A Comparison of Coffeeshops and a Look at Contentment

The summer of my senior year of high school was a summer of much novelty. Amidst the excitement of the last few months of childhood I started on my first task as an adult. (Well… as adult as a task can be when one’s mom gives it to you.) Upon returning home from vacations in Colorado and Georgia, and while sorting out all the kinks that come with one’s first real relationship, I started looking for my first job. (There were a lot of firsts for me in the summer of 2019. Jobs, boyfriends, airplanes… but that’s another discussion.) Sometime during my sophomore year, in a very Dead Poet’s Society like fashion, I decided I was a bibliophile of sorts. Something about this newfound identity seemed to also merit a love of coffee.

Once I had my drivers license I made the local Coffee Bean my home. Though the coffee is not of the chic coffee culture caliber, it satisfied my teenage need for sugar and caffeine. Here I found a place where I could hide away to study, or sit close to the window and watch the community of the coffee shop unfold. I listened to the barista gossip, learned the drinks of regulars, met friends and made friends, and watched the wheel chair ridden man who came there everyday. At some point during this time I subconsciously decided that a barista job was the job for me.

After two weeks worth of driving up and down the main street of my suburban Southern California town and applying to at least ten different restaurants and coffee shops (the number of applications per Mom’s request), I was finally asked to interview at a coffee shop I had only recently become acquainted with. At this cozy and bright coffee shop (quite literally bright – the back wall was orange) I learned that my Coffee Bean love of espresso was only the surface of the espresso bean world. I also learned that my world was small. Books may have introduced me to a whole host of different personalities and places, but my experience as a part time barista was tangibly different than the one of my church and university model school. In my coworkers and our customers I met people completely unlike, and sometimes strangely, like myself.

One of my favorite memories of my first job revolved around the book A Severe Mercy. A couple months before the pandemic (which sadly cut so much of the customer and barista interaction I loved away) a girl probably just a few years older than my then 18 picked up a latte with a copy of The Screwtape Letters under her arm. With Biola University close by, I assumed it was for class and asked her about it. When she told me she was reading it because she had just finished A Severe Mercy I was amazed – and she was even more amazed that I had read such a little spoken of book! We shared our favorite parts of the book together before she went to sit. After a couple hours at one of our tables she smiled a big smile and waved at me from the door. I count it as one of my kindred spirit, Anne of Green Gables, type moments.

During the pandemic, I had the chance to get to know my coworkers even more. In talking to people whose beliefs I knew of but had never encountered personally, I understood the Great Commission in a way I never had before. With so much talk of division it was strange and good to be able to talk with people who did not share my love of Jesus. Having sweet friendships with them, my heart learned to grow heavy at the weight of their dismissal of the Gospel. Working through rush hours, standing around and talking, trying new drinks, listening to symphonies during the closing hour, etc. all made me see more clearly how sorrowful it is to have friends who one does not have the hope of spending eternity with. I confess, I wish I had shared the Gospel more clearly with them.

My second coffeeshop job (if indeed this cut out in the wall could be called a coffeeshop) was 2,000 miles away in a hospital in Georgia. Upon taking the job I thought I would be able to establish relationships with patients and nurses and, ideally, be an encouragement to them. I did learn the name of a nurse from Australia, who still had her accent and a longing for home; and a handful of new dads who fumbled over their wives’ drink orders and looked alternately exhausted and joyful – but that was the extent of the joy this job brought. I mistakenly believed that a hospital coffeeshop would be organized and clean (hospital + COVID = clean … right?) and full of efficient people. I found that one) I was hired under the name barista but put to work more often in the cafeteria (also not the cleanest), two) the busyness my coworkers complained of was a nonexistent reason for the dirty floors and roaches, and three) in a similar vein, never to say we served Starbucks Coffee because then the nurses would ask for crazy drinks we “couldn’t make”. (We could, creativity just seemed to be lacking among the hospital baristas.)

My two months at the hospital coffeeshop are months that I try to forget. But thanks to that job I appreciate nurses more (even if they’ve never heard the words “pour over” or “french press” before), I’ve learned that my principle to be faithful in little is much more difficult in deed than in word, that my tendency to impatience and to complaint is much greater than I imagined, one’s attitude and words should not depend upon their satisfaction with their job (as most of the people I worked with – including myself in my heart – complained about how dismal their job was), and perhaps most importantly that when I have my first (and second and so on) child I will not be sending my husband to buy me coffee from the hospital.

This brings me to my third and current coffee job. Well, once again, “coffee” job. Georgia does not have quite the coffee culture Southern California has. Thus, the word “barista” in a job advertisement often does not mean what it seems. This has been the case in both of my last jobs. Unlike the hospital, the hotel I currently work at does have a real espresso machine, a couple hundred thousand dollar one at that. I’ve used it maybe four times in the three months I’ve been employed there. My time at the hotel has been a whirlwind. I thought I said yes to making coffee for twenty hours a week. Instead I wound up at a mandatory corporate training for two weeks for forty plus hours each week. After that I found myself waking up at 4:00 AM and setting up a “European inspired breakfast” (I’m not allowed to call it a buffet… that’s too crass a word for the caliber of our food apparently. I would have to agree in the sense that I’ve never been to a buffet that serves hand sliced prosciutto.) All this is done usually alone.

The loneliness of the job was startling after over 40 hours a week of interaction with all the hotel employees. And especially strange when contrasted with the first few months of my employment at the sunny coffeeshop in SoCal. There are not many regulars at hotels – at least not usually. Though it does not have the consistency of my first job (in other words, I don’t start making two pour-overs when I see the tall man with the long brown hair walk in) it is interesting to hear the stories of people who come into a hotel. There are business conversations and newlyweds, grandparents and babies, as well as solitary travelers.

I could groan about various aspects of the job I don’t appreciate, but I trying not to complain as I’m realizing that ultimately my discontent with my last two jobs is a result of homesickness. I miss the friendliness and the locality of my first barista job. I miss the conversation and the seeing daily the same faces. I miss the humor and the stories my coworkers and I would share though we thought nothing alike. I’ve found that only in one local coffeeshop since moving and for that I’m grateful. To be content is difficult, especially when I know there are happier and more relational coffee careers to be had. Having a good thing makes for beautiful memories but sometimes leaves one with an ideal that is rare to find in practice.

But let me focus on the good. As I sit at my new favorite coffee shop (where I am not a barista), I can still acknowledge that the Lord’s gifts of caffeine, sugar, and baked goods draw people together. Whether it’s in a sunny suburban neighborhood or a cut out in a hospital hallway people enjoy the company of a good drink among others. There’s something beautiful in people’s natural tendency to come together over a simple love for a simple thing. So, may each cup of coffee I brew – single origin or an over roasted batch of Starbuck’s beans – be done in heavenly hospitality.

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