Barista Horror Stories: Tales from Behind the Bar

As Halloween approaches, you might getting ready by swapping scary stories with friends. As baristas, we collect plenty of scary stories. Join us as we share some of the most gruesome, frightful, and spooky tales from behind the bar.

Spooky Story No. 1: œAppROACH the Espresso Machine If You Dare 

(To protect the job security of this story’s contributor names, locations, and identifying details have been changed.)

Steven found that working as an espresso machine tech often required a wide breadth of knowledge. One day he’d serve as a plumber, the next an electrician. But, while those calls could be messy or shocking, nothing compared to the day he received a work order that surpassed all the others ”the day he became an exterminator too.

What would become the creepiest (and crawliest) of calls came mid morning as Steven was finishing up a batch-brewer repair job in Boston’s North End. The call came from the store manager of a local Cinnabon. œWhen you push the button on the espresso machine no water comes out,  chirped the manager in an exasperated tone. On the other end of the line Steven was already canvasing his mental catalogue of potential problems and their solutions. After failing to troubleshoot her machine’s issue over the phone, Steven agreed to make the fifteen minute train ride to Harvard Square to see it in person.

The Cinnabon was housed in a small shopping center called The Garage. Hemmed in by a smoke shop and a tattoo parlor, Steven remembered thinking that the confectionary was an odd choice for a place like this. Still, despite its strange location, the Cinnabon was bustling with the busyness of a 10:00 AM rush. He made his way through a crowd of college students and stroller-wrangling moms to the front of the line. œHi, I’m Steven, I spoke to the manager on the phone. I’m here to work on your espresso machine,  he explained. œWait here,  instructed the cashier as she shuffled to the storage area unenthusiastically. She returned to the register and motioned for Steven to come behind the counter. œAlright,  she droned, œcome on back. My manager went to the mailbox real quick, but you can go ahead and get started. She’ll be back in a minute. 

œSounds great,  retorted Steven.

As he picked up his tool bag and stepped behind the counter Steven was hit by the smell of sweet cinnamony air wafting from a nearby oven. He closed his eyes to take in the scent and when he reopened them couldn’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition of such comforting smells in such a dingy space. Steven was no stranger to corporate contract work. He’d worked on machines in all kinds of environments ”privately owned small businesses, country clubs, fast food restaurants, even homes. There was nothing particularly unique about the dusty corners and sticky counters of this Cinnabon. Still, the combination of sweets and grime amused him.

He set to work on the malfunctioning group head while a teenage barista continued working through the queue using the other group. Steven worked quickly through his mental checklist of potential problems, but none of them seemed to add up. Just as he began removing the side panel from the machine to take a closer look inside, the manager emerged. œOh good, you’re here,  she exclaimed. After exchanging pleasantries and work order forms Steven returned to the side panel. The manager stood closely behind him, curious about the contents of the machine. Steven removed the final screw from the side panel and attempted to pry it free from the machine’s metal frame, but the panel wouldn’t budge. œHmm, it looks like sugar from these syrup bottles dripped on the machine and is causing it to stick,  he explained.

He quickly retrieved a damp towel and a flathead screw driver and set to work cleaning the seams and prying the panel off the frame. The panel gradually loosened and as Steven went to remove the final section, he heard a crunching sound. That’s curious, he thought. œIt must just be crystallized sugar,  he said aloud. As he drove the screw driver into the last remaining crevice and twisted the panel free he heard a loud gasp from the manager behind him. He turned toward her to see what had happened and she covered her mouth with one hand while pointing to the panel with the other. When he turned back around to see what she was pointing at Steven discovered what had made the crunching sound he heard earlier. It wasn’t sugar, or rather it wasn’t just sugar ” it was also the crystallized exoskeleton of a large red roach that had died in the machine. He jumped back in surprise and dropped the newly freed panel in the process. The sound of the metal crashing against the counter startled everyone in the cafe ”including the machine’s residents.

Roaches began pouring from the machine’s shell. They ran across the counters and floor, crawled on top of the machine and the espresso hopper, scattered to every corner of the bar. In a panic the manager tried to close the panel again, but the damage had been done. The roaches scrambled to find new hiding places among the cups and plates stacked on the counter, and in the dusty corners of the floor.

As quickly as the migration began, it ended and Steven was left wide-eyed and frozen in place as the manager moved to reassure her customers and rally her staff. Steven picked up his flashlight and shined it inside the vacant machine. Dead roaches lined the walls and slid from the boiler. The warmth and wetness of the machine must have made it an ideal home for these vermin. From the appearance of things, this machine hadn’t been serviced in a long time. Dark, dingy, wet, and warm ”it was a roach’s dream home.

œI’m afraid I can’t help you with this,  explained Steven after a few minutes of investigation. œYou’ll need to call an exterminator.  Displeased with his assessment the manager pleaded with him. œThey’re all gone or dead now. Can’t you just clean out the machine and put it back together,  she asked. Steven put his screw driver back in his tool bag and beckoned the manager closer. As she moved hesitantly toward the machine he clicked his flashlight back on and illuminated the corners of the machine. The light showed a series of long brown pills stuck to the machine’s walls. œThey’re not all gone or dead,  cautioned Steven. œSome of them haven’t even been born yet. 


Kelsey Viscount is a researcher and writer who splits her time between academia and coffee(demia). Her academic work explores religious consumer culture(s); the category of religion; and religion, media, and popular culture(s) in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her coffee work explores barista culture; educational processes; and histories of coffee. She consults on everything from college admissions essays, to workplace efficiency, and barista education. Currently, Kelsey coordinates the continuing education and quality control programs at  Not Just Coffee  in Charlotte, North Carolina.


About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at