Photo courtesy Leigha Ellis
Leigha Ellis describes herself as "just your average, nerdy, 25-year-something barista." The Byram native and Terry High School graduate who enjoys watching anime and playing video games has worked for Cups as a barista since June 2019, first in the downtown Jackson location and now for the Fondren location.
On Friday, Sept. 25, Ellis spoke with the Jackson Free Press to discuss her experience as a barista and what Cups offers this fall season.
What led you to apply to Cups in the first place?
When I attended (the University of Mississippi), I actually wanted to be a Starbucks barista on campus. I don't know why I wanted to put myself in the middle of all that madness, but I did. (laughs) But there was never really an opportunity to do it there. When I came home from school, the opportunity opened itself up, and I took it.
What do you enjoy about being a barista?
The actual process of making drinks is pretty cool. I like experimenting with flavors a lot to make different drinks, and I am always trying to work on perfecting (techniques) like steaming my milk or pulling better shots. I mostly get satisfaction out of giving the customers good drinks.
I don't actually know that much about the processes. What goes into making some of these drinks?
There are really a lot of nuances in terms of the types of drinks that you're making while you're on the espresso machine. ... You have different types of shots that you pull for different types of drinks. Even the way you steam your milk for a hot drink makes a difference between a latte and a cappuccino. It's really about honing your technical skills, and that's what I enjoy about being a barista—trying to perfect the craft.
Let's talk about how your work experience has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Mississippi. In terms of your day-to-day procedures, what are some differences between pre-COVID and mid-COVID?
There's a lot more care that goes into how we interact with customers, given that there's a lot of physical contact— with handing out money and drinks and stuff like that. So we definitely keep a lot more hand sanitizer than before. ... Now, a lot of the stuff that the customers take are single-serve or self-serve so that there's not room for communal stuff—like how we used to leave the half-and-half for people to pour into their own drinks. Now we do that behind the counter. There's a lot more consciousness about how we leave things and just how we interact with people.
Tell me about your experiences with both customers who have been cooperative and considerate of new health-related guidelines and with those who have had negative reactions to the guidelines Cups enforces.
We've mostly had understanding reactions to the circumstances going on, especially given rules that we have to follow from the City and most of us doing what we have to do with what's been put in place. We've had mostly positive responses to that, but with all things, you have people who will give a little pushback. We've had very few instances of (negative reactions), but it's still very jarring to see in a situation like that where you're having to ask customers to leave. You know, you don't really want to do that, but you have to also think about other people, and you have to try to do your best to be fair to everyone.
Fall has arrived. What does the autumn season mean for you as a barista?
A lot of fall flavors. I'm excited about the seasonal flavors we get. We got pumpkin (flavoring) in a few weeks ago, so that's here. We're doing snickerdoodle lattes. That also means that soon we'll be getting eggnog. Now, the process of steaming eggnog is not particularly fun, but I do enjoy the flavors of drinks that it makes. We have toasted marshmallow and other fun fall flavors. That's my favorite part of the fall season.
What's your favorite fall-inspired item on the menu?
My favorite would probably be a pumpkin white mocha. You can do it as an iced latte, which is my favorite type of drink. Or, you could do it hot. You could do it as a chai, iced or hot, or you could do it as a prep. It's a really universal flavor. I think that's why I like it.
Is there anything else you would like to mention about your job?
Cups is mostly just a job where you make good drinks and you try to make customers feel good when they come and go, and where you build good relationships with your coworkers. That encompasses my experience with being a Cups barista.
For more information on Cups, visit cupsespressocafe.com.