the worst barista
in the world

83 Rivington
APRIL 16, 2013

 

KEYWORDS: FIRST THING'S FIRST / YOU'RE WAITING ON THE WORST

 

He's been called The Worst Barista in the World. “I can make a latte backwards,” he tells me proudly after twiddling with his phone, some espresso machine nobs, and then his phone some more.

“Starting with the foam?” I ask.

“Yes. Backwards. You have to start with foam and then reverse it to a liquid state. It’s not pretty. Here's your americano.”

Even though I've only been waiting for maybe two minutes, it has felt like hours. I sip, and taste something that is probably hot water and lemon, which I promptly eject in the style of the comedic spit-take.

The people waiting in line behind me laugh, and eventually I'm laughing as well. “How did you do that?” I ask. “I was watching you the whole time.” But the Worst Barista in the World is back to staring at his phone. You might mistake him for an ordinary barista, were it not for all the applause and cheers.

When you first walk into the coffee shop you think that you might be in the wrong place. His demeanor doesn't suggest anything close to the sheer anarchy that's about to unfold. He stays stonefaced and bored, almost a Buster Keaton, more like a cigar-store Indian. How does he stay in character?

“I'm not sure, but I can tell you it doesn't work when I'm enjoying the performance. I have to imagine that I'm someone else who wants to be doing something else. It's never the same person twice, and I think that's because The Worst Barista in the World isn't one person—he’s within all of us.”

But more specifically, the Worst Barista in the World is Clint Causey, an actor who has created this bizarre antihero of café culture. His acting credentials are dubious at best: you might remember him as the Narcoleptic Kleptomaniac from an unaired episode of Law and Order, but now he’s opened a pop-up coffee shop in various locations throughout Manhattan. A coffee shop called The Worst Barista in the World. Admission is a cup of coffee that you are guaranteed not to be able to drink.

“I've tried coming up with other names, but since I’m the only one working there, it’s better just to say, “Hi. This is what you’re here for. The guaranteed worst coffee service anywhere. I have mangled the orders of authors, directors, and diplomats. I have kept a woman waiting two hours for a single espresso shot. I have filled a milk-foaming machine with marshmallow fluff, and regret only that I had to put out the ensuing fire, because it was so beautiful, and it smelled so nice.”

Causey’s greatest admirers are the coffee-geek set, who describe him as an innovator, an experimenter, but first and foremost, an artist. “I ordered a cortado, and he just started falling down,” Meghan Zimmerling of coffeeblog Coffee? Coffee! told me. “I couldn't stop laughing. He seemed so earnest about wanting to get it right, and no matter what he did, he would trip and stumble over something. At one point all of the bags of coffee fell on him. It was masterful.”

But not everyone feels so warmly towards Causey.

“We have banned him from all our shops as a preventative measure,” a representative of Cafe Finické told me. “We will not sell him any of our signature blends. We believe this is a dangerous man.”

“I'm not undangerous,” said Causey, “But most people are amused. This is theatre, I think almost everybody understands that. I mean, sure, sometimes I’ll get someone who didn’t read the sign and just wants a regular cup of joe.”

Does he comply?

“NO,” he tells me emphatically. “If I make even one good cup of a coffee, someone might give me a recommendation. Or they might come back. And then what would I do?”

It is a strange dilemma: Causey’s success depends on his own utter and dire failure. And yet the espressos we sip now are better than the ones that I will walk over mile for. It is brutally unfair, I tell him.

"Yes, but if I were a good barista, no one would notice.”

The character came to him the way so many ideas come to us: while waiting for coffee.

“Standing in line, waiting for my latte, I just began to have the most demonic thoughts about people around me. And I found myself wondering, who is the Worst Barista in the World? Who is setting the standard? And then I realized: I could be him. I was auditioning for Yorick in a version of Hamlet set in Williamsburg, and I realized: Shakespeare is full of clowns. Coffee shops are full of Shakespearean tragedy.”

Indeed.

Next: A. Pontious
does the Bacondance

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