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When Work Stress Is a Unicorn Frappuccino: How a Drink Nearly Broke Baristas

That smiling barista who remembers your name and tops your daily latte with a cream heart may be steaming – and we’re not talking milk here.
unicorn
MadKruben/Getty Images

As the recent fervor over Starbucks’ limited-time Unicorn Frappuccino showed, being a barista can be stressful – apparently, really stressful – even when the drink-of-the-hour is supposed to be magical.

Braden Burson, a Starbucks barista in Colorado, posted a video rant on Twitter, begging people not to order the drink if they love baristas. Fueled by Instagram posts and celebrity commentary – Stephen Colbert described the color as “tumor” – lines formed at front counters and in drive-thrus, while baristas could barely keep up with orders for the drink, which they say is complicated to make in a hurry.

“I have never been so stressed out in my entire life!” Burson says in the video, which has been deleted from Twitter but posted on YouTube.

The frenzy over Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino highlights how workplace stress is no myth for baristas.Click To Tweet

One barista posted about the unicorn “aftermath” on Reddit: “I just got off a 6:45-3 shift and I swear if anyone says ‘unicorn’ around me I’m gonna snap.”

That barista said every second car in the drive-thru was asking for the Unicorn Frappuccino, and the phones were ringing all day with callers in search of the drink. When the store sold out by 11:30 a.m., baristas were bombarded with expletives by upset customers.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Granted, this was not a normal work day. While creating publicity and cult followings for special drinks like the pumpkin spice latte is old hat for Starbucks, the Unicorn Frappuccino chaos was unprecedented – dare we say, rare. Baristas can take comfort in knowing that this type of stress, acute stress, is situational and fleeting. It’s the kind of stress that’s only around for a little while. (The drink was only available April 19th through the 23rd, while supplies lasted.)

Even if it’s temporary, anyone who’s worked in food service knows that being the target of a customer’s wrath can absolutely ruin your day. On top of being on your feet all shift, food service jobs have their drawbacks. Low pay and exhausting hours contribute to food service jobs ranking on Health.com‘s list of 10 careers with high rates of depression.

Some people are not so sympathetic, however. On social media, they’ve called out the Starbucks baristas for griping about sticky fingers from the pink-and-blue, flavor-changing drinks, saying there are far worse jobs out there. But coffee shop regulars might empathize more – baristas must possess various skills such as the ability to work under pressure and be “on” all the time. If you think you can take orders in a headset, remember the drink’s complicated details, customize the drink to particular customer’s desires, craft the drinks with precision, count change back, and do it with a smile as you hand over that no-whip skinny caramel macchiato, under really tight deadlines, then a barista position could be for you.

So keep these things in mind the next time you see a barista: taking your coffee with a double shot of patience might make a barista’s stressful job a little more magical.

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What’s the most stressful job you’ve ever held? We want to hear from you! Tell us your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.


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