Located in a cute little nook of the Berkeley Art Museum, Babette Cafe is a hidden gem in the heart of downtown. In the excitement of their relocation, we had a chance to chat with Localwise hire Nora Heiser, the cafe's very own coffee extraordinaire, to find out what working in the local coffee scene is all about.
Tell me a little about yourself (+ one thing most people wouldn’t expect).
I was born in Malaysia and grew up in Milwaukee, WI before moving out to Oakland where I received my BFA at the California College of the Arts in painting. I've worked a pretty even mix of office positions and food service, but I really enjoy the the kind of micro-socializing that's a part of food service and being a barista.
My last job before really diving into the coffee world was at a Children’s shoe company where I managed online sales and customer service, and towards the end of my time there I could glance and guess what size shoe a toddler was wearing with surprising accuracy.
What drew you to working as a barista?
In my art practice, I'm drawn to meticulous and sometimes time-consuming processes, so the precision of working with all of the variables that affect and lead to tasty espresso is a fun challenge.
What other jobs have you done that you feel have prepared you for this position?
In college, I worked at Ici Ice Cream which really introduced me to the world of food and flavors that I wasn't aware of with my Malay- Midwestern palette. On a whim, I applied to Mokka (RIP you sweet little cafe) and learned a lot about all the fine tuning that goes into making quality drinks.
By the end, I could greet more than half the customers by name, continue ongoing conversations, and it was just really lovely having those interactions dispersed throughout the day. Those interactions are really what makes being a barista worthwhile.
What has it been like to work at Babette?
I really like working at here. Everyone here has been really welcoming and there's a great sense of humor at the cafe, lots of bantering and good music. It is on the second floor of the Berkeley Art Museum, so the setting is lovely, and seeing people dressed up in their “art museum” outfits is fun.
The owners (and chefs and bakers), Joan and Patrick really care about the food and pastry program here, which is why everything is so delicious. Working with them is really fun too—I am very happy with the ratio of cat gifs/pertinent information or requests in my work texts!
What drew you to Localwise, and what do you think differentiates itself from other job boards?
I like the job curation and interface on Localwise—it has a clean organized look. It's really cool how you can search for jobs by schedule too. The emails with new job listings were helpful too—that's how I actually noticed that Babette was hiring!
How has Localwise helped you get to where you are today?
There are usually a lot of service jobs available at any given time, but it can be really tricky finding one where there are opportunities to learn and grow.
Seeing Babette’s job listing on Localwise made it stand out from the crowd, and it has been the right fit for me with their dedication to delicious food and drinks and their willingness to share their knowledge with me.
What are 5 things customers wouldn’t expect about working as a barista?
1. If you’ve had the misfortune of having terrible espresso before, you should know that there are a lot of factors where that could have gone wrong:
- The grind being too fine or coarse
- The dosage or how much of the espresso is being used
- The tamping pressure and the extraction time being too long or too short
And that's assuming the machinery is clean and properly maintained in a temperature controlled setting (because heat and humidity can really change things too).
2. When I'm calibrating the espresso I sample a little of each shot with each adjustment made—so if I (or most other baristas) seem a little wacky it’s probably because of all the caffeine.
3. If you're uncertain about something please ask. I always prefer answering questions to having to make something over.
4. Most baristas really enjoy chatting with customers, but unsolicited life advice is almost always a downer.
5. I like exchanging names with regulars—being able to greet someone I see on a regular basis by their name is one of the things I enjoy most about being a barista—so if you're a frequent customer go ahead and introduce yourself!
And maybe reintroduce yourself, because sometimes placing a name to a face can be tough.