August 16, 2011

Opening Question

The best thing and the worst thing about the barista position is the same thing: There is no standard for entry. You must not be a certain height to ride, nor do you need any paper with any initials stamped on it. You need only the job, and thus someone willing to give you the chance.

As such, many unqualified candidates are no doubt hired, and often enough, left relatively untrained. This leaves too many cafes poorly staffed, and too many customers improperly served.

But that same door lets in those who lack tangible credentials, yet end up finding themselves in the job. I do not mean merely that they stumble in to the job - although often enough, it feels that way - but rather that they find a sense of self in doing the job. Being a barista becomes a part of their identity, rather than just a job.

As someone now faced with hiring people for the first time, it's dawned on me how impossible it seems to sort these two out, before the fact. Most inquiries lack experience with an espresso machine, which is fine. We all start somewhere, after all. But how do you tell which blank canvas promises the more realized portrait?

Thus far, the best guess I've settled on is just that: I guess. I might call it gun instinct, or sixth sense, but I think that implies a greater degree of certitude than I feel. Most think it "looks fun", and "kinda like coffee". It's tempered, ignorant enthusiasm, the kind still malleable. It can be broken, or as easily, made solid.

And you don't truly know what you have until you've got it. So yes, this is both exciting and terrifying. But if I'm forced to choose, my leaning is toward the former.

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