As a barista, you meet a lot of interesting customers. People who have you add ice into their tea one cube at a time, kids who will give you every nickel in their pocket for last cake pop in the pastry case, those who demand you steam the quarter inch of milk they want in their coffee, and parents who ask for a cup of whipped cream and a spoon to feed their two-year-old for lunch. Guest quirks were more or less expected when I first took my job a year ago, but one thing I didn’t anticipate were the gender norms and insecurities that pervade so many of my customers’ orders. You might be guilty of it yourself without noticing or you might think I’m exaggerating, but bear with me. Here’s a list of three gender-related anxieties that haunt coffee-drinkers everywhere:
- I’m sure you’ve all seen this on your Facebook newsfeed by now: “If you look in the mirror and say ‘pumpkin spice latte’ three times, a white girl in yoga pants will appear and tell you everything she loves about fall.” It’s as though the first day there’s a dead leaf on the ground, everyone miraculously craves pumpkin. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer—shit, I’ve even seen pumpkin popcorn. The most notorious fall treat though is the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte, a combination of pumpkin syrup, espresso shots, and milk (plus whipped cream and an ambiguous dusting of some orange powder, if you go all out).
- When I first started my job it was PSL season, so I knew I was going to be making an obscene amount of them. It didn’t take me long to realize how many men were ashamed to order a pumpkin spice latte. More often than not in my experience, male customers laugh and roll their eyes when they ask for a pumpkin spice, as though they’re apologizing for their order. I’ve had numerous guys ask me if I was judging them as I rang them up, and a handful of men who were made fun of by their girlfriends after stating their order.
- Newsflash male PSL fans: no barista gives a shit what you order. By the time you get to the register, we’ve probably made too many drinks to even consciously process what you’re saying. Baristas don’t judge you for your palette; I don’t even like coffee and I fill literally hundreds of cups with the stuff every week. Baristas will judge you for your attitude though, so don’t order in a fashion that makes you seem like you’re one grunt away from slapping your balls down on the counter.
Also, while you’re at it, keep in mind that acting as though you are too good for the drink you’re ordering because you’re a male implies that you hold women at the subpar level of the latte itself. It doesn’t mean that you’re a full-blooded misogynist by acting like you were forced to order a PSL, but it definitely implies an assumption that the drink is dumb and so are those who love it—namely the “white girl in yoga pants.” Don’t be intimidated by a stranger in a syrup-stained apron or a mocking girlfriend. As juvenile as it sounds, boys are allowed to like fall, too! So fuck it, down your PSLs like they’re liquid gold because they’ll be gone by winter. If you’re going to drop five dollars on hot flavored milk, it might as well be what you want.
- Whipped fucking cream. I never knew what a life-or-death decision getting whipped cream could be until becoming a barista, but it haunts an excessive number of female customers. Some men like whip, some don’t. But male customers don’t seem to actively worry about their decision regardless. This phobia manifests itself in a few ways. There’s the woman who refuses it vehemently like it’s arsenic, as though she didn’t just order a 600-calorie beverage that she’s literally going to piss out of her body within a few hours. She tends to act disgusted by the question, as though she feels the need to prove her self-control to the barista who must think she’s a glutton. There’s the woman who says “yes” to the whip as though accepting it is the most liberating thing that she’s ever done in her life and a great personal risk. She will usually laugh nervously afterwards, and say something to the effect of “sure! What the hell, right? You only live once!” And finally, there’s the verbally self-conscious customer who restrains herself from getting what she wants. This guest declines the barista’s offer with a frown and an expression of shame (“It’s not like I need the extra calories, not on my fat ass”).
- Ladies, I hate to sound redundant, but I feel I must be: your barista never gives a shit what you are drinking. With that in your minds, try to remember that your body is no one’s business but your own. You aren’t obligated to tell your barista why you didn’t take whip on your drink, the same way you aren’t forced to justify why you did. In the end, the whipped cream isn’t going to make much difference in your drink (think about it, if your drink is hot that shit is dissolving in a matter of minutes). Whip is mainly a decorative tool. You aren’t succumbing to some invisible coffee devil by ordering exactly what you want, but you are likely leaving that counter disappointed if you don’t. If it makes for a better Instagram photo, a perfect first sip, or just a feeling of regality, go for it—it will be money better spent.
- Some like their coffee black, usually to match their souls or to fulfill their sensory masochism. Just kidding. Black coffee is definitely an acquired taste in my opinion. I tend to admire people who order their coffee black, not because I think it says something about their personality, but only because I think it tastes like shit and I am actually baffled by the fact that people pay money to consume it. And on a daily basis. But I digress.
- A lot of my male customers have a tendency to laugh in my face when I ask if they want room for cream in their coffee. This is usually followed by a condescending headshake and a credit card an inch away from my face. Heads up to guys thinking black coffee asserts their masculinity: it doesn’t. First of all, foods are not inherently gendered; that’s right, men don’t have a biological itch to barbecue and women don’t exit the womb knowing how to bake a cake! This, my pets, is called the social construction of gender, and it is the root of all things you consider girly, butch, pretty, ugly, hot, manly, etc. Don’t let this get the best of you in an action as simple as ordering a cup of coffee.
- Secondly, do not scoff at a barista for doing his or her job. We don’t learn how to mind-read in our training, and we don’t assume your order by how big and tough (or small and weak) you look. I used to date someone who forced himself to eat and drink shit he didn’t like to seem impressive, but it really made him look kind of pathetic (watching someone come close to tears from a force-fed shot of rum is a sad sight, man or woman). You know why you should order your coffee black? Because that’s how you want it. Not because you’re mysterious, melancholy, or “a real man”—and never because you want to seem a certain way. Again, baristas don’t care about your image or your ego; it’s not in our job description. If your own taste isn’t the motivation behind you’re order, you’re wasting your money.
Taryn Pire is a senior writing major that keeps an excel sheet of everyone that orders PSLs. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.