Friday, September 3, 2010

Ice Cold Coffee Confrontation

Over the years I've worked my share in coffeehouses. Mainly small mom-n-pop type places, because that's what I prefer. The connection with your customers, the laid back nature of the shop and the interesting people that floated in and out made them, for me, a delightful place to work.

Working in a coffeehouse usually meant early mornings or late night hours. I was young, 19 or so and it didn't bother me a bit...well maybe the early mornings. I would hype myself up on all the caffeine I wanted and get to work on baking scones, cheesecakes, cookies, danishes, quiches and biscotti for the the day. I would then prep the sandwich station, get the brewed coffee brewed and the espresso machine ready for it's day. Then they would come...the customers, my friends, really.

One reason I would love to own my own restaurant, bakery or coffeehouse someday is for that very reason, the people. I loved knowing my customer's orders without them even having to open their mouths. I loved that it brought a look of relief and comfort to their tired faces as they took that first sip of their piping hot dark brew, mocha, or herbal tea. Chatting with them and getting to know them was a joy for me. I loved catering to their specific idiosyncratic coffee requests and finding out what their morning had been like thus far. You learn a lot about a person through their coffee orders.

One day, I went to work. I locked up my beater Dodge Omni (still my favorite car I've ever had) and walked up to the front door. I saw my co-worker just standing there. I asked why they weren't inside and then I saw the note pasted to the door. The coffeehouse was closed...for good. CLOSED! I was truly devastated. I loved that coffeehouse. It was my home away from home and not just for me, but for so many others. It was a sad day.

I worked at another coffeehouse as I cut, permed and colored my way through cosmetology school. It didn't have the same vibe as my previous place of employment, but it paid the bills. I graduated school, married my man and went off to work in a high-end salon.

A few more years went by, we moved to California and I didn't want to take the extra classes and pay the extra money to get my cosmetology license there, so I did hair out of my garage and worked at...(que scary, dramatic music) Starbucks.

Please don't be offended die-hard Starbucks lovers. This is merely a very biased opinion, by a jaded employee. Once you have worked in a small coffeehouse and felt the effects of a nearby Starbucks on your place of business, you grow to dislike it very much. Starbucks was like a giant, storming through your local neighborhood, eating small, privately owned coffeehouse for lunch. You find yourself vowing that you will never work for "the Giant".

But here I was, in my interview making myself available for the "opening shift", which meant I had to be at the store at 4:00 a.m. It was the shift they were hiring for and I needed a job. Like a lion freshly shaved of his mane, I accepted the meager wage and random hours. The hours was murderous. But I did it. Couldn't say I loved that job, not even "like".  I was looking for my happy coffeehouse memories in a corporate caffeine-dispensing factory coffeehouse.

Maybe it was the ridiculously early mornings, maybe it was the crabby, non-conversational customers growling their tedious coffee orders and ignoring my chirpy morning greeting. Maybe it was that my hands continually smelled like coffee and bleach, maybe it was my terribly butch haircut that I gave myself to combat the woes of early morning grooming (worst haircut to date), maybe it was the shift manager that was on me for anything and everything I did- from how I placed a cheese danish in the bakery case to how I ground a bag of beans, it didn't matter. For my every action, she had an immediate and irritating reaction, usually spoken behind my back to another employee within earshot range. Not the brightest girl.

Well, this was back in the day when I was a bit more timid. I didn't stand up for myself, like I would have now. Having children and being married for 11 years makes you bolder, but since I didn't have that experience under my belt yet, I was slow to tell this woman to get off my back...and it festered.

One day the feces hit the fan. I was tired of her putting me down, threatening me with "telling the manager" on me and bringing her foul attitude into the workplace. I was grinding what felt like a 300 pound bag of Sumatra, when she started chatting it up with another employee about me. Again, I could HEAR HER, even over the grinding of the stupid coffee grinder. I started shaking with anger. I don't know if I had ever shook with anger like that before. It was bubbling up. I was bracing myself for the vomit of self-preservation. There was no way I was keeping this down. Not today, not ever. I slammed off the coffee grinder, plopped down the bag, swept up my coffee grind mess and started rolling up the proverbial sleeves and fantasizing what Laura Croft would do to her.

My face was hot and red. I know you should not confront when you are livid, but I felt if I did not, I wouldn't ever do it. I boomed her name, she turned around to face the sweaty-faced, had-it-up-to-here me. I hardly remember what I said, but it flowed, baby. Oh, it flowed. I may have stumbled here and there at the beginning, but after I got going, I felt empowered. The basic message was, "don't treat me like s@&!". I told her that I saw how two-faced she was and how she singled me out. I stood up for the fact that I was an extremely hard worker and no one else had a problem with me. I reminded her that she was but one rank above me and even our store manager with the most power in this coffee-slingin' joint never treated me the way she did. At this point, someone escorted us to the back room because I was lettin' it all hang out in front of the house. Of course, the other employees didn't stop us. They all had it up to here with this woman and they wanted to see it all go down. And it did.

At first she tried to fight back, but her nasty words just bounced off of me like I was Iron Man. Once she realized she couldn't bully me anymore and that I called her bluff; her eyeballs started bulging and she was dumbfounded. She FINALLY shut-up!

After that she was, of course, annoyed. I was relieved. I didn't give a flying fig what she thought. I was freed from her stupidity. She didn't work that next day, which I was glad about, but she showed up anyways. I was less than amused.

I was working my shift, taking orders at the register and she gets into my customer line.What was she doing in my line? Didn't she see that I didn't want to see her, talk to her or take her discounted order? She better not ask me to grind her free bag of coffee beans.

She steps in front of my register. Her face was different. She looked timid, even a little scared. I stared blankly back at her. She quietly asked me if I could talk with her during my 15 minute break. I said I would. I was very curious about her visit.

We sat down outside. I didn't say a word. She looks up at me and with tears in her eyes says, "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so mean." Then she starts bawling! I was shocked. This brick wall of hurtful words and snide remarks collapsed into a pool of insecurity.  My heart was touched. I felt for her. I felt so bad. She was honest and truthful. She wasn't hiding behind anything. I quickly accepted her apology. I found myself comforting someone I once viewed as my arch-nemesis and loathed. I was humbled by her honesty and her openness about her heartache. We talked a bit more and then she left. After that talk, we weren't what you call "friends", but we respected one another.

Many lessons learned. Growing up in Starbucks...who knew?

With that said, I'm serving up a little drink that I feel encompasses the best and the worst of both above named places. I took my favorite drink, the iced mocha, and mixed it with my favorite syrup that Starbucks used to have, Valencia orange. Together it encompasses the good times and bad, irritating and victorious,  all into one icy cold, caffeine injected, chocolaty, orange-y drink. I like making them at home because it's my way of "stickin' it to the man". I put on my mad scientist cap on and came up with a ratio for the syrup.

Orange Chocolate Syrup

1 part water
2 parts sugar
1 part cocoa powder

So I did this:

1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
zest of one orange
pinch of salt
dash of vanilla extract

Mix together water, sugar, cocoa and salt and bring to a boil then shut off heat. Add orange zest. Let it steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain. Add vanilla. That's it! As it cools it will thicken. Store it in your frig for weeks.

To make the Iced Mocha:

Note: this is how I prefer it. Adjust according to your tastes.

1/3 cup freshly brewed espresso or strong coffee
5 tbls. orange chocolate syrup
6 oz. milk
enough crushed ice to fill the cup up (Sonic's ice is the best, or Whole Foods crushed ice)
orange slice for garnish

Place syrup and coffee into the glass. Mix the two together, making sure the syrup is well incorporated into the hot coffee. Pour in your milk to fill it approx. 3/4 of the way full. Stir well. Add ice to fill it to the top. Garnish!

P.S. If you would like to vote for my "Just for the Halibut: Alaska Seafood Post" click here to go to the page with all the listed entries. Click on my post and buzz it! The dish with the most buzzes wins. You do have to sign up with to create an account to vote. Don't worry, it's super easy. Thanks for all your support! If I win, I get to go to San Francisico for a weekend!

Have a great weekend, Foodies!


  1. Good for you! I still remember the feeling when I told a jerk of a guy (who was red in the face and yelling at me for a decision my boss had made)to sit down and shut up. He did and I turned around and marched out of his office. Since then he's been fired from three jobs. Poetic justice!!! BTW- I think we're the only two bloggers working this afternoon... Hope you enjoy the long weekend! Kate (kateiscooking)

  2. Gorgeous. Gorgeous photos. Gorgeous recipe. Gorgeous story about how the laser of truth can peel back layers and expose good.

    Lauren, would you pleeeeeze come over and make me this lovely coffee drink?

    Kate, make that three of us, but as of now, I'm over and out for the holiday weekend!

  3. Thank you, Kate! I know, it does feel good doesn't it?

    Pam, thank you so much! I know, it really was such an amazing experience. I really treasure it.

    Of course I will come make it for you! And for use girls, I would add a little of the "special stuff". Maybe some Kaluha or Gran Marnier? hmmmm. tasty.

  4. Oh, I love this story. I was dying to know what was going to happen at the end. Why is it that people who work in food establishments have so much drama? I waited my share of tables and think waiters and waittresses are the worst about gossipping and saying mean things to each other. Anyway, I loved the story and how it led up to the iced mocha!

  5. Great story, Lauren. I was so into it! You told her! And apparently that's all she needed to slow her role. I love the orange in the iced mocha, I'll have to try that soon!

  6. Food establishments are drama filled...I've had my share of experiences, and I enjoyed hearing about yours. But I agree, there are so many wonderful things about working in the industry, and I know if you ever opened a place... I would be dying to come!

  7. Great story and wonderful photos!

    Amy K.

  8. I, too, far prefer the independent coffee houses (and actually routinely make scones/muffins/cookies/pastries for numerous different independent coffee houses around town). And I, too, long ago arrived at work in the wee hours of the morning to find that the company that I worked for no longer existed (granted, it was a fundraising firm, and not a coffee house). It is so not cool to shut down a company without the courtesy of informing your employees. (Boo! Hiss!) But in the last few years I have become quite adept at making my own blended coffee drinks at home. I love your addition of the orange. Orange and coffee are not something I would have thought to put together, but it sounds delicious. I will definitely be giving this a try. I'll call it the "Lauren Special" =)

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Although I love a good Starbucks fix as much as the next person, I must admit that there's something extra special about those little, unique coffeeshops. There used to be a great one five minutes away from my house that closed as soon as a Starbucks got near. It was a real shame--they made faaabulous cappuccinos and frappes with homemade whipped cream.

    Also, I've definitely gotta give you kudos for standing up for yourself. The fact that you both were able to work it out a bit afterward is even better.

  10. Starbuck's? I can't go there unless someone's given me a gift card. Like you, I prefer my local places that are still standing strong - at least for now.

    Standing up for yourself is a freeing experience. And your iced mocha with orange/chocolate syrup? Holy moly. I'm making some today. Thanks for the greatness.

  11. Yum yum yum! This sounds perfect! It's been so hot out I am definitely going to try this. Beautiful photos!


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