my sweet, short life as a barista

A Writer Must Do Her Homework

It began one Friday afternoon in August. August 12 to be precise. I was walking down Warren Street in Hudson, New York towards my favorite teashop, Verdigris Tea & Chocolate.

Illustration by Liam O’Farrell

I have purchased my teas, an obsession of mine, for ten years from this heavenly oasis of tea, chocolate, pastries, cookies, cakes, lattes, espressos, cappuccinos, smoothies, and more. It was one of those moments when an unexpected thought insinuates itself: I knew I must act upon it, and I did.

I had flirted with the idea about waiting table, or possibly making artful cappuccinos and lattes (little did I know the skill involved to do so), for hands-on research and experience regarding a future writing project. I asked Monica, Verdigris’s Hudson store manager, if they needed any part-time help either in Hudson, or in their ‘baby’ Catskill store, for a short while. She said they did! I completed the requisite application in the store, purchased my Scottish Breakfast tea and a half-pound of Mt. Everest, an elegant blend of Assam and Yunnan teas, and headed for home. The following morning I received a call from owner, Kim Bach, inquiring about my availability to begin work. I hasten to say Kim already knew me, though not all of my history, and I sent a resume to accompany the application late Friday afternoon. So, she was not precipitous in her offer: Kim had a need and I had a desire, and we quickly came to an understanding. I was to begin the following week. Whoa! What have I done? I am not able to move at warp speed doing anything these days, least of all as a fly-across-the-floor barista at seventy-three!

The Bloopers

The first two weeks I looked like a deer caught in headlights. I performed clumsy pirouettes trying to find a spoon, or just a straw. Then there was repetition after repetition, learning how to achieve crema on the espresso. I will spare you the details on my trying to perfect the lattes and macchiatos. Oddly, I developed a huge obsession to continually clean the espresso machine. Yet, there is skill, precision…though sometimes not, orderliness, great ingredients, a friendly smile, and experience and knowledge that creates the magic emerging from these efforts: macchiatos, matcha lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, abundant teas, and The Chocolate Drinks: Angelina, Hot Hudson, Mocha Magic, and one of our most popular—an oxymoron to be sure: Iced Hot Chocolate. Our chocolate drinks are for everyone, especially devoted chocolate lovers: there is an ample portion of our ganache with a dollop of liquid chocolate included—all ingredients created at Verdigris in Hudson. In my short time, I spilled or splashed chocolate and coffee on almost everything I wore. A fleeting remorse set in realizing I forgot to put an espresso shot into a Chunky Monkey—another chocolate frisson. And, I managed to unintentionally spray Torino caramel syrup over the counter, mirror, a co-worker, my clothes, face and hair, while a customer patiently waited and, gratefully, laughed along with us.

I think the flying scone incident, though, was a rather dazzling performance by moi. I grasped a waxed paper to pick up the scone and with a life force of its own, it flew straight up in the air, and over the counter. I ran, then lunged, like a pro left-fielder and caught it while the customer rendered a small round of applause. I carefully bagged it, and sent him happily on his way. I exhaled a sigh of relief. It was our last scone of the day.

Saturdays are busy. There was one particular Saturday afternoon, though, I thought I would need to call the mounted police for crowd control. Then I remembered this was Catskill, not New York City, and there were no mounted police to my knowledge.  I had already made about 18 smoothies that afternoon: Mellow-Yellow, Mixed Berries, Strawberry-Bananas, Iced (Frozen Hot) Chocolate. And then it happened—one half hour before closing. A tall, robust mother with a tall, strapping husband accompanied by two hulk-sized teenage boys walked in all wanting Chunky Monkeys, each with variations on the theme. These would take a little time to do, so while I was blending my heart away in the kitchen, I did not know that six, maybe seven, more people with little ones in tow, also walked in. When I surfaced from the kitchen with first of the four customized Chunky Monkeys, I realized I was in trouble so I stopped and said: Hello. I’m Lee Anne and I’m your only barista for today. I’m fulfilling an order of smoothies and want to help you all. That said, is there anyone here who just needs a cup of coffee or iced tea, which I can do quickly for you? No one answered. My heart sank while my stomach flipped. Okay then. Get comfortable, talk amongst yourselves and get to know one another, decide who is next since I did not see you enter, and I will do my best to tend to each of you. It took a half hour to serve everyone, but they had introduced themselves, we joked, laughed, and, praise God, they were all patient. New friends were made and there were smiles all around.

Labors of Love

Kim created Verdigris Tea & Chocolate in Hudson and celebrates its 10th Anniversary this October. The ‘baby’ Catskill store approaches its 1st Anniversary in December.

I cannot say enough about the quality, variety, and sheer abundance of Verdigris teas: there are black teas, of course: traditional and rare as well as flavored, or not. Verdigris offers oolong, green, white, rooibos, and herbal teas—again there are traditional as well as rare blends: some flavored, others not.

Blooper perils aside, I found deep pleasure in serving people cups-of-joy and poetically fashioned baked goods—all out of the Hudson store by Regina; a specialty chocolate, or bar, by Oliver Kita as well as John Kelly; or, just one dark chocolate marshmallow to provide a small measure of delight for someone’s journey home after a long day.

The Catskill Verdigris Tea & Chocolate venue, small and cozy, presents an ambience reminiscent of a shop snugly tucked in on a side street in Venice. The building is about one hundred and sixteen years old with its original architectural charm: a brick structure, large windows with wide sashes, old wooden floors, and wide door moldings. People smile as they enter, inhaling the diversity of scents, especially if we’ve just baked cookies, scones, made a cappuccino, or poured a freshly brewed pot of fragrant tea, perhaps a white coconut cream—a new found passion for me.

Illustration by Emily Brooks
Illustration by Emily Brooks

My research time came to an end. I learned more than I thought I would. I worked harder physically than I have since I was a dancer. And, I almost  mastered the high-tech cash register! For me, the sum and substance of this experience was the expression of joy as people took their first sip of a tea never savored and witnessing the widening eyes with a kid-in-the-candy-store expression as they walked into the warm, welcoming charm of the ‘baby’ Catskill store seeing the elegant, sumptuous chocolate case display for the first time.

In God’s Time

While I continued writing my novel this summer, I took to my camera as well. I did not believe I had the time. Yet again, I learned that all things are possible in God’s time. I have new images to share with you. They are not related to my Verdigris adventure, but I’ve worked on each through the summer and it is time to release them all as the landscape begins its next cycle of life!

The following is a pastiche of images: cloud formations dwarfed self-indulgent thoughts, creating a sense I could touch the face of God; birds of whimsy tickled a fancy for the sheer honor to gaze upon them; a simple cluster of carnations, appearing to melt into something delectable; another carnation so red its interior reminded me of crimson ruffles; the ordinary and extraordinary steady presence of sunflower petals; woodlands outside my apartment present a mysterious fog separating, hovering, and exposing the first bright orange leaves of autumn; small, vibrant yellow flowers peek out from under long blue-green fronds; a rabbit in early morning of which we had a bumper crop this year, and an etherial morning fog rising off our grand Hudson River as the sun begins ascent. I am blessed to be able to observe, study, and capture these fruits of Creation. Enjoy with my blessing and that of my Co-Creator, for nothing would have been accomplished without Him.

Clouds No. 1 © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Clouds No. 1   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Clouds No. 2 © 2-16 Lee Anne Morgan
Clouds No. 2   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Clouds No. 3 © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Clouds No. 3   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Fluff © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Fluff   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Speckles © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Speckles   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Mystery Of Woodland © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Petals © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Petals   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Ruffles © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Ruffles   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Creamy Carnations © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Creamy Carnations   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
Behind The Fronds © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Behind The Fronds   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
One Of Many © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
One Of Many   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
As The Fog Lifts No. 1 © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
As The Fog Lifts No. 1   © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan
As the Fog Lifts No. 2 © 2016 Lee Anne Morgan
Water, Land, and Sky  © 2016   Lee Anne Morgan

May our Lord richly bless and keep each of you in His strong, loving care ….