Provider of the Morning Fix: Q&A with Barista Paul JohnsonBlog / Produced by The High Calling
For eight years Paul Johnson has been the provider of the morning fix. But he also offers a familiar smile and warm conversation with the coffee he serves as a barista in St. Paul, Minnesota. Paul is a 30-year-old father of two (with a third on the way) and also works as a part-time worship leader. We talked with Paul about his calling and his work as a barista.
Can you tell us what an average day at the coffee shop is like?
I generally open the shop, so I have some quiet time to set up before the doors open and the customers start trickling in. Just as it's getting too busy to handle, one of my co-workers arrives and helps me out. Most of my time consists of one-minute interactions with customers and chatting with my co-workers as we clean stuff up between rushes. I also train people to make espresso drinks and figure out what coffees to roast and how to roast them.
What do you like about the job? What do you hate about it?
I love that I get to know a lot of people and that I get to craft something that they will enjoy. I hate how stressful it is sometimes.
Why did you go into the barista biz?
I studied music in college. One day my piano professor asked me if I was the kind of guy who liked to hang around in coffee shops. Maybe he was just trying to figure out what I was doing instead of practicing, but his insight into my personality was accurate. It was a natural progression from hanging out it coffee shops to working in them. I've been a part-time worship leader for most of my adult life and needed a second job. I never expected to get as excited about coffee as I am now, but here I am.
You do a lot of latte art—what's that all about?
Latte art is a fun way of presenting an espresso-and-milk milk beverage that includes a beautiful design or pattern poured onto it. It can look easy when you see an experienced barista do it, but it really takes a lot of practice. What it shows, more than just a desire to make the drink pretty, is a commitment to the quality of the product and the culinary art of espresso. The espresso and milk have to be prepared at a high level of skill in order to even attempt latte art. Therefore, if you see the art on top of your drink there's a very high probability that it will be delicious as well as pretty.
What kind of satisfaction do you find in your job?
As you can probably tell by my answer to the previous question, I'm all about the quality of coffee that I serve. Espresso as a culinary art has existed for less than 100 years, which makes it pretty young compared to wine for instance. That means that there's still a lot to learn about coffee and learning keeps me excited.
How do you see your job as part of building God's kingdom?
Relationships are the key. You'd be surprised how much of a relationship you can have with someone in one-minute conversations spread out over several years. Working alongside someone is also a quite effective way to get to know each other. All of my co-workers know that I'm a Christian, and often I might be the only Christian that they have any kind of relationship with. I'll freely talk about my faith if and when they want to hear, but I think that my role more frequently is one of dissolving stereotypes of what Christians are like. People see that I'm a Christian and not a hater, bigot, judging, stupid, ultraconservative, gun-toting, sheltered, jerk. Those preconceptions and misconceptions are all things that may seem absurd to those within the body of Christ, but can be real barriers to those looking at Christ's body from the outside. Whatever I can do and be to break down those barriers lets people move closer to the kingdom of God and be open to what God wants to do in their lives.
I also think that actually wanting to be good at what I do is important. So often people think of the Christian version of something as synonymous with the lame version of whatever it is, whether that's Christian pop music or burned percolated church coffee. The gifts we have and the gifts given to us in creation (like the coffee plant for instance) most glorify God when their potential is appreciated and creatively and passionately explored.