It feels kind of ridiculous. You’ve just paid north of four bucks for a twelve-ounce cup of coffee with sugar syrup and foamed milk (and isn’t that like, more air and less milk, tbh?), and now, when you look down, tucked in there between the Altoids-knockoffs and the hipster-friendly CD selection is a little passive-aggressive plastic cube that is managing to stare at you like a malamute puppy in a shop window, begging for your change. And sure, you might drop some in if you’ve just placed an order that sounds like a late 80’s Meg Ryan reference, but for a friggin’ hazelnut latte? It’s entitled, it’s ridiculous, and surely, if you’re paying that much, those little shits making it are doing just fine, right?
Um, let me learn you a thing about where your money is actually going:
- To the coffee being ethical. My company goes to great lengths to make sure that it buys the coffee at prices that sustain cost of living for the workers, to support environmentally sustainable farming practices, education, and community improvement. You pay that much for the latte so you can go to sleep at night knowing it wasn’t picked by an enslaved three year old with no access to clean water working in what used to be a rainforest.
- To the coffee being good. Only part of this is how very, very picky we are about what beans we use, how they’re roasted, and how they’re shipped and stored, all of which costs money. A much bigger part is that we consider espresso shots bad if they’re not in your drink in 10 seconds. Brewed coffee is thrown out after 30 minutes, even if we haven’t sold a single cup from a 5 gallon urn. This means it’s never the fossilized IHOP crap, but it also means you pay for all the coffee that no one drank.
- To the coffee being exactly how you want it. The last entry wouldn’t be quite so huge if we weren’t brewing 3-4 different roasts daily. Plus there’s like, two flavors of whipped cream, four different drizzle sauces, fifteen syrups, six kinds of milk, four kinds of caramel, two kinds of espresso, twenty-odd other drink mixes and elements, all of which have the same ruthless chuck-it-not-if-it’s-spoiled-but-if-it’s-just-slightly-less-than-flawless policy, but mean that you have as many as 38,000,000 potential drinks available to your whims today.
Where it’s not going? Is the people making it.
As you might have guessed by now, I’m one of those “entitled little shits.” Like almost all of my coworkers, the reason I work there is that they offer one of the best health insurance packages you can get at a job that is neither union nor white-collar (though frankly, the level of skill, speed, precision, memorization, people skills, etc. that they expect makes it actually a very selective job that effectively shuts out a huge chunk of the “entry level” workforce). I actually make minimum wage. My take-home, after taxes and the premiums for the aforementioned health care, is a little over $6.50 an hour. No, I’m not complaining, actually. At least, not about my employer. The overall system that means an employee is happy to take a wage that’s too low to live on in exchange for being able to function at all by having access to health care people in all other developed nations take for granted…ah, that’s a rant for another cup.
I am required to be able to make any standard or reasonably modified drink in under a minute. That means that out of your $4 drink, I’m getting just about 11 cents. For comparison, the local sales tax is getting 32 cents. You might think that tipping is silly and frivolous, but when you put a single quarter in the jar, even after it’s split with the other person or people on shift, you have as much as DOUBLED what the actual human in front of you is paid for your drink.
In a service economy supported by a rock-bottom minimum wage, tips matter.
And yes, I know money is tight, and if you’ve pulled the pennies out of the upholstery to get a small treat that you don’t have to feel guilty about, I sure as fuck am not going to get angry at you that you kept the three cents I handed you back for change. Hell, I’m not going to get angry at you anyway. It’s not my job, my personality, fair, or right.
But I do know that until I was on the other side of the counter, I never knew how much that little plastic cube really meant, and I wish someone had told me, so I’m telling you. If you’re in a position where you can casually afford a little more for some soy milk here and some mocha drizzle there and an extra scoop of macha powder in that other one, consider dropping something in the bucket.
We make your drink. You can make our day…and even sometimes, make our ends meet.
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