After high school, I sunk six years and thousands of dollars into post-secondary education. And yet, I managed to learn some of life’s greatest lessons from behind the counter at a local coffee shop.

For four years I worked evenings and weekends slinging cappuccinos for $6.25 an hour and actually loved almost every minute of it.

Sure my hair permanently smelled of Guatemalan dark roast, but as far as part-time jobs go, being a barista is a pretty good gig.

I enjoyed an endless supply of free coffee (an integral component in my scholarly success) and made a series of interesting new friends I might never have met otherwise.

 

And while a large percentage of my fellow employees were the Hipster Barista meme personified, they were always happy to share the last piece of lemon poppy-seed cake or make me a mix CD.

I certainly wasn’t the best barista in town — my latte art always ended up looking like a Jackson Pollock abstraction rather than a perfectly swirled leaf — but over the course of my coffeehouse tenure, I learned some pretty neat things.

I taught myself how to identify the exact moment milk starts to burn using only my sense of smell and the caloric value of bran muffins vs. regular (hint: Not as much as you’d like to think).

I learned that accessories are a uniformed-employee’s best friend and that I can drink exactly three double shots of espresso before experiencing heart palpitations.

But the most important lesson I learned in those barista years is this: People are pretty rude, especially before they’ve had a cup of coffee.

They say the customer is always right; this is true about 50 per cent of the time (I’m being generous here). The other 50 per cent of the time you just have to fake it. And so I happily smiled through strings of obscenities and personal insults, apologized when I wasn’t at fault and prepared new drinks for those who had ordered incorrectly to begin with.

Working in the coffee shop wasn’t really about mastering the roasting scale or brewing techniques; it was about standing on your feet and taking customer abuse for 10 hours a day without letting it crush your soul.

Underpaid and overworked, I know just how difficult life can be on the other side of the counter and I’m a better person for it.

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