What insights do baristas get from their customers' orders? / Ping Zhu


Lots of fun ones, ranging from light to more deep.

Certain drinks signalled to us that the drinker didn't necessarily like the taste of coffee, but did like the caffeine or the social status of drinking coffee or the green-logoed cup. Single grande or venti anythings generally flagged this for us (the 'normal' espresso beverage at Starbucks – excluding iced drinks or americanos – had two shots for grande and venti sizes).

White mochas signalled this to us (white mocha was, to our minds, the sweetest and most 'disguising' syrup/sauce option). Any Frappuccino order would get this kind of perception, with the exclusion of those who added a shot to theirs or ordered espresso Frappuccinos. No judgement there (half my baristas didn't care much for coffee either!), it was just a common perception.

Certain customers were, at best, troublesome. As I often emphasised to my colleagues at our store meetings, sometimes these customers were the most unhappy, or perhaps lacked control of their lives or other outlets for their frustrations. The most clear case of this to me was one customer I had at one of my stores who came through the drive-through two, three, sometimes four times a day. This customer would order an iced venti extra extra caramel caramel macchiato, or a venti caramel Frappuccino with extra extra caramel sauce. And extra extra meant you needed to literally coat the inside of the cup so that the drink was viewed through a warm caramelly tint.

Despite everyone at the store knowing her drink and doing it well, I'd say at least one in every four times, she had an issue, whether she thought maybe we had used the wrong milk or didn't have enough shots or had too much ice. We'd apologise, remake it, give her extra attention and care in the meanwhile, and she'd go on. After a year of this, one day, one of my colleague came in and told us some really disturbing news about her life situation, and suddenly, things kind of clicked.

Some customers did not want their orders written on their cups (especially those who had intricate orders or lots of syrups, etc). We figured they were embarrassed to have it on there at work. They'd often request we just write 'L' (latte) or leave it blank. One woman even always ordered her grande Frappuccino put into a venti hot cup, so she could hide the fact that she wasn't drinking "real" coffee (her words). These people were the ones who wanted to appear as put together and suave as possible, but still loved their little luxuries and indulgences.

Alecia Li Morgan, coffee enthusiast, former Starbucks partner

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