My Barista: A Love Story

Coffee is a great connector, arguably one of the great connectors in the history of mankind. It’s interwoven through so many lives, yet each experience is incredibly singular and distinctive. Every so often I’ll invite someone to write a guest post for me about their experiences with coffee. It can be anything: an anecdote, an educational piece, a rant, a rave, a rambling… Each post is as unique as the person who wrote it.

Today’s guest post is brought to you by one of my regulars, Nora Orton. She’s a pun-loving, almond-latte-drinking, female-empowering force of life who frequents NoDa and usually grabs a coffee after her yoga classes. I love having her around. Nora is a deep thinker and is the kind of person who just naturally challenges those around her to be better versions of themselves. Once, while she was waiting for her coffee by the bar, I watched her engage with a complete stranger in a conversation about racism and social structures/injustices in our culture. They didn’t quite see eye-to-eye, so it was intense. It was brilliant. It was like watching Picasso paint. The most amazing thing of all: both parties left the conversation happy and the better for it. How does she do that ??? The world needs more people like Nora. 

I’m excited to share this post with you and I find this story (and its references) so strangely fitting after last week’s Asheville scandal. I guess we’ll just call it kismet.

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I have been drinking coffee every day since I was fifteen years old. I learned about The Game around the same time.

Neil Strauss wrote The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists as a how-to guide for getting laid. I detest this shit rag for its glorification of horny nerdsters tricking women into consent; yet, The Game led me to an important realization. I discovered the origins of The Barista Crush.

The Barista Crush n. [abbr. TBC], Phenomenon in which layperson becomes enamored with human who administers said layperson hot bean water at the local coffee shop. Exists outside spectra of sexual identity and orientation.

I first experienced TBC in high school, when I started going to Peet’s Coffee and Tea. Peet’s is a West Coast coffee chain that has enjoyed the success of Starbucks without the evil corporate reputation. My local Peet’s was filled with professorial types, reading at round granite tables. Each morning before school, my friends and I sat at a booth-like enclave we called “the nook,” gossiping in hushed voices over our lattes.

It was here I met Chris, a barista at Peet’s. While I was normally attracted to cute, nerdy Jewish guys, I loved Chris’s harshly-shaved buzz cut, all-black attire and cigarette-yellowed teeth.

My friend Ronika preferred another one of the baristas, a fellow named Joe, who was a short twenty-something with a cascade of black curls. Ronika identified as queer but still gave Joe a chance, explaining, “I make exceptions for extremely hairy men.” All I remember about their tryst is that it involved a date at the local Game Stop, and that it didn’t last very long. For some reason, when there was no longer a counter separating the two, the attraction dissipated.

What changed? Why couldn’t Ronika and Joe’s love exist outside of Peet’s? Why did I giggle and preen when Chris took my order? For fuck’s sake, he had a tattoo of a dotted line on his neck that read “Cut Here.”

Neil Strauss had the answer. In pickup artist lingo, the barista “Demonstrates Higher Value”

Demonstration of Higher Value n. [abbr. DHV]. One’s display of social worth in order to prove genetic viability.

The most obvious form of DHV is wealth, but social capital can be just as enticing. This is why DJ’s are often barraged by groupies – a DJ demonstrates value by controlling the pulse of the party. Party-goers are attracted to this power over the group’s social dynamics.

Much like a DJ, baristas lie at the epicenter of the coffee shop social scene. First and foremost, baristas are the masters of the magical elixir that fuels existence – caffeine. But besides legal drug-dealing, the barista also chooses the music in their shop, innovates seasonal specials, and determines the speed and quality of the drinks they’re serving. They define the atmosphere of the study hall/date spot/social haven that is the local coffee shop.

At the crux of TBC lies the desire to be included in the coffee shop crew. After all, what better way to join the diverse and interesting community there than to befriend the people who run the show?

I’ve had multiple barista crushes since Chris. Jonas, the pockmarked guitarist, who made a mean cappuccino; and curmudgeonly Julia, with the huge hipster glasses, to name a few. No matter what city I’m in, I’ve found a barista to lust after. In a way this coffee crush grounds me (pun intended), reminding me that wherever there is great coffee, there is a great community to which I might one day belong.

Who’s my TBC in Charlotte? I’d divulge, but I don’t kiss and tell.

(Who am I kidding, s/he and I have never kissed. S/He’s way out of my league!)

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If you’d like to run into Nora to compliment her guest-posting skills, you’re most likely to find her at Charlotte Storytellers. Charlotte Storytellers is a group of humans that gather weekly to share stories based around a theme. The next Storytellers event is on October 17th at the 7th Street Market in uptown. It’s a good time all around and I highly recommend that you check it out.

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Photo by Rodney Nava of Not Just Coffee

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