It’s 5:15 a.m., and 28-year-old Garrett Esary is just rolling out of bed. He may or may not have time to comb his handlebar mustache and throw on his newsboy cap before rushing out the door and walking his three-minute commute to work. Lucky for him, being the café manager, roaster, and barista at Coffee Culture Roastery has its perks, including access to caffeine.
At 5:30 a.m. Esary greets his fellow co-worker with tired eyes. These quiet morning minutes are sacred, as they only have 30 minutes to stock the storefront, count the till, prepare the lounge, brew the coffee, and “dial in” the espresso, which means getting the shots to “pull” just right to ensure the perfect flavor.
Cue the lights, music, and friendly smile, and Esary is ready to illuminate the “Open” sign at 6 a.m. Regulars trickle in during the first hour, many of whom Esary already knows from growing up in Corvallis or from memorizing their drink orders over the past eight years he’s worked for the business.
Esary’s enthusiasm for the craft of coffee was not immediate. He was initially hesitant to accept his first barista job working with an all-women staff at Coffee Culture’s Timberhill drive-through location. In those days, Esary’s drink of choice was a caramel white mocha froth.
“I didn’t know a single thing about coffee before I started working here. We’ve really come a long way in the coffee business. Paul and Lisa [the owners] have a passion for always improving things, and they really inspired me to dig deeper into coffee,” said Esary.
Esary now sticks to drinking straight shots of espresso or black coffee.
“I’m not just drinking it to get the caffeine buzz, but to really taste it and pick out flavors.”
Around 8 a.m., the lobby traffic and hum of subdued chatter begin to increase, and Esary and his crew respond by picking up the pace. “It’s madness,” he said.
Whether it’s filling drink orders, wiping down tables, or doing dishes, it’s done at full speed. There is still time, however, for painting fancy ferns and hearts on lattes and engaging with customers.
“One of the biggest parts of customer service is being able to read people and understanding how people want to be interacted with. Some people just want to come in, get a cup of coffee, and go. Other people like to talk about their life story,” he said.
Connecting with customers is Esary’s forte. Self-described as “quirky and weird,” he is always changing his look and finding something that generates conversation and makes people smile.
“I’ve been doing this so long, I’ve got a pretty good beat on who’s who, and I’m not afraid to be goofy in front of them. I can joke around with the older guys and sweet-talk the older ladies.”
It’s 11 a.m., and the receding wave of customers allows for more stocking, more cleaning, and more brewing.
“We brew about six to seven pounds daily of our house blend alone. Each coffee tree only produces about one and a half to two pounds of green coffee beans in one year, and they lose 16 to 20 percent of that weight after roasting,” added Esary. “Between house coffee, decaf, and espresso, we’re probably going through about 10 coffee trees here every day.”
Around noon, Esary helps the other baristas set out patio furniture, bag coffee, and tackle the monotonous task of stamping each to-go cup with the Coffee Culture logo. He squeezes in a few minutes to work on next week’s employee schedule and to place orders.
On other days, Esary can be found in the back, keeping a watchful eye on coffee beans roasting, churning, and baking in a massive, five-kilo drum roaster. Giant burlap bags filled to the brim with green coffee beans await their turn at Esary’s magic.
In anticipation of the afternoon rush, Esary writes a few notes for baristas working the next shift. His work day may be drawing to a close, but his personal work life is just beginning.
“It never officially ends. I have two young boys at home, and they never run out of energy,” he said.
While he may be extroverted and charming at work, Esary enjoys the downtime he gets at the end of the day. Grilling dinner, throwing the Frisbee with his boys, and watching Modern Family with his wife are just a few ways Esary likes to unwind. This summer he can be found playing disc golf, fishing, or in the city softball league.
It’s 10 p.m., and it’s time for bed. Esary brushes his teeth, climbs in bed, and like any average Millennial, checks out what’s happening on Twitter. Five in the morning comes early, but Esary is excited to do it all over again.
By Bridget Olson