. MetaFilter for the Schlub…
posted by iamkimiam at 1:39 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Some hidee-ho wild west camp thing where a cowboy in a blue shirt rides in on a fixie to rescue hipsters from fashion faux pas.

Hot damn! You've got a much better handle on this thing than I ever will.

How would you like to be the executive producer?
posted by Pudhoho at 2:18 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Hello. I would like some coffee, please. I will pay you money to competently operate that machine, causing hot water to be pushed through beans into a cup.

Oh. If you could not act like operating the machine is on par with being an astronaut, and avoid rolling your eyes and sighing because I like milk in it, that would be very much appreciated.

I see. It's just that I don't get that shit from the kid at McDonalds who makes my fries, who works every bit as hard as you do, if not harder, so I'm not about to take it from you, you sulky fucking bean water machine organ grinder monkey. The time when you are replaced by a competent coffee-making robot cannot come too soon.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:31 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


"Hot damn! You've got a much better handle on this thing than I ever will.

How would you like to be the executive producer?"


Let's move to Beverly Hills! We're going to be famous!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:34 AM on March 13


It wasn't that great of an article--overly long and repetitive--but I was less struck by the sometimes-awkward phrasing or photo of Hipster Barista guy and more by the last few paragraphs, especially the very last bit:
the editor turned to me and asked me if I really, you know, wanted to do the job I’d applied for. "I would feel bad taking you away from them," he said. "You know, you’re, like, really good at making coffee."
Nearly twenty-five years ago, I was stuck in minimum-wage hell after graduating from college without a really good idea of what I wanted to do with myself; once I decided that I'd like to be a librarian, I applied to the state civil service with the idea that I'd work as a library clerk at the university with a library school and use the tuition waiver to get my degree without having to take out loans (which ended up working out just fine). Even though I got the highest possible score on the civil service exam, I still had to interview nine times at the same university for entry-level clerk positions before I was offered the job. I was flabbergasted when one of the librarians flat-out asked me if I was sure that I wanted to do this type of work--you know, work at a desk during the day, with weekends off, benefits, etc., instead of pushing a vaccuum cleaner around for eight hours on the second shift--but at least they were being honest about what all the others were probably thinking: that what you do is basically what you are.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:30 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


One data point: i liked the article, because it's oozing personality - even if, in the opinion of some posters, the writing could do with a little untangling.

A+ could have read more, would read again.
posted by illongruci at 5:32 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


A barista making $10 an hour has way more social capital than a Walmart employee who makes the same amount.

As Sara C. Mentioned above, this is the definition of a servant class, people with high social status compared to thier economic position - see also the waiters in Orwell's Down And Out in London And Paris, who despite making roughly the same as everyone else in Hotel and being in the same precarious position, thought of themselves as above and separate because they waited on the monied customers directly and where expected to form some kind of social bond with them.

For direct experience, I know some very rich people. The kind of pele who go into arty/publishing/philanthropic work because they can because thier family owns a not-insignificant chunk of Rhoad Island. It never occurs to them that the arty, "bohemian" types they like to hang out with or write about are actually in a vastly different class, so anything they do , like renting rather than buying, must be because it's a personal choice to be carefree and flexible and not because the concept of buying a home is so forgien and impossible due to money problems that it will never, ever happen for them. The artists sell thier high social capital to the rich peopple in exchange for access to the type of people who can buy and promote thier work, the richies spend thier economic capital to get things they can't directly buy, like coolness and access to "fun" types of people.
posted by The Whelk at 5:32 AM on March 13 [20 favorites]


Not Starbucks. Starbucks is one tier above McDonald's, like Pret or Au Bon Pain.

I wish I had actual statistics, but purely observationally, the staff at my local Starbucks is largely white and educated. The staff at my local McDonalds is largely not-white and (as far as I can tell from brief conversations) not college educated, with the exception of the elderly workers who are both white and better educated. It's a very stark difference in hiring pools and/or policies, even though the difference in hourly wage is not that large.

But that's not universal at all, and I've noticed a big variation when traveling.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:37 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I'm not caught up in your love affair
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:42 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Veblen.
posted by wuwei at 6:01 AM on March 13


The litany of people mocking that “if I had a quarter” sentence is really starting to sound like a thinly veiled attempt to put the author in her place. It might not have been intended as “silly girl, go back to making coffee” but each repetition makes easier to read it that way.
posted by adamsc at 6:24 AM on March 13 [17 favorites]


Starbucks is a far better job, in job terms, than the vast majority of indie coffee shops.

The pay is the same or better, Starbucks offers one of the best (if not the best) benefit packages available to part-time retail workers, a Starbucks job is easily transferable to another Starbucks, and there are considerable (if not exactly easy) promotion opportunities, including to slightly-better waged supervisor jobs, meaningfully-better waged and full-time store management jobs, even real-career type jobs (district manager, etc.)
posted by MattD at 6:45 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


@adamsc Nah, I don't think so. I love the article and it's the first one of that length I've read all the way through in a long time. It's well-written except for five or so overly complicated sentences, including that one.

Molly, keep writing.
posted by Hawk V at 6:50 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I apologise, I didn't intend to sound mocking to her or the article...I actually really enjoyed it, thought it was thought-provoking and well written, too. That sentence was fascinating though and as a linguist i couldn't resist. Didn't mean to sound snarky or start a derail, both of which I think I unwittingly accomplished. Sorry, carry on.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:51 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Since I haven't lived in Somerville since the days when it was just the Diesel and ... that other one at the corner of Day and Holland ... what coffee shop is she talking about here, exactly?

The Biscuit is on a literal corner, founded around 2004, and the two owners (maybe?) used to work at Toscanini's.
posted by grobstein at 7:13 AM on March 13


It occurs to me that the author had a similar path to the characters in Questionable Content, who are almost all working low-pay jobs despite their college education. (It does center around an independent coffee shop in a Massachusetts college town.)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:22 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: this highly coded back-and-forth of "I'm into neat things, and I acknowledge that you're into neat things, and that's neat"?
posted by yoink at 7:23 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


My guess for the Somerville coffee shop is Sherman Cafe in Union: opened in 2004 by two people, very close to a corner in a quieter neighborhood surrounded by Virgin Mary statues, a little dusty and hipstery, dog-friendly, and only open until 7 pm, so it'd probably be pretty hard for the author to get enough hours.

I used to live around the corner from Sherman and I miss it. They have fantastic sandwiches. I do not miss the crowd overflow from the hipster bike shop next door.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:42 AM on March 13


Sara C: I don't think they even pay their writers

The Awl pays its writers.
posted by troika at 7:52 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm in my usual coffeeshop. Today when I got my order I thought to myself, "oh, I wonder if I should ask the person at the counter whether she read that article in the Awl about the performative aspects of being a barista?" And then I got sucked into a dizzying psychic whirlpool of meta and I had to hurry away with my mug and sit down for a while.
posted by escabeche at 8:12 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


And then I got sucked into a dizzying psychic whirlpool of meta

That's how I know that the coffee is working.
posted by postcommunism at 8:28 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


This really is just about service and waiting on people. I was a 'barista' before it was called that. A waiter in a college restaurant, coffee roaster joint that pulled espresso's in the early 90's. Very little hip going on. I remember mostly the turks and italian students there when I opened for their 2 quick shots of espresso downed like whiskey...
posted by judson at 8:30 AM on March 13


Specifically the section of the article where the author, uh, talked about Starbucks?

My "none of this" was referring to all the chatter about talking to your barista about the New Yorker and the tattoos and the indie cred cultural transaction aspects of coffee shops.

None of that exists at Starbucks.

Starbucks does not hire people because they're cool. People who patronize Starbucks do not expect the baristas to be cool. Hipness is not really an aspect of the Starbucks brand.

So people in this thread who are saying, "I go to Starbucks all the time and have never noticed this, she doesn't know what she's talking about," have not actually experienced what she's talking about.

This is much more likely to be happening at Blue Bottle in San Francisco, Grumpy in Brooklyn, Intelligentsia in LA, etc.

Starbucks is referenced in the article in talking about coffee shops as a "third place". All this Manic Pixie Dream Barista stuff is a much more recent addition to that "third place" idea which is not part of how Starbucks curates their particular brand of "third place".
posted by Sara C. at 8:48 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I have had hisptery talk with baristas at Blue Bottle in NYC but I think we were both just bored, maybe flirting, not class posturing or performng or whatever.
posted by sweetkid at 8:54 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: just bored, maybe flirting, not class posturing or performng or whatever.

Do we still do that?
posted by Think_Long at 8:57 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Man what if people got paid enough money to have security so they could do what they wanted with their lives and associate with people they wanted to associate with

what if man
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:57 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Man what if people got paid enough money to have security so they could do what they wanted with their lives and associate with people they wanted to associate with
The cost of associating with popular people would increase accordingly?
posted by topynate at 8:58 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Does it really confer such a dividend, to have worked at Starbucks? Do people regard that as impressive? It seems like pretty conventional work. Or do so many people with college degrees work there that a sort of metonymy occurs, and barista comes to signify middle-class kid?

The article mentions how she lucked into a minimum wage job that was considered skilled. Applying to be a barista in NYC requires far more experience than a dishwasher - so a suburban job at Starbucks is preferable to one at McDonalds. If you've got the funds or friends to move to NYC, you're networking while you work because of the sheer amount of money concentrated there. It's not "prestigious" but it allows the suburban upper-middle class to have a better shot at escaping proletarianization.
posted by gorbweaver at 9:19 AM on March 13


It is sort of about Starbucks, because as the author stated, Starbucks is a major player in the commoditinization of the third space idea. Starbucks wants to be a place (or more accurately, wants it customers to think of it as a place) where meaningful human interaction takes place.

The problem it has, along with all other high-end coffee shops, is that its framework is built around consumption, not around participation. So you end up with workers who are trying to efficiently sell product and customers who are trying to be a part of a community. Lots of clanging between those two mindsets.
posted by rtimmel at 9:59 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


The especially weird thing about class, becoming a barista (and other high-status service industry jobs too, probably), and cultural capital is that one path to that type of job actually is basically just being hip enough and having the right sort of image.

When I got my barista gig, I put one bogus food service job on my resume, which I slated in as having been years ago, in a decidedly uncool establishment, just to make it seem like I wasn't going to explode their espresso machine.

The interview was totally not AT ALL about whether I had the skills to do the job, or how long I had been a barista, or how much stuff I knew. It was pretty much entirely about whether I was cool enough to work there. And I got the job pretty much entirely by being good at the sort of cocktail party banter described in this article.

Despite similar skill-sets (and often similar duties), someone applying for a dishwasher job would probably not be able to get a barista job, at least not in a place like the ones described in this article. And it would not be for reasons of skill, at all. It would be for reasons of race, class, and culture.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


The especially weird thing about class, becoming a barista (and other high-status service industry jobs too, probably), and cultural capital is that one path to that type of job actually is basically just being hip enough and having the right sort of image.

Well, yeah. That's what gives birth to this whole genre of "OMG, service jobs are just so awful!" writing. It's precisely the anomalous class status of these jobs that generates their characteristic form of discontent: "what am I--a person of reasonably high cultural capital--doing performing a menial job like this?" Hence her anxiety to impress upon us just how much she's "above" the job she was doing and her similar anxiety to reveal the "creative class" types she served (and whose class identity she shares and wants, in fact, to fully inhabit) as vapid poseurs.
posted by yoink at 10:14 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]




I was struck by . . . the last few paragraphs, especially the very last bit:
the editor turned to me and asked me if I really, you know, wanted to do the job I’d applied for. "I would feel bad taking you away from them," he said. "You know, you’re, like, really good at making coffee."

My brother is approaching his 28th year working for [huge corporation]. He started at what I assume was the bottom: proofreading the output from keypunch operators.*

He got that first job there because there was a group of people who worked at [huge corporation] who came over to lunch every week at [funfunfun chain restaurant] where he worked and thought he was a smart guy with good people skills and someone whom they'd like to work with.

You know: not self-absorbed, peevish, and judgemental.
 

-------------------------------------
*A wetware system that did then what optical character recognition software does now. They would have been the actual bottom, if they'd been permanent employees.
posted by Herodios at 10:28 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Hmm. . .

Verbose, self-absorbed, peevish, judgemental . . .

Upon further consideration, if you add litigious (later in life) to this dangerous vision, it brings to mind another writer. She may well have a brilliant career ahead after all, in speculative fiction and writing for television.
posted by Herodios at 10:53 AM on March 13


I really liked her Mobius sentences; I thought they were fun, like a linguistic rollercoaster.

The thread she talked about with the issues of how one is perceived and how that confers advantages was really interesting to me. Class issues in the US are obfuscated by rhetorical equality, and it seems like she's trying to unpack the differences between social-capital-class and fiscal-capital-class, and how the former can lead to the latter if one is very lucky.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:09 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


i think the group/generation of people truly obsessed with that kind of thing are nearing 30 now as that whole fixation(heh) peaked around the early-mid to late 00s with along with the whole indie/hipster/fixed gear bike and sweatervest scene. That was when i was pulling coffee as well, towards the end of that, and i absolutely remember it being a lot more of a status job and a status/class performance/in group thing to go to the "hip" shop and have friends there during that time period. It's really waning now, and honestly at this point it's just more that people appreciate quality tasty coffee than going to the coolest shop.


No what happened is that we aged out of that scene, got a job, got some responsibilities and now need our coffee just to keep going.

This is still happening, trust me.... We're the ones who got old. IMO all this stuff aged out in the 90s!

We need a vote... everyone here who says "I'm just here getting coffee" is 30++, I guarantee it.

Maybe this is the same old "I used to care about what people think" growing up that happens to everyone, except this time its enmeshed with servant class/economics/ what do I do with a BA in English? wrapped into it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:29 AM on March 13


I dunno people don't just X out of a certain behavior or mindset just because they hit their 30th birthday. That line of thinking never made sense to me.
posted by sweetkid at 11:32 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


If anything, I see twee third wave coffee culture expanding and getting more byzantine as its demographic ages. Because now we have more money to spend on things like coffee. And, as St. Peepsburg says, now we feel like we need coffee more, and we already have a taste for the good stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: outgrown hipsters, so over it now, we just want coffee and free wi-fis.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:54 AM on March 13


I really disagree that 30-somethings have no interest in engaging with the hipness/coolness quotient. Aging hipsters above all are anxious about their identity and losing relevance. The office job is cushy and pays well but doesn't make them feel cool in the way going to a record store and talking shop with the 20-somethings there does, or going to the hip siphon coffee place in the neighborhood and getting some mildly-flirty validation from a barista there does. TONS of obnoxiousness in my particular age cohort!
posted by naju at 1:16 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I also think it's worth noting that the perceived class difference between other service jobs and baristas, alongside fine dining waiters and such exists for a reason. Despite your similar base salary, the tips you pull in at a "cool" high end coffee shop are on par with what you'd get at a pretty high class restaurant where people come in and drop stacks of hundreds on dinner for 2-4 people. I'm not talking michelin star or anything, but i've had friends who did both and the tips were second only to bartending at ridiculously busy places.

It's like, lets say you're a line cook at a meh mid level restaurant, making $11 an hour. You work 38 hours a week. That's $20,064 a year assuming you don't cover any shifts or anything before taxes. After taxes in my state, it would be like 16k a year.

Now lets say your a barista making the same amount of money, but you make $80 in tips a shift(this isn't unrealistic at the last high-end place i worked at, it varied from like 50 to over $100 easily and sometimes like $120 or even $150). You work 5 days a week, and get a couple hot shifts for tips like the brunch rush to average it out. Hell, lets say you're working 35 hours a week.

That's only $14,889 a year on paper, but you also have to factor in the extra $19,200 in tips(80 * 5 * 4 * 12) per year. Even if you assume that's shooting high and you only get like, 16,000 that is really a thing that happens. And it puts you above 30k a year no problem, compared to other service industry folks besides the exceptions i mentioned who are all under 20k unless they're pulling a second job or something. It's also worth noting that no one pays taxes on that damn money. It's generally, almost entirely cash.

it puts you on par with the people getting their first white collar jobs out of college, besides the fuckers who walk right into >50k a year jobs.

It really is an awkward middle step between working class and lower middle class. Don't really know what to say about it, but it isn't a difference in name only. And when you're in your early 20s living alone or with roommates(a lot like a bunch of the people starting "careers") and no real responsibilities, it sure feels like a lot more money than it is.
posted by emptythought at 2:35 PM on March 13


The litany of people mocking that "if I had a quarter" sentence is really starting to sound like a thinly veiled attempt to put the author in her place. It might not have been intended as "silly girl, go back to making coffee" but each repetition makes easier to read it
that way.


Similarly, the litany of people who jump at the chance to post a "you oughta be ashamed of yourselves" type comment at the greater pile of MeFi posters whenever they poke fun at awful confusing writing in an article by a self professed educated person who's presenting something as "insightful" sounds more and more self-righteous every time.

She tried to make a clever quip and it fell flat. People booing her joke for only narrowly having the capability to be parsed in any meaningful way are not telling her to get back in the basement and keep shoveling coal into the furnace with all the other indentured
servants.

I mean you can read it that way if you want, but it's just dropping a deuce on the discussion. It's ok(and understandable, to a degree) to be uncomfortable with people attacking her, but just say that. You don't have to dress it up as some kind of class warfare to make your point.
posted by emptythought at 2:48 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


the tips you pull in at a "cool" high end coffee shop are on par with what you'd get at a pretty high class restaurant where people come in and drop stacks of hundreds on dinner for 2-4 people

This is drastically untrue unless maybe you are working at one of a few truly elite shops where most of the baristas are known in the international espresso competition scene.

As a barista at a somewhat well known but not legendary third wave coffee shop in L.A. I made $50 in tips on a good shift. Add that to the $50 I made in wages for a six hour shift, and it comes out to less than my usual pay as an entry level admin office worker. Certainly nothing sexy.

I made $500 before tips for a month of work as a barista. I was a newbie, and this would have gone up if I'd stuck around. But it still doesn't come out on par with jobs that require a BA, let alone anything even remotely comparable to being "upper class".

Also, no, the tips are nothing like what you'd make as a fine dining waiter. The most generous tipper at a coffee shop leaves $1 per drink. Maybe you get the occasional camper who drops in a $5 bill because they know they're going to use the place as an office all day. Nobody is dropping hundreds of dollars in the tip jar. I don't know where anyone would get that idea.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


@emptythought: perhaps you're right but I do find it curious that this came up over and over again but, say, the next time some windy philosopher is featured far more impenetrable prose probably won't even merit a comment. I mean, this was a slightly complex sentence but hardly unprecedented by the standards of things I've encountered here.
posted by adamsc at 3:46 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Also, no, the tips are nothing like what you'd make as a fine dining waiter. The most generous tipper at a coffee shop leaves $1 per drink. Maybe you get the occasional camper who drops in a $5 bill because they know they're going to use the place as an office all day. Nobody is dropping hundreds of dollars in the tip jar. I don't know where anyone would get that idea.

Yeah, this. I go to a high end coffee place near me pretty often after the gym and I tip only occasionally - they probably get about $3 in tips from me per week. (Not a camper, just a quick stop).

Nowhere NEAR a fancy restaurant in tips, even with the higher turnover.
posted by sweetkid at 3:55 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Do i really have to bs up some math here for you? like is this worthy of a tag team by the wonder twins?

So i was in the shops for the company i did office stuff for quite a bit to do various maintenance/it stuff/whatever. I also talked to them about this quite a bit, and was friends with more than a couple of the employees.

There's a line most of the day. The times when there isn't a line are less often, but predictable. a lot of people in line buy a $3-4 drink and tip at least $1, usually 2, some people tip 100%, and i don't mean like 2 a day. I would say it takes about a minute to two minutes for each person to get their drink. Assuming 2 in 10 people don't tip, and 1 in 20 people tips 100%, and that you're essentially serving customers continuously. So lets say that for every 20 customers you make $30. Hell, lets say that's $25 just to be more believable. The store is open from 6am to 11pm, and lets say it's busy like that solidly for 10 of those hours, and still does solid business for another hour but not at that rate.

You have one person on the grinder, one person pulling shots, and one person steaming milk/etc and ringing people up on the POS. Because of this you have no downtime, lets say the average customer gets their drink in ~45 seconds. So you can do 20 customers in 15 minutes.(possibly even faster than this, but bear with me).

So every 15 minutes you're making 25 dollars in tips. Hell, lets say it's 20. I'm willing to keep going down here to prove my point. So over 10 hours that's nominally $800, that's not even factoring in the slower times where there's less people but you're still selling drinks and making tips.

This is split into 3 shifts at most places, 2 at others. Lets say the morning shift makes more than the others. Even if you split it evenly though right now, that's $266 split 4 ways(barback/pastry/cleanup person) which is $66 a person. The barback gets less, but i forget the split on that. You would probably make more like $70 as a barista.

Especially when you factor in the fact that there's more hours to collect more tips, this is pretty logical. Hell, remove that amount if you'd like to imagine more people not tipping.

This is not some fictional thing in my head. Can you make more money waiting fine dining? yea, i might have been a bit hyperbolic there. Is that way more variable where you'll have $200 days and $40 days? ohhhhh yea.

I'm really not pulling this barista tips thing out of my butt though. One place i worked i got way less tips, but then i switched locations and got more. A friend of mine used to work at this exact shop before i did too, and we used to party with his tip money all the time. It's not a super uncommon thing, and friends who work at other popular local shops tell similar stories about always having "party money"/significant extra income. Unless you work a super short cover-shift you are going to get a solid amount of tips at these kinds of places, and it's not unrealistic to use that to make a point about the additional "hidden" income from these types of jobs.
posted by emptythought at 5:26 PM on March 13


Can you make more money waiting fine dining? yea, i might have been a bit hyperbolic there.

But that's exactly the assertion she was responding to. Handwavey math nonwithstanding, fancy dining people make a shitton with tips. No one is saying people don't make okay tips, but it's still a different tip ecosystem.
posted by jessamyn at 5:33 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Yes: for NYC fine dining 20% is mandatory. A dollar on a large fancy coffee drink is 20-30% but it's not considered mandatory. More like the tip jar on the pizza counter.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:07 PM on March 13


If i got a fancy espresso drink I'd tip $1 each time but I usually get drip coffee or a red eye.
posted by sweetkid at 6:11 PM on March 13


I don't work at a high end coffee shop. My tips are basically lunch money, and not much lunch at that ($1/hour, roughly).
posted by jb at 7:48 PM on March 13


Should I feel bad that I never tip in coffee shops? I'm not someone who camps out for hours at them, but still. I'm never ordering anything more complicated than an americano/cafe au lait/flat white. I see the tip jar but I would never think to put anything in it more than I would tip at a fast food outlet or other kind of place where I am getting some food/drink and it's not being delivered to me at a table. I guess the exception would be when I'm in bars/pubs in North America, where tipping seems to be expected at all times.
posted by modernnomad at 8:18 PM on March 13


Should I feel bad that I never tip in coffee shops? [...] I see the tip jar but I would never think to put anything in it

This appears to be a serious question, but it also sort of seems to answer itself. If there's a tip jar, then yeah, you should toss your change in there or maybe a whole dollar if you're feeling fancy.

I mean, don't feel bad about it, do it or don't, it's part of the way that servers get paid but nobody's going to force you to do it. But it seems disingenuous to say 'I see the tip jar' and then do the 'I'm hopelessly confused by your crazy tipping culture' thing.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:03 AM on March 14


Not disingenuous at all - I'm trying to get a feel for how many people actually tip coffee servers. I mean, the existence of jar asking for money doesn't tell me how many people are putting into it - I know some people give money to the homeless or to buskers, but I don't exactly know what proportion. If it were 95% of people tipping coffee servers, then I would probably go along with it as a social norm. But if it's only like 10%, then I'm fine with keeping my tipping to other forms of service.
posted by modernnomad at 1:59 AM on March 14


I usually just put in the loose change, but I only ever order the "coffee coffee".

Why I feel the need to tip more at a bar (say $1 per drink) when the pouring and serving action is nearly identical? That's a whole other knot to untangle in my head.
posted by Think_Long at 5:50 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I think it's hard to talk about tipping customs generically, because they vary a lot by region and type of establishment. (And dude, you're a modern nomad. You should now that.) What is expected in a Starbucks in Tokyo is bound to be totally different from what's expected in a Starbucks in Boise, Idaho, and it may be that what's expected in a Starbucks in New York is totally different from what's expected in an "elite, third-wave coffee shop" that's also in New York. Personally, I had never heard of "third-wave coffee" until I read this thread, so I would feel totally not-comfortable talking about tipping customs at those places. I occasionally get coffee at non-elite independent coffee shops in my US college town, and I usually leave a quarter or two in the tip jar if my change includes quarters. I don't think it's mandatory, though.

Incidentally, if we're talking about the class dynamics of all of this, it occurs to me that a fairly important factor is that barista jobs apparently require a liberal arts degree and also require that the baristas be able to live in NYC on a salary that doesn't include a lot of wiggle room for paying off student loans. Am I right in thinking that we're mostly talking about people from fairly privileged class backgrounds?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:11 AM on March 14


I guess it depends what kinds of class backgrounds are privileged?

I went to CUNY, which cost about the same as my parochial elementary and high school did, so my parents (who are middle class) very generously paid my tuition. Thus, I did not graduate with any student debt.

Either way, I didn't become a barista until I was 32 years old, so student loans probably wouldn't have been a factor even if I had taken some out back in the day.

I've never met a barista who went to like Dartmouth or Oberlin or any really expensive liberal arts schools and took out student loans to do so. The other baristas in my shop whose educational backgrounds I knew either did not go to college or went to state schools. (Though this is California, where boutique liberal art colleges aren't really as much of a thing.)

In New York there are probably some baristas who come from specifically privileged backgrounds, as opposed to "not entirely poverty stricken" backgrounds, and get significant help from their parents. But I don't think that's most of the population of baristas.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Re tipping, I try to tip a dollar if I'm getting anything fancier than drip coffee, but sometimes I just put in the change. There were a few times at my old regular morning coffee place in Brooklyn when I didn't tip for a few days and then would put a five into the jar to restore karmic balance, but I don't think I ever tipped more than $2 on any single order.

I'm much more likely to tip if I become a regular somewhere, which I now realize makes no sense.
posted by Sara C. at 9:12 AM on March 14


I think it makes perfect sense, as it starts to seem like you know the baristas.

Also I go to Brooklyn Roasting Company a lot, which makes its own blends and is fancy and all that, and plenty of the baristas seem to my superficial and probably classist observations to not have had super privileged backgrounds. But they know their coffee and are good at the customer service.
posted by sweetkid at 9:18 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


The 1%ers get to feel like they're pals with the cool folks who have tattoos and make art and say fuck a lot, and they don't feel like they're exploiting anyone because they think the baristas are just being baristas to support their other, hipper pursuits. But the 1%ers never focus on the fact that the cool kids don't have health insurance or a viable retirement plan.

Not exactly. Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but "the 1%" - while a very useful idea - gets thrown around a lot in discussions where it doesn't really belong. I live in Brooklyn (used to live in North Brooklyn, in fact), and have been to these kinds of coffee shops. Sure, some of the people who go to them are probably wealthy financiers who like being near the edgy kids, or maybe the offspring of wealthy parents who can afford to faff around. But their bread-and-butter customers are middle-class, white-collar, professionals. An editor at a magazine who makes 50-60k and lives in Greenpoint with roommates is hardly a member of the 1%.

As I said, maybe I'm being nitpicky. But I think using the phrase "the 1%" to describe, basically, "educated middle-class yuppies" - a group that includes huge numbers of people who are hardly wealthy - takes the meaning out of the entire concept. Economic inequality in the US is not driven by a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few graphic designers.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:09 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, freelance graphic designers who live in Greenpoint with roommates make up a pretty small fraction of upscale coffee shop regulars.

While yes, some people who live in Greenpoint do so with roommates and are only vaguely middle class, there is a growing population of people in North Brooklyn who actually are in the 1%. People who work in tech or finance, live in million dollar condos, and basically underwrite the whole $4 pour-over ecosystem.

When I did this in Los Angeles, my shop was near two of the big movie studios, and even closer to some major music industry offices. Our regulars were typically well off corporate types who worked for huge media conglomerates. The exact sort of people who get off on having interactions with Cool Artist Types and being in a hip environment. It is vitally important to those people both that they feel like they have a hip creative type job and that they have their finger on the pulse of what is cool and relevant.

A coffee shop is the perfect place to transact the business of cultural capital. You pay $5. I make you an orgasmically good cup of coffee while you ask what my tattoo means and what I do when I'm not pulling espresso shots. You leave feeling like you have cool friends. I leave hopefully able to make rent this month.
posted by Sara C. at 11:23 AM on March 14


I think if I hung around certain neighborhood coffee shops long enough, I could get myself some kind of new tech project/gig. I think about this on work from home days when I bring my laptop out. People are always sitting around working together.
posted by sweetkid at 11:40 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


When I did this in Los Angeles, my shop was near two of the big movie studios, and even closer to some major music industry offices. Our regulars were typically well off corporate types who worked for huge media conglomerates. The exact sort of people who get off on having interactions with Cool Artist Types and being in a hip environment. It is vitally important to those people both that they feel like they have a hip creative type job and that they have their finger on the pulse of what is cool and relevant.

I agree that there exist lots of people who enjoy being in proximity to Cool Artist Types while holding down corporate jobs. I know some people who fit this description. You could argue I fit this description (though my dedication to Cool Artsiness is, at best, questionable). But my point is that most of these people are not in the 1%. Media conglomerates, movie studios, publishing houses, etc., employ large numbers of people pulling down more-or-less middle-class salaries. Are they better off than your average barista? Sure. But most of them are nowhere near the 1%, just by virtue of the fact that any given business only has so much room for executive types and these industries are not known for giving generous salaries to ordinary employees.

I'd argue, further, that the number of graphic designers, editors, etc. in neighborhoods like Greenpoint still outnumbers the number of millionaires, though the millionaires' share is surely rising.

I just find it annoying the way "the 1%" has been conflated with what used to be called the bourgeois. The 1% is the elite. It's the elite of the elite. The entire concept is meant to convey how wealth has been funneled upwards in our society over the past several decades. The author of this piece (and you perhaps, though maybe your coffee shop is adjacent to the executive offices of a recording house so you get a disproportionate number of 1%ers) was using her liberal arts degree to put on a show for the bourgeois, some of whom may have also been in the 1%. This is a real thing, and it says something about inequality of opportunity in our society, but it doesn't say much about the 1%, per se.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:02 PM on March 14


Actually to be more specific, I believe studies have shown the 1% primarily consists of two types:

1) Corporate executives, in any industry.
2) People who work in industries - mainly finance, tech, medicine, some parts of law - known for paying extraordinarily high salaries/bonuses.

There just aren't too many people who work in say, media, who are in the 1% that aren't high level executives or superstars - and there aren't very many of those.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:09 PM on March 14


But my point is that most of these people are not in the 1%.

People who are making mid six figures are pretty fucking close to the 1%. I'm not talking about people who do freelance graphic design for an indie record label or are interns at Disney. I'm talking about executives.

I agree with you about the general tendency to sort of paper over the realities of class in the US, so that everyone is either poverty-stricken or "privileged", and if you can afford cable you're "the 1%".

But I'm talking about people who drive Porsches and wear $2000 suits. They're wealthy. A $5 cup of coffee is nothing to them, and in fact a lot of our regulars were spending upwards of $20/day on coffee drinks and dessert/light snacks. Maybe they're not technically the 1%, but functionally in terms of the class and culture transactions happening in a hip coffee shop, they might as well be.
posted by Sara C. at 12:09 PM on March 14


Yes you could make half a million a year and still not be part of the 1%, it loses bite as a rhetorical device if you use it just mean wealthy people, not peopple with reality-warping amounts of money.
posted by The Whelk at 12:09 PM on March 14


I work in a coffee shop.

Tipping is completely OPTIONAL, and frankly I wish people wouldn't because tipping is a terrible way to pay people.

If you care about people who work in coffee shops, advocate for an increase in the minimum wage, which ensures that people are paid for their work, not based on their gender, ethnicity, fluency in English or your decision to have a more or less expensive drink. (Do you really know which drinks are easier or harder to make? It doesn't always match the price. A cup of tea is the same effort as a latte).
posted by jb at 12:11 PM on March 14


500K a year would make some serious distortions in my reality.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:11 PM on March 14


I mean, don't feel bad about it, do it or don't, it's part of the way that servers get paid but nobody's going to force you to do it. But it seems disingenuous to say 'I see the tip jar' and then do the 'I'm hopelessly confused by your crazy tipping culture' thing.

It's not part of how counter servers are paid. We're on the same minimum wage as everyone else. Do you tip grocery clerks, or office cleaners? (They work just as hard).
posted by jb at 12:12 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


But I'm talking about people who drive Porsches and wear $2000 suits. They're wealthy. A $5 cup of coffee is nothing to them, and in fact a lot of our regulars were spending upwards of $20/day on coffee drinks and dessert/light snacks. Maybe they're not technically the 1%, but functionally in terms of the class and culture transactions happening in a hip coffee shop, they might as well be.

Fair enough. I was mostly referring to my experience in coffee shops in Brooklyn. I'm sure there actual places where 1% (or close-to-1%) congregate.

Yes you could make half a million a year and still not be part of the 1%, it loses bite as a rhetorical device if you use it just mean wealthy people, not peopple with reality-warping amounts of money.

This is true. It's also true, though, that it loses bite as a rhetorical device when you use it to mean "people who can afford to go out to dinner."
posted by breakin' the law at 12:13 PM on March 14


Why I feel the need to tip more at a bar (say $1 per drink) when the pouring and serving action is nearly identical? That's a whole other knot to untangle in my head.

Because the bartender will stop serving you if you don't.

also, in some places bartenders are paid less than basic minimum wage.

I only pay wait staff tips because I know that they get less than minimum.
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I think that if you make $500,000 a year, you are squarely in the top 1% in terms of income. The top 1% starts somewhere around $350,000 a year, I believe. You could argue, I guess, that wealth would be a better measure than income, though.

I could be totally wrong, because as I said, this person's world is not my world, but I thought she really was talking about 1%ers. I think part of her point is that Greenpoint has gentrified so quickly and massively that part of what is going on is that she's now dealing with truly rich people, not just with people who can afford to buy fancy coffee.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:18 PM on March 14


Also I go to Brooklyn Roasting Company a lot, which makes its own blends and is fancy and all that, and plenty of the baristas seem to my superficial and probably classist observations to not have had super privileged backgrounds. But they know their coffee and are good at the customer service.

No details, but I met an NYC barista recently ... and wow she has seen some shit.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:19 PM on March 14


Per this website I hope is correct, "one percenters" start at like $350K/year.

So, yeah, I'm definitely talking about people in the 1%, and people on the verge of that, and people who, yes, are very wealthy.

While, yeah, we had plenty of just regular normal middle class customers, those customers tended to come in every once in a while, or come in and get one of the cheapest drink we made and camp all afternoon working on their screenplay. The real serious regulars who spent a lot of money at the shop were wealthy people for whom $10 on a coffee and something sweet was nothing.

Keep in mind I'm talking about a coffee shop that didn't even serve drip coffee. There was no $1.50 option. You were either getting a $5 latte or a $4 pour over. There are lots and lots of coffee shop where these kinds of cultural transactions don't really go on, because it's, yeah, just regular people getting their morning hit of caffeine.
posted by Sara C. at 12:19 PM on March 14


I think part of her point is that Greenpoint has gentrified so quickly and massively that part of what is going on is that she's now dealing with truly rich people

I think this is absolutely true.

Over the course of just a few years, Greenpoint shifted from:

Neighborhood I could totally afford a teensy ground-floor studio in if I really scrimped and having my own place was a priority.

to

Neighborhood for upwardly mobile middle class 20-somethings splitting $2000 two-bedroom apartments.

to

Condo community for the wealthy.

Certainly at this point, the Greenpoint of Girls not only doesn't exist, but hasn't existed since the show has actually been on the air. That Greenpoint is the Greenpoint of ten years ago.
posted by Sara C. at 12:22 PM on March 14


Keep in mind I'm talking about a coffee shop that didn't even serve drip coffee. There was no $1.50 option. You were either getting a $5 latte or a $4 pour over. There are lots and lots of coffee shop where these kinds of cultural transactions don't really go on, because it's, yeah, just regular people getting their morning hit of caffeine.

Ah, OK - didn't realize the place you were talking about is THAT high-end. There's a place that just opened up in my building in Midtown that's sort of like that. They have regular drip coffee, but it's something like $3, and there's all these overpriced organic pastries. I went in there one day just out of curiosity, but I'd sure as hell never go there regularly.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:30 PM on March 14


When I visited Australia it took me a few days to get used to the fact that most places don't serve drip coffee and going to a coffee shop and asking for coffee is like going to a restaurant and saying, "Hi, bring me food, thanks." I would just stare at them while they were like, uh, what KIND, like flat white, short black, espresso something and I just wanted to be like "Give me the thing that makes me awake! I'm thousands of miles from home and it's yesterday where I'm from and I just want the warm dark stuff that tells me morning is currently happening."
posted by sweetkid at 12:38 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


> I just want the warm dark stuff that tells me morning is currently happening.

Zat's why Waffle House is my coffee joint. If somebody insists that I meet them at Starbucks or some other place where coffee ordering involves a string of decisions, it seems to work to say "regular coffee, house brand, black." Like going into a bar, even one with ferns, and saying "double bourbon, house brand, straight up."
posted by jfuller at 1:34 PM on March 14


You can totally go to Starbucks and order just black coffee. You'll have to tell them how much coffee you want, but I assume the same is true most other places that aren't diners. A plain drip coffee still costs under $2 at Starbucks, IIRC.

YMMV about whether you like Starbucks coffee.
posted by Sara C. at 1:36 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Also, in Australia the coffee cost a million dollars. It was really good though.
posted by sweetkid at 10:43 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Us corporate whores wish we were baristas, we want the fantasy of a relaxed bohemian life filled with art shows, gigs and tattoos but the man just pays so much more, and let's face it, we like the money, so we keep bending over. Baristas provide that fantasy of freedom, and for five minutes we have it, while we nibble and suckle our lattes and then stumble off for another stripshow, too caffeinated to absorb common sense. Who's doing the stripping? Us? The barista? I don't remember anymore. Everyone strips for someone. Just some of us make more, that's all. Tip jar is on the right. Ooops, that's not so PC is it? Let's call it an "annual bonus" so I don't feel so dirty afterwards.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:00 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


This guy gets it!
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:40 PM on March 17


Us corporate whores wish we were baristas, we want the fantasy of a relaxed bohemian life filled with art shows, gigs and tattoos but the man just pays so much more, and let's face it, we like the money, so we keep bending over.

Guy Carrying Guitar Case On Elevator Envied By Everyone On Elevator, Imagines Guy
posted by shivohum at 9:22 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


« Older Chain of Life is a three part article done by The ...  |  Bennett Foddy (of QWOP fame) e... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments