Working at Starbucks always seemed to me like it was an endless barrage of wild orders.
Grande extra hot caramel macchiato with almond milk, pumpkin spice syrup, and whipped cream, with blossoming rose sprinkles on top. Oh, and make that on ice.
For the record, as a non-coffee drinker, I have no idea if that would taste any good.
But what I was surprised to learn — after I was recently invited behind the counter at Starbucks in Bradford West Gwillimbury to learn how to make my own pumpkin spice latte — is the baristas there are pros who thrive on trying to create any new drinks their customers desire, crazy long orders or otherwise.
“We have hundreds and thousands of ways to customize a drink. We have all of the dairy alternatives,” said Mary Franssen, associate communications manager with Starbucks.
“That’s how you get to know people — one cup at a time,” added Bradford barista Christopher Davies.
While straight coffee has never been my thing, I definitely enjoy a flavoured version once in a while, so it was a treat to be taken behind the counter to learn how to make a PSL.
Davies and Chardée Greenwood, shift supervisor at the Bradford Starbucks, gave me one of their signature green aprons to wear, and we tucked behind the counter to go over the basics.
Turns out, there are not that many steps to making a PSL, and, suddenly, all those crazy long orders did not seem so intimidating anymore.
They taught me to pour the milk into a metal container up to the right line, based on the size of the cup in the order, and connect the container to a machine to steam the milk.
While that was doing its thing, they demonstrated just how they become multitaskers to deal with complicated drink orders — hitting a button on the machine to select an espresso shot, rushing over for a couple pumps of pumpkin spice syrup, then putting the cup under some spouts where the the espresso and syrup mixed into a dark orange liquid.
The frothy milk was poured on top, followed by a swirling squirt of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
But how did it taste? Sweet and spicy — perfect for a cool autumn day.
After working at Starbucks for nearly eight years, Davies has created all sorts of new drinks for customers.
Recently, a customer ordered a pumpkin spice frappe with coconut milk and blonde espresso.
“It tasted like pumpkin pie in a cup,” Davies said. “For a treat or dessert beverage, it’s fantastic.”
It is that time of year again when pumpkin spice — in particular, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, or PSL — becomes its own foodie phenomenon.
It has become so popular, the pumpkin spice trend has spawned new drinks, such as pumpkin spice chai tea latte.
Starbucks also does not even wait until it is officially fall to reintroduce the PSL to its menus; it was back in Bradford by late August.
“It’s basically the second or third car (through the drive-thru) that gets it (every time),” said Greenwood. “In the middle of the summer, people ask, ‘Can I have a pumpkin spice latte?’”
A few weeks later, in early September, Starbucks launched the rest of its fall lineup of goodies, including classic coffee cake, maple pecan muffin, pumpkin loaf, and pumpkin scone — all delicious staples, plus the muffin tastes exactly like a pancake covered in maple syrup.
The pumpkin scone is one of customers’ favourites, said Davies.
“We sell out by 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m. every day,” he said.
As well, Bradford’s Starbucks location offers the new Cold Foam Dark Cocoa Nitro cold brew coffee and a brand new flavoured drink exclusive to Starbucks stores in Canada — the cardamom latte.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Greenwood, Davies and Franssen for a taste-test.
Chai tea lattes have long been a favourite of mine, but, I have to say, the cardamom latte may be giving it a run for its money.
Not as sweet as a pumpkin spice latte, it has cardamom-spiced sugar infused with steamed milk to bring out the caramel in the espresso. There are earthy, citrus, vanilla and floral notes.
It is so good I keep thinking about how I want another one.
“What we’ve seen, especially in Canada, (is) we have different taste preferences,” Franssen said, noting Starbucks has research-and-development teams in Seattle and Toronto.
“(Tea lattes have) finely ground tea infused into the milk, so you have that full mouth taste.”
As generally more of a tea drinker, I got to try the blossoming rose tea latte. Floral and sweet, but not overpowering, it is also a really nice choice — plus, it comes with delightful blossoming rose sugar sprinkles on top.
It is up to Starbucks’ baristas to know the drinks and food well to be able to make good recommendations to customers looking for suggestions or pairings.
And it is also important to them, added Davies, to spell people’s names right on their cups.
Starbucks has a bit of a reputation of some employees misspelling names of customers, who then share those misspellings on social media, so Davies said he makes it his business to get to know customers by name, order, and sometimes even by their car as they pull into the drive-thru.
Davies and Greenwood have had some people give names such as Superman and Batman, and SpongeBob and Patrick for their orders, but that can also be part of the fun.
“If it’s going to make their experience better, (why not?)” Davies said.
The Bradford Starbucks is also committed to getting involved in the community, doing toy drives at Christmas, donating items for charity fundraisers, and giving away free coffee to local businesses.
“It further ingratiates us into the community. It is a really generally positive environment,” Davies said. “This place is awesome.”