Asking people if I might interview them is occasionally awkward. I try to be clear about what it is that I do and the sorts of questions that I will ask, but sometimes, well, the blank look I get in response seems to last a lifetime. So it was when I asked Ryan Mott, a barista at 81301, if he’d be willing to answer a few questions. When he realized that I was trying to get an underhanded interview about the shop, I asked him about his name, and he quickly admitted that for much of his life, he’s been called “Applesauce.” I tell his story here, in his own words.
My parents would tell me that they wished we were related to the applesauce Mott’s so that we had some of the money. I don’t know if that was supposed to console me. In middle school, I tried really hard not to say my last name, but by high school ... everybody gets called something, right? I ran cross country and track and I just started going with it and went about my business. [laughs] People tend to get over stuff like that the older that they get.
I’ve been a barista here for two years and just recently started learning how to roast the beans. It’s helpful that I’ve been behind the counter for a while, that I’ve sort of gotten used to the fast pace and having to pay attention to a lot of things all at once. That’s pretty much what you’re doing when you’re roasting. You’re watching everything all at once. There’s some pressure, because coffee beans are so expensive, but Sage [co-owner of 81301] taught me well.
I thought that I’d be training for a couple of months, but a few weeks in, Sage just kinda left me in the roasting room. I took it really slow for a while, focused real hard on what I was doing, and tried to keep things at a slower pace. It’s funny that we mentioned running track earlier. Some of those skills have paid off for roasting. Staying focused from start to finish, being able to put my mind to something and finish it no matter how uncomfortable I am physically – it gets pretty hot in there. I’m a little scared for the summer [laughs]. I’m starting to feel like I’ve got my feet underneath me, or like I’ve got a rhythm down to it. What throws me off is when people come in to get a drink, and watch me roasting through the window while they wait. That’s still a little weird. Like, I wonder if they want me to do a dance or something. My strategy has become to look like I’m really focused. I stare at the machine hard, like I’m expecting it to do something wrong.
A lot of paying attention is just keeping your eyes and ears open. You’ve got to listen to what people are saying and then hear the stuff that they aren’t saying. You know, picking up on little clues and hints that customers give and keeping them in mind as you grind the coffee and tamp the shot and steam the milk and then serve it. Even just remembering which face goes with which drink so that you’re not looking at someone else when you call out the order.
When I’m behind the counter serving drinks, it’s nice to know that I had a hand in roasting and then making the drink that I’m serving. There aren’t many jobs like that, you know? Where you get to really see an entire process through. We make a ton of drinks during the day and when I was just a barista, I wouldn’t say that it was monotonous, but just that you get accustomed to making drinks and serving them. It’s a flow state. You’re just thinking, “Latte, latte, Americano, mocha, three-shot latte.”
My parents instilled in me that you ought to do a good job, or just not do it at all. Especially if a small, local business hires you, because they gave something up to hire you. Coffee shops can get busy in a hurry, and there are days where you never really stop moving. I like knowing that I did a good job for all of the people that I worked with, and for the business. That I can, you know, go climbing or hop on a bicycle knowing that there was nothing more that I could’ve done to do a good job. That’s satisfying. Then you don’t have any lingering thoughts about something that happened in the day, because you know that you gave your all.
Cyle Talley recently found himself on a Wikipedia wormhole that eventually led to reminiscing about Charles Barkley’s very fine basketball career. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.