Coffee Craziness: A Day in the Life of an ADHD Barista

Pouring water over ground coffee beans has never been so challenging to this ADHD brain.
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ADHD at Work: My Failure as a Barista

Caitlin D’Aprano, today’s guest blogger, teaches empowerment courses to women with ADHD in San Francisco. Her upcoming classes are about working with ADHD strengths and weaknesses. To learn more about the classes, visit: caitlindapranoconsulting.com/women-with-adhd-2/

My manager said, “It’s been reported that the quality of your coffee pouring has been slipping.” If only she knew what brain fuzz this pouring business was causing me.

It all started at my first training session, when, according to Evan, there were some coffee rules I needed to remember:

> Rinse the paper filter first, so the chemicals in the paper rinse out.

> Don’t let the coffee bed go dry; it makes the coffee bitter.

> Don’t go over 360 grams of water; the coffee will be too watery.

> Agitate the coffee after the first pour; the coffee will become more oxidized.

> Don’t pour the water directly on the filter.

Geez, this guy Evan is a stickler.

I arrive at the coffee shack for my first day of work. One of the first things my manager says to me is, “Evan said you struggled.” I am thinking to myself, “Really?” I will show Evan a thing or two. Attention is not my strong point, but when you’re required to make coffee with exact grams of java and water, it can be a struggle for someone like me.

My manager starts to show me the ropes and says, “Yeah, we sort of need to make do here; this grinder is broken. It doesn’t weigh out the exact grams like it should. So we need to manually weigh out 24.5 grams.” Oh, great, just one more thing to do in this very complex coffee-pouring process.

I have to hold the special kettle a certain way and pour the water steadily. (Coordination has never been my strong point) I have to Zero the scales first. First pour—pour it up to 60 grams of water. Quickly get the stirrer to agitate the coffee. Second pour at 45 seconds; take it up to 200 grams or water. Third pour at 1 minute, 20 seconds; take it up to 300 grams of water. Last pour at 1 minute, 50 seconds; take it up to 360 grams of water. Or was it 380 grams? Who knows? I can’t remember.

What makes things more challenging is that the staff doesn’t take down people’s names when taking coffee orders. I am supposed to remember people’s faces, their coffee order, and who ordered first. At busy times, that can be up to 10 coffee orders and, well, my working memory is fuzzy, so my brain doesn’t retain all of that information.

When I give a coffee to someone who only just ordered (don’t they know this process takes at least four minutes?), the staff gets annoyed at me for giving someone else’s coffee away. I tell the 25-year-old girl, “I’m having difficulty remembering the coffee orders.” She’s one of those people who doesn’t know what to do with silence, so she just talks for the sake of talking. She proceeds to yell every coffee order at me. I’m thinking to myself, “Yo, it’s not my hearing, it’s my brain.”

After a lot of yelling, as though aggressively pushing the order in to my brain is going to help, my manager turns around and says, “She’s got it!” Yeah, exactly, my brain is just different, a little slower at times.

Before I get ready to do three coffee pours, it’s like gearing up for a huge life event. All the coffee is ground and in the filters. The kettle is hot and ready to go. I start pouring the first one. Crap. I notice that I forgot to zero out the scales. Oh, well, I will do it now, as I think to myself, “So what, the actual grams will be unknown? Smile and pretend like everything is fine.”

I thought I was a coffee snob, but I have nothing on these people. All of the staff members look at me strangely when, after doing a few of these triple coffee pours, I look like I need to take a nap. I feel like going out to the small den of a staff room and lie down on whatever floor space is available, nestling my head near the mop and bucket.

On another day, my manager says to me “Now, Caitlin, if you’re only doing one coffee (which is a relief to me), we want you to be able to do things in between the pouring. So look after the tea orders as well.”

I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, great, my little weary head will never rest.” Of course, there is a whole different pouring process for tea—just to make my life easier.

My manager parks herself next to me to grind some beans. “Act normal,” I tell myself. “Everything is great.” I subtly put a tea towel over the scale that reads 380 grams. What’s the big deal? Only 20 grams over—although at this stage, who really cares, I’m probably going to get fired.

I can tell that the staff thinks I am being lazy. The next day, I don’t go in to work. At the end of the day, my ADHD brain doesn’t give a crap whether your coffee is poured in 1 minute or 20 minutes. Whatever happened to a simple cup of joe?

 
 
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