A couple of decades ago, if anyone would have said that people would routinely cough up three or four dollars for a specialty cup of coffee, most folks wouldn’t have believed it. Yet today, it’s commonplace for countless individuals to hand over about that much for their favorite latte, steaming cappuccino, or creamy smoothie. According to www.foxnews.com, a report from Acorns Money Matters records that “the average American spends approximately $1,100 a year — or $3 each day — on coffee.” But it’s not solely about the beverage, it’s about everything that goes along with it.
Best-selling author, Dr. Leonard Sweet, believes that atmosphere has a lot to do with profitability. In his book, The Gospel according to Starbucks, Sweet writes, “Starbucks built an assumption-shattering business by selling an irresistible experience along with every cup of coffee.” “In 2017, there were 13,930 Starbucks stores in the U.S.,” reports www.statista.com. “The total number of Starbucks stores worldwide has almost doubled in the decade between 2007 and 2017.”
Sweet attributes the décor, “appealing music,” and a “melody of complex coffee smells” as contributing to the Starbucks “sensory feast.” If we think deeply, that’s part of the pleasure that we find in most coffee shops whether an independent or chain. We aren’t merely buying a $2.00 cup of java or a more expensive specialty drink, but there’s something else we’re also purchasing.
Dr. Sweet explains, “…coffee is a hospitality drink, a sign of welcome and openness to sharing.” It can be invigorating to sit in a coffee shop with a friend and connect in meaningful conversation. Of course, often we’re in a real rush and want our coffee in a hurry.
On other occasions, we visit a coffeehouse, because we not only want something to drink, but the sensation that we are of some significance in this normally impersonal world. A great barista can make a customer feel noticed and appreciated, even though technically their job is simply to politely prepare a tasty beverage.
And that’s how I met Kaitlin. Some years back, I decided to grab a coffee after my husband and I transplanted to the area. I had been grocery shopping, and was feeling a little lonely and displaced in the way moving has of doing. I was pleasantly taken off-guard by the brunette barista’s thoughtfulness when I initially visited the grocery’s Starbucks kiosk.
While still efficiently getting her work done, the young employee acted like she had all the time in the world for me. That I was the most important customer of her day, even though I was an older lady who had trouble deciding what I wanted. This trait can be annoying to most milennials, but Kaitlin didn’t seem to mind. Maybe because I never had a daughter, I felt privileged that she smiled and seemed genuinely happy to see me whenever I showed up at her counter.
Somehow, the dedicated barista made me feel connected to my then new community. Kaitlin and I would chat a few minutes, while she prepared my drink, if she wasn’t busy. I never knew her last name, or much about her personal life except about her schooling, but I was thankful for our friendly connection during my time of transition. It was a gift, and I’m sure she made countless other customers feel that they were special, too. Then I moved again, and lost track of her.
But two years ago in December, I saw winning Kaitlin’s smile again. Tragically, this time it was in an obituary photo in the Sidney Daily News. I learned her last name, and that this vibrant young lady with so much potential, didn’t have all the time in the world. At only 24, she had lost a battle to cancer. I was deeply saddened by the monumental loss of such a gentle soul for all her loved ones.
For me, there had been no chance to say, “Good-bye,” or to express my appreciation. So, Kaitlin Osborne, this long overdue column is for you. It’s also for every barista who tries each day to do more than their job by genuinely caring about their customers, just like you did.
Forever young barista, your life truly made a difference, and your kindness will always be remembered. Thanks for taking time to brighten the world, if only for a short while!
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.