Why We're Not Like Other Cafés
By Hannah Paridis, Northwestern '21, 10/07/2020
Something about being a barista always sounded enticing to me. Maybe it was the slightly foreign, romantic sound of the Italian word, just like how saying espresso made me feel fancy. Maybe it was the way I always loved coffeehouse music playlists and the peaceful atmosphere coffeeshops manage to create. Or maybe it was the idea of seeing strangers smile when they cup their hands around a warm latte and lick the foam off that wonderful first sip. I knew then that the perfect summer job for me to pass the 4 months between graduating high school and starting at Northwestern would be to work as a barista. After a rejection from Starbucks and a local organic cafe/juice bar, I was hired at Le Pain Quotidien. My mom even said I accidentally wore the perfect barista outfit of a black skirt and a beige tucked-in-tee to my interview.
My onboarding experience at LPQ was 20 hours of shadowing other baristas until I had memorized and (mostly) perfected each drink. The Le Pain I worked at was in the slightly uptight town of Rye, New York, and I felt the pressure each time a customer checked the time on their phone and subsequently glared at the espresso machine that wasn’t pouring out their drinks. My coworkers were fans of taking long breaks and congregating in the kitchen, and this came to a head the day there were no clean open tables and I had to recommend to angry customers that they go to the locally-owned Granola Bar cafe down the street.
“A snapchat story from one of my friends who loved visiting to see me in my little french hat.”
Despite this slightly-more-stressful-than-expected summer job, I wasn’t deterred from keeping on the barista experience when I left home for Northwestern. I became a regular at Brewbike, ordering an iced mocha every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before my 9am Spanish class from a barista that I am now happy to call a close friend. When applications came out at the end of fall quarter, I was so excited to apply; I wrote about how I loved the feeling of having a tangible result of my work in the form of a cup of coffee, which is so rare among the theoretical academic classes Northwestern students are prone to taking.
I was given a lot of responsibility after my first day of training, and the next day I was on my own to man the Annenberg coffee counter and close up shop at the end of the day. Luckily I wasn’t completely on my own, since the barista at the shift before me told me not to hesitate to text him with any questions. Throughout that quarter, that same barista would clock out of his shift and still stick around to get to know me, not just as a coworker but as a friend.
The next quarter I went on to train someone myself. Again I would stay late to get to know my coworker and lean against the coffee counter together chatting. We became friends and started running into each other around campus, and we went on to date for a year after that. The banter over whether I was a good barista trainer and who made a better iced oat milk latte never left.
“Ari wearing the bicycle tie I bought him as an ode to how we met. ”
That same quarter I also gave a shot at trying a shift on the bike, BrewBike’s original mobile coffee counter and iconic namesake. At first I thought I’d made a grave mistake signing up to push this giant cart around with my 5’2 self, and I had to get my friends who loved to visit me at The Rock to push me off for a head start. After a few more tries, I became comfortable with the bike and saw it as a challenge to decrease my time to bike from The Rock to the kitchen to the shed every time I rode. On one trip I even had a local Evanston woman ask if we do parties with the bike because she loved the novelty so much.
“Biking with the biggest smile on a perfect Chicago day.”
After nearly two years with Brewbike and time in different roles of this student-run business, I can proudly say that Brewbike is not like any other coffee shop. Brewbike isn’t just a place to work, but a place to make friends. It’s a place to interact with strangers on campus and spark up a conversation because they see how awesome Brewbike is and want to know more about it. But most of all, Brewbike is a family and a home to me at Northwestern.