Thursday, September 15, 2011

Psychology and coffee

After awhile of working as a barista, I begin to see customers as their drinks. Quad grande vanilla breve no foam guy. Half-caf grande nonfat no whip pumpkin spice latte lady. Iced venti no room americano dude. And so forth. I make this remark to a cluster of regulars today and they burst into laughter. I often try to know a little more about them than their drink preference, it's not that this is all I see, but really, a person's drink can paint a visual of them in an odd sort of way. I guess you could call it barista vision.

If a customer's drink preference can give me a little window into who they are, then how people respond to the occasional inconveniences that arise within a little kiosk tells me even more. I'm a psychologist by training. I can't help but study people, because people are fascinating. I try not to make over-generalizations, or simplify people's lives or personalities too much in our brief interactions, but I'm fascinated by how different everyone approaches life.

Today, for instance, it's our bustling morning rush and we have our brewer down. Which means we're out of brewed coffee, americanos, iced coffee and iced teas. Not a small inconvenience, I know. My partner and I present customers with the choice of upgrading from their desired brewed coffee, americano, etc. to any kind of latte or mocha for the price of their less expensive drink.

Customer number one responds, with crest-fallen face: "My heart has just sunk." He doesn't know what else he wants. Finally he settles on four shots of espresso for the price of a tall drip, but he doesn't look happy about it.

Customer number two responds with a squeal of joy: "You mean I can get a triple grande pumpkin spice latte for the price of a drip coffee??? This must be my lucky day! This is just - well, it's just magical!"

It's not that I'm faulting customer number one for his disappointment. After all, I have no idea what else is going on in his life. Maybe his regular cup of coffee is the highlight of his day right now. Maybe he just doesn't care for lattes or "fancy" drinks. And whatever the reason, I respect that. But the different response from customer number two breaks through our slightly tense morning with refreshing joy. She is so adorable, in fact, that I'm grinning and I'm making a mental note as I watch her: I want to have this attitude toward life. Like, whatever comes my way, the choice of how to interpret it is mine. I can choose grumpiness or disappointment or entitlement or frustration, but I can just as well choose gratitude or flexibility or joy. It really is my choice.

And, I don't know, I find that incredibly liberating, even as it passes the greater responsibility onto my shoulders. Because the reality is, it's not really circumstances that have the power to snuff out my joy or rob me of a grateful heart. It's just me.

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