When I was a teenager, I had a crush on the chatty barista in the Queen St Pandoro. He was the sort of guy who called everyone "Princess" and winked like Jack Sparrow on speed. So I spent many mornings in there, trying to enjoy drinking coffee.
It was during my hormonal morning reconnaissance missions that I realised this man had a following. And not just among girls, but among dedicated coffee drinkers. Every morning a band of people arrived for a double shot and an unidentifiable wheat product. I used to eavesdrop on them and they always said the same thing. (This coffee is amazing/totally worth the wait/great bloke, eh?) They arrived looking like extras from Dawn of The Dead and left looking like the band of Merry Men. This guy's caffeinated charm made their days.
Nearly everyone seems to have a barista who makes mornings more bearable. And we don't just like our baristas, we're impressed by them. They can talk coffee. Which in these days is the new Latin - the language of the sophisticated.
In America or England, if you say you're a barista, people look at you like you've recently bitten them. It's not exactly what you'd call a respected profession. But that's not the case here. I ran this past a well-travelled Kiwi friend of mine. "Yeah, it's different in Auckland and Melbourne," she said. "If you say you're a sommelier, we'd be like, 'Pft, how up yourself.' But if you say you're a barista, we're like, 'Oh cool, can you make me a coffee?'"
In Auckland, apparently, baristas have way more social prestige than in many other cities in the world. Yes, we will probably think you're a little bit too hipster. (And we will be watching for the signs of premature, man bun-induced balding.) And we will probably think you're a bit skint. (In an artistic way.) But all in all, being a barista is largely seen as a cool job. We don't think "barista" is a euphemism for "bum".
So how come baristas here are so much higher up the social food chain?
Originally I thought it was just because baristas are hip. They wear black! They have tattoos! They have a large shiny box with a wand! Of course we're going to respect people with wands.
But the more I thought about it, the more I'm of the opinion that baristas actually symbolise a lot of our Nu-Zillund values.
For instance, the Kiwi love of coffee. The flat white is our thing. Why?
Maybe it's because we're all just terrible in mornings. Maybe being obsessed with wine looks too snobby. Maybe everything else was taken except for coffee and baking powder. (And who wants to be famous for that?) Whatever the reason, we adore it. We buy it, we talk about it, we read about it, we open places to sell it, we compile guides to it, we compete in it ... It makes sense that we would respect the people who provide us with it.
(Plus, coffee has suddenly become a social status marker. Knowing your blends and beans is a sign that you're still with it, man. And baristas are well-versed in such socially sophisticated knowledge.)
We also love hard work. Well, we like love other people's hard work. (We love it when (other) people step up to the plate, give 110 per cent all the 368 days of the year.) And baristas work long hours, under pressure, earning little money and suffering continual abuse from people in active-wear. Of course we're going to love these guys. We're a sucker for sweaty cases.
But crucially, baristas represent cafes. And we adore cafes.
We see them in our collective conscience as a place of light, food, friends, long weekends, family time and damn good milkshakes. They are the physical embodiment of a relaxed weekend - which is our version of the American dream.
We want a friendly, relaxed and conveniently well-stocked puddle of bliss to lie in.
So baristas help make our Kiwi dream a reality every weekend.
Unless you are the barista in a certain Ponsonby cafe that made me wait 15 minutes for one flat white while you chatted to your regular about her super-duper new leggings. In which case, eat foam. But everyone else, that's why we love you.