Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Six Milk Rotation (a Starbucks tale)

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Gotta tell ya, I'm pretty tired. I'm giving myself about 30 minutes to blog out what I wanted to say, then I'm going to go up to my darkened bedroom (due to the cloudy skies outside) and take a two hour nap, so I can recharge before zipping off at The Happiest Place in the Mall.

My b'day weekend was great, and I'll probably talk about that on Thursday or Friday, when I have some free time, and though I worked all day Sunday and Monday (my actual birthday--and 816pm is my actual birth minute, if you must know, though that's Central time, as it was 916pm on Orlando on that fateful day long ago), it was still a good weekend. Monday night, The Lovely Steph Leann and I invited over two of our besties... the way, I think the word "besties" is one of the most ridiculous, silliest words I've ever heard. I mean, "BFF" is bad enough, but "besties"? So, because I think its so stupid, I use it liberally now. Of course.

...James and Jessica Hawbaker, winners of the 2008 Hannah Pruitt Cool Award on this very blog. We grilled out Omaha steaks, had baked potatoes, some Milo's tea and after dinner, we just sat and chatted for a while, like friends who don't get to see each other are wont to do, this time over 2 day old, yet still delicious, birthday cake and ice cream.

And as I cuddled up next to The Lovely Steph Leann later that evening, falling asleep, I was bracing myself for the whirlwind that would be the next three days. I woke up at 420am, rolled out of bed, dressed, brushed my teeth and left The Cabana around 445am to head to Starbucks. I left there around 1040am, got home, made some lunch, rested for a few minutes, did my email and such, took a long, hot shower and was at The Happiest Place in the Mall by 130pm.

Left The Happiest Place in the Mall around 1010p, got home around 1030p, crawled into bed around 1115p, then was up again around 420p. And back at Starbucks by 5a, getting off about a half an hour ago. Later, this time at a request time of 3 instead of 130, I'll be back at The Happiest Place in the Mall until at least 10pm, only to get home, go to bed and be back there by 830 in the morning. If I can last until tomorrow around 5pm, I've got 3 days off. And I'm smiling to myself, thinking of how I'm probably going to turn my phone off on Thursday night and sleep on Friday until my eyes cannot possibly stay shut any longer... I say that, but I'll be up by 930 or 10, just cause as I get older, I don't like wasting my days off... that's not to say I don't want to sleep, or like to sleep, because I do, but I do want to do other stuff. Important stuff. Like watch WWE: Raw on DVR, or sort through The DFC, or organize my Disney pins or sit and surf the interweb for hours on end with no real purpose... you know, vital things to do.

Anyway, we were busy this morning at Starbucks... really busy. Early busy. That's not atypical for a Starbucks sitting along the busiest highway in the state of Alabama, that being Hwy 280, but at the same time, it can be stressful.

Let's be clear... I'm good at some things, I'm not so good at others. I excel in certain areas, and I fail in many others to the point of not even trying. Making drinks when its busy? I'm good. I'm very, very good.

As much as Starbucks would like to have every store uniform, every drink the same at every store, its just not possible. There are too many people who all make drinks for it to be the same--thats not to say the recipe changes, as it doesn't. A grande caramel macchiato recipe is simply 3 pumps of vanilla syrup, steamed milk to about an inch below the cup line, layer it with about an 1/2 inch of foam, pour your shots atop the milk and put a caramel syrup crosshatch on top. Lid it, pass it out. But I'll bet anything that my caramel macchiato would taste slightly different than the one that Lil Sister Ashley makes. And this isn't to say its a bad thing--sometimes people prefer certain baristas make their drinks, cause they just know how much of what to put in there. A half pump difference here, a fourth scoop of foam less there, and you've got a slightly different tasting drink.

To that end, everyone sets their bar up different too. Most baristas I know, and I'm included in this category, want their bar set up a certain way. Me? For slower times, I've got an gallon of nonfat milk and a gallon of 2% milk on the ready. My thermometers are in one single pitcher off to the side, along with my pouring spoon and my stirring spoon. Two rags sit under the machines, one for wiping the steam wands, the other for wiping the front of the counter, lest I spill some milk. Since I work in front of two espresso machines, I have four glass shot glasses, two on each side, turned upside down, side-by-side, ready to be grabbed at a moments notice. Under the machines, in the fridge, I've got a nice stash of apple juice, whole milk, soy, signature hot chocolate, berry chai and other fun things. One addition I've recently made is having a sleeve of grande hot lids tucked away, but within arms reach, for when (not if) I run low during a rush.

When we get busy? Its imperative to have some sort of organization. I typically will use the slower time to prep and stock and get ready for the busier times, those times when you have seven cups lined up down the side, and one is a a venti very dry cappuccino (you probably will have to steam some new milk just to have the foam available) and another is a grande no water soy chai (not hard, but now you have to steam soy) and another is a Caramel Apple Spice (once again, having to steam apple juice) and another is a regular nonfat latte, but with five shots, taking up valuable time at your bar...

Milk is essential. The best and fastest way to get behind in a rush, the quickest way to get all out of whack is to not have enough milk steamed. Espresso shots by themselves only last around 10 seconds before they become dark and bitter, so if you don't get some milk or water on them, your drink is altered. Its a terrible, terrible thing to have four cups in front of you, each with shots in them, some with syrup, and just waiting on milk to steam.

When the rush hits, I start out with my Four Milk Rotation. I have two pitchers labeled 2%, two pitchers labeled nonfat. Off to the side, I have a pitcher labeled "Half-N-Half", one labeled "Soy", one labeled "whole milk" and two pitchers with no labels at all. And ready at the call is another pitcher of nonfat, and another pitcher of 2%. I keep steaming milk constantly. I typically press the "X-Hot" button, just to give it a few extra minutes of life, though its never enough to make a drink undrinkable. Even when I've cleared out the drinks in front of me, I will steam more milk, and have all four pitchers with fresh milk, ready to pour.

And one some mornings, like today, I call in the reserves... and go to the Six Milk Rotation. Three pitchers of nonfat, three pitchers of 2%, continally steamed. I only have four thermometers to work with, so I would put one in 2 of each milks. When I steamed a new pitcher of milk, I moved it to the back of the line. As the pitcher in front emptied, I refill it with cold milk, steam it, move the other two to the front, and put the thermometer in the next pitcher. When the new pitcher finishes steaming, I put it in the back, and grab the milk in front for pouring.

Several times I had three and four venti drinks in a row, so it wasn't uncommon to use up two pitchers of nonfat milk at one time, then have to steam two more. This morning I probably went through about 12 gallons of milk, just filling a pitcher, steaming, pouring up a latte, filling a pitcher, steaming, pouring a misto, filling a pitcher, and so on and so on. Each thermometer has a red area on it, and when the needle drops out of that red area, you have to pour the milk out, as its now "out of temp"... this only happened twice in three hours. When you are on a Six Milk Rotation, there's very little chance of wasted milk...

I did spill a pitcher of milk, though. It was kinda comical, as it was early, and I was still waking up. The music overhead was whimsical, not quite "The Entertainer" but along those lines, and I almost felt like if the music were loud enough, watching me would be like one of those Chaplin old silent films with the music synced with all the pratfalls and hi-jinks. And then I knocked over a pitcher filled with cold, nonfat milk. And the song that started playing overhead? "I Fall to Pieces" by Patsy Cline. Fitting.

I'm not nearly the greatest barista, I'm sure there are many, many more ahead of me. But I do know there are many, many, MANY more behind me, if only for the fact I've got close to seven years of Starbucks bar experience, enough time to have seen the changes in the way we do things, learning things that we weren't supposed to do are now things that we have to do, and finding out things we based our learning on were wrong, and we have to change it now... such is Starbucks life.

Just like baristas want their bar set up a certain way, most are territorial when we get busy. As in, "give me the drinks, let me do them, if I need your help, I'll tell you." And really, most of the time its easier to just do the drinks you need to do, than to explain to someone else. So, when you see a barista behind the counter and there is a line of drinks, remember... it might be helpful for someone else to walk up and start making drinks with them. Or it might be hurtful, as the barista at the bar would be forced to say something like, "okay, I've already put the splenda in those two, but not in the grande mocha, which needs another pump of toffee nut because the bottle ran out, and there's a venti misto, but they want it half-caf, and since we are still brewing the decaf, I don't have it in there yet, and I'm steaming the soy for that, and for this chai with no water and oh, can you add equals to that venti misto there that needs the decaf which is almost finished brewing..."

You know what. Back up. Back off. Let me do it. When I need some help, I'll say, "Fellow barista, could you assist me?" You'll get your drinks quickly enough--another person adds another minute to your wait time, I promise.

Finally, rushs are great. Line the cups up, there is a line at the counter, the drive-thru is backed up, your pumping vanilla syrup as fast as that plastic pump will spit it out, and the white mocha is flowing hot and heavy and the pitchers are in full Six Milk Rotation (I seriously had an Eight Milk Rotation once--holy crap) and there is chai on your apron and your finger has cinnamon dolce syrup on it and people are hollering to each other, "Hey, I need the Pike Place" and "Can you get me a blueberry muffin for the DT?" and "Please run back and grab some more milk" and so on... its awesome.

And when its over, I always think of one thing... I'm Triple H and I lean over the rush we just had, and say, "Rush, you can't see me!". Then I do the move that says, "I just killed it." I never do the full move, as it might be kinda rude, but you'll see me sometimes do a slight, quick hand cross up and out in front of me.
Then I walk away. Cause (courtesy of The Miz) I'm Dave. And I'm awesome (too bad you can't see my arms outstretched).
And now? I'm going to enjoy a nap. Cause I'm The Dave... and I'm... Sleeeepppy


  1. I have to say, cause I'm betting there aren't many who can, I read every word of that post and got a little tiny bit nostalgic. I miss you sometimes Starbucks and the simpler time that was when I worked there.

  2. nice! brought back memories of my sandwich making days at good ol' Saks...when I'd have 5 on the grill, two in the toaster and one cold one coming up...
    and sorry, Dave, I cant remember your sandwich anymore! :(
    but i agree, sometimes its easier to just have your system and get it done!

  3. Ah...and then there was the time when D$ dropped his cash drawer all over the floor at close, and *I shall remain nameless* helped him pick it up ;)

    And there was also this time when, *I shall remain nameless here too but for the opposite reason* forgot to put the "O" ring in the whip cream canister before 'detonating' the charger....and whip cream exploded all over me, the ceiling, the person waiting IN the drive thru (in his car mind you) and all over the floor...and I laughed so hard I think my abs hurt for like three days.

    I had a system tooo. It just was a little less organized than most!

    Ahhh...I miss you Starbucks, D$, and great memories *tear*

  4. Hannah dear, it truly made me very sad when I knew you were leaving, as we started together (you'd be over 6 years if you'd stuck with it--but you had to go to that silly hubby and kid thing. whatever.)

    I don't remember my sandwich either, AM, but I do remember loving those sandwiches.

    And KC--I remember you and I there until midnight one night because some dork in the drive thru thought it would be a good idea to yell at the people across the street, so he jumped on our drive thru ledge and it then collapsed under him... and we had to fix it. Good times indeed.


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