Opinion: Student baristas are the heart of Iowa City

With so many UI students dependent on coffee to make it throughout the day, those who deliver the caffeine should be held in high regard.


Raquele Decker

The Java House is seen on August 30, 2019.

Becca Bright, Columnist

I live in coffee shops. They’re the setting for most of my day-to-day life. Iowa City is filled with them. You’ll find them within two blocks of one another. Even so, each business, whether it be a chain or local, thrives on its own. Each café has its own character and taste. Each also has its own team of baristas, most of whom are students attending the University of Iowa.

As I write this, I am sipping on a latte made by a friend and former classmate. There is a quality to student baristas that make them the heart of Iowa City. Coffee drinker or not, there’s still nearly a dozen cafés that exist within several blocks of each other that host students. They work hard to support themselves, but also to support an essential economy within a college town.

UI students and Iowa City residents alike gather in these niches to study, go on dates, have job interviews, or simply enjoy something to drink or eat in a comfortable space. These spaces are largely run by students who brew, cook, and keep them comfortable.

Anna Kain is one of these baristas. She’s a fourth-year UI student and has been working at the High Ground Café for almost two years. She also has experience working in other coffee shops. Anna described to me the encounters she’s had while working at High Ground.

“I really enjoy getting to talk to people that I otherwise would never speak to or even meet. It’s genuine,” Kain said.

They use their job to support their community. In turn, the community befriends them and is more linked to social culture of Iowa City.

Coffee shops such as High Ground are also places to network — especially for the writing and creative groups within the UI. Many host monthly poetry slams, stand-up comedy shows, and live music performances. Several of these are organized or promoted by student baristas such as Kain.

“So many people are involved in different events and local businesses,” she said. “People often come in and tell me about what they’re doing, what’s happening around town. I do feel more involved in the community, and I don’t think I’d feel the same way if I wasn’t a barista.”

Baristas attending the UI are able to connect with other community members in ways that benefit UI programs as well as local creators. They use their job to support their community. In turn, the community befriends them and is more linked to social culture of Iowa City.

There’s a particular spirit of friendship had between baristas and customers that helps give Iowa City a sense of home for students and locals alike. Speaking for myself, I have several barista friends who’ve helped provide spaces to share my writing and photography — with a wink and a free drink here and there.

This value of genuine connection and network given by our student baristas should be appreciated as often as possible. We should give them the recognition they deserve every day we enjoy the product they craft for us.

Savor the conversations, and the artisanal work coffee and tea can have. Remind yourself of the efforts they put in that benefit our UI and Iowa City communities. Say “thank you.” Feed that tip jar until it’s full.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.