There’s a boy that works at Starbucks…No. No.No…I’m just kidding.
Four years ago a small business coffee/book shop opened right up the road from where I work. Becuase the stop had formerly been a Starbucks which I frequented, I did not shop there for several months. Instead I opted to go to another Starbucks. You know there are no shortages of Starbucks, Long Story short, somehow I wound up in Church Street one morning and found out that all their pastires were housemade, and some of them were actually really good for you. With the truly different pastry options, the location closer to work and the personalities of the business starters-I became an avid supporter. Like all coffee snobs, I had my favoite coffee drink and routine and my favorite barista. Sri. Sri Koduri is real, un prentensious, sweetheart of a human being and a genius at the espresso machine. No amount of money could be lost betting that he is the whole town’s favorite barista. He is that one that stands behidn the machine and gives you knowing looks about all the other customers. So of course you feel like you are the only customer he comes to work for. Genius.
My drink is not complicated. A soy au lait. Coffee and soy milk. After having a routine of dashing in and getting my soy coffee drinks and being late for work, I began to notice that they never tasted the same when someone else made them. Ever. I figured Sri put some vanilla syrup in them along with the milk. One day I mentioned it and he said he just put the coffee in after milk. Once I went in at night and requested that the young “I’m here because I’m a hipster in college and I need a part time job” make it that way. No difference. Even the owner who is also an exceptional barista, doesn’t make them the same way.I finally had to admit…I’m a coffee snob. I’m that customer that bugs people. As a bartender I know this…I despise people like me. But if Sri ever felt that way he was gracious about it. Sometimes during my years of work and school when I came in from a night of studying only to go straight to work, Sri would make something extra-probably a shot in the dark with soy milk for all I know, or a larger soy au lait. He would discount these at his own discretion when no one was looking and I had definitly not asked.
Last November I noticed that Sri had not been around for at least two weeks. I asked the new small framed person that Sri had been training where he was, had he taken a vacation? “Oh, he won’t be back for a while he has bells palsy…” Stunner. “What? How…when…what even is that? “His face is paralyzed…he really isn’t doing good’. I had to research this and all its unknown prognosis. Over the months we as a community kept up with Sri, who couldn’t talk and would send handwritten sign messages over his instagram and facebook. He and his partner started a gofundme for his therapy. I sent him a few messages and gave to his cause when I could. It became summer time and by then so many rotations of baristas had come and gone-or so it semed that way. I still supported my favorite small business in town. The tree hugger bars, the zuchini bread. An occasional chocolate cookie. The mixes on my coffee still sucked. I asked once for them to put vanilla syrup in it just to see…”ok..but the soy milk is vanilla…” Still not great. The litte person that had trained with Sri ,who also came the closest in knowing what I was looking for, had left for some reason. I asked about Sri from time to time and finally heard that he would be coming back , taking a few afternoon shifts here and there. Weeks went by but still no signs. I came in a few mornings would see a line, and realize I was running late for work and just leave. I can make coffee at work. The new person at the espresso machine doesn’t know me and the one at the register who I have seen for a month now still asks what size coffee I want. Finally Sri posted on his facebook that he would be back that week. I came in and asked a pair baristas who said yes he had been working the afternoons…but they still had not met him since they worked in the morning. “He has such a following..I mean for real…a lot of fans”. I answered “well yes he is very loved. No offense but it just hasn’t been the same”. “Well-what is it about him, I mean why…”
I could have answered “well he knows what he is doing” but that would be rude and an affront to the whole business. They do know what they are doing, and who can answer that question? Be you a barista, a bartender, the produce guy in a grocery store or the clerk at a bank. It is how you interact with people, because at the end of the day it all about people. It is also how you feel about your craft. There are jobs we have as ladders and there are jobs we have because we love them. Sri reflects all that. “Well..he is just a really sweet personality..he knows everyone and makes people feel good”. They gave me a blank look like that was the most generic answer to a lo of hyper emotions that they had probably already witnessed. They would be right. It was a generic answer. So I finally heard he would be in on a Sunday afternoon. Praise be to God I was off work and got to just go to Church Street for no other reason but to see a friend. He came in and saw me and gave me a big hug. Part of his face still unmoving and his speech a tad slower, but he still looked 99 percent better than his Facebook pictures from the winter, when the muscle/cranial shift had first happened. Yes, his was so extreme there was a cranial shift. He filled me in on the chiropractor/accupuncture/essential oil therapy that had taken months and was still ongoing. Hence the reason for gofundme. Alternative therapies cost and the danger of working with this type of extreme was really high. Fascinating and scary story. I told him about my promotion and of course he knew I had graduated. So he made me my soy au lait and slid it to me with a grin that said “I think you deserve that”. I took a sip as I was walking away and there it was. That “whatever it is” that all of our favorite baristas or bartenders do to our favorite drinks. I’m convinced he puts syrup in it. But at the moment who cares-it was finally right. I turned and nodded to say “yes thats what I was looking for” and he smiled. He told me that he told his partner about me and if I ever have to go into the Starbucks across town that he could make them the same way. (So there is a secret ).
The gofundme page for Sri (w/updates)
And if you are ever in Mountain Brook Alabama, visit Church Street Coffee and Books. Great people!