Barista Horror Stories: Tales from Behind the Bar

Halloween may be over, but horror stories from behind the bar happen all year round. Join us in this week one ambitious barista attempts to work with a full-fledged monster!

Tale #2: “My Coworker is a Monster”

(To protect the job security of this story’s contributor names, locations, and identifying details have been changed. To read more spooky stories, click here.)

Boulders and Fines was the first coffee job Sara had ever had. In college she helped out in the campus coffee shop, but that felt more like monitoring an annex of the library than developing barista skills. Still, she’d always been attracted to cafe work ”if for no other reason than that barista jobs came with employee perks and free coffee was an invaluable resource to a graduate student. So, when she moved to Boulder, Colorado to start a master’s program, Boulders and Fines was a logical choice for employment. She worked there for a few months over the summer before classes started. By the time the school year was in full swing, Sara knew the shop’s regular customers and their drink orders by heart. She relished preparedness and genuinely enjoyed working hard to ensure the cleanliness and organization of the cafe ”but not everyone shared her passion for great service.

Clarisse, or Claire for short, was hired two weeks after Sara. She had moved to Colorado for two reasons: nature and rave culture. An electric hippie in a 5’3  frame, Claire spent her time hiking the Flatirons during the day, and suited up in neon dance wear at night. Sara found her to be odd, but sweet ”she seemed to fit into Boulder’s local culture seamlessly. Still, working with Claire could be challenging. She moved slowly and never quite mastered the kind of productive small talk required of baristas. Sara knew she’d have to overcompensate for Claire in friendliness and pace whenever they worked together, but at least Claire showed up on time, and enjoyed working the sandwich station (a role Sara hated). Sara chalked up the experience of working with Claire to an exercise in learning to get along with your coworkers, a life skill, a necessary evil ”that is, until the day that Claire became an entirely unnecessary evil.

It was a busy Saturday morning. Sara was doing her best octopus impression as she stretched out her tentacles in every direction: prepping the pastry case with one, counting the register with another, dialing in espresso with a third. It was time to open and Claire hadn’t shown up for work yet. œMaybe she’s just running a minute late,  thought Sara. œPerhaps her multi-colored mane got stuck in her bike wheel, again,  she snickered. Sara opted to open the cafe on time despite Claire’s absence. Like a rush of cool air through an open door, customers filled the space almost immediately. Resuming her role as an amphibious cephalopod Sara scrambled to keep up with the demand. She was a blur of frantic motion: taking an order at table one, remaking the cappuccino at table three, greeting, cleaning, answering the phone. An hour into service, and just as Sara was about to collapse under the chaos, Claire arrived.

A vision in hot pink, Claire dismounted her bike, dropped it on the sidewalk, and stumbled into the cafe. In the brief moment that Sara had to look up she took stock of Claire’s appearance: one of her fury pink boots was missing most of its fur, the white tights and skirt she wore were stained with the remnants of an unidentifiable liquid, she’d thrown a ripped black sweater over her top, and punctuated the ensemble with her hot pink hair in pigtails and her makeup from the night before. Sara tried to greet her, but Claire only grunted in Sara’s direction. Just then Sara realized what she was seeing ”this wasn’t Claire at all, this rayon clad figure was someone else (or something else) entirely, a zombified version of Claire perhaps, but unquestionably a monster.

The evil inhabiting Claire’s body prompted its host to stagger behind the counter and commence work. It greeted the espresso machine with violent suspicion. Sara watched as Claire mercilessly ripped portafilters from the cozy home of their groups and filled them carelessly before attempting (and failing) to reinsert them in the machine. After a few unsuccessful tries, Claire simply dropped the filled portafilters to the ground and decided to try its hand at the batch brewer. Fearing that Claire (or the shell formerly known as Claire) would burn itself, Sara rushed behind the counter and gently guided it to the cold brew station. œAre you okay? Maybe you should go home?  asked Sara. œI’m fine,  Claire’s body responded with a half-smile and a groan. Unconvinced, but unable to allot any more time to the conversation, Sara resumed her work and left Claire at the cold brew counter. Then, just as she returned to the neglected customers at table five she heard a crash.

Fearing the carnage that inevitably lay behind her, Sara turned slowly toward the bar. The counter that had previously housed five full toddy buckets of cold brew had been leveled. There, on the floor, swimming in cold brew was Claire, a now coffee-soaked zombie. Sara hardly had time to wonder how Claire could’ve possibly spilled the equivalent of twenty-five gallons of coffee so quickly. The old Claire couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and thirty pounds soaking wet, but now that the new Claire was soaking wet Sara concluded that becoming a zombie must have imbued her body with super strength. œI really think you should go home,  Sara whispered into the void that was Claire. With robotic precision Claire simply retorted with a familiar refrain, œI’m fine. 

Claire’s body picked itself up off the floor and wrung its skirt out in the sink. Sara set to mopping up the mess while continuing to help customers. Out of the corner of her eye, Sara saw the heel of a coffee-covered boot trudge behind the sandwich counter. œOh good,  thought Sara, œat least she won’t be in customers’ direct view.  The sandwich counter at Boulders and Fines was separated from the main bar by a large window. While customers could wander back and watch their food being made through the window, it wasn’t immediately visible from the register. Sara breathed a sigh of relief as she helped more customers. But the smile on her face quickly faded as a low pitched snarling drew Sara’s attention from the customer at the counter. There, behind the window was Claire. With one hand on a butter knife and the other on a bagel, Claire hung its head over a nearby trash can and began purging its body of its toxic inhabitants. Having completed this first interval of retching, Claire’s body returned to the bagel and butter in hand, finishing the order with timely efficiency.

Sara’s hand found her forehead and began massaging her aching temples. She let out one last exasperated sigh before moseying to the sandwich counter. œMaybe cafe work isn’t for me,  she thought as she went to confront her coworker once more, œno one tells you you’ll have to work with monsters. 

image1-150x150-1ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.

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