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By Stephen Carpenter

I have always been fascinated with alchemists. 

The part-scientist, part-magic, alchemists of the ancient times challenged preconceived ideas of natural and philosophical knowledge and sought to establish the rules of how the world worked. 

They then broke those rules on purpose.

These rulebreakers attempted to purify, mature, and perfect certain materials, to transmute common materials into extravagant ones, and possibly create an elixir of immortality. The scientific method eventually turned alchemists into scientists. I believe there is one job that is the modern day equivalent:

A barista. 

A barista is transmuting the mundane into the magical. Taking the seeds that were picked by fellow laborers thousands of miles away, using the true name magic of time, temperature, turbulence, ratio, and grind size to make the elixir of life.

They break the rules of coffee on purpose to create art.

Baristas are part-bartender, part-customer service agent, part- community organizer, and still take time in the evening to make sure they don’t leave dishes for the morning crew. 

The problem is, these bean wizards are easily taken advantage of. 

They are hired with the promise of learning this caffeinated magic, which will, in turn, give them a viable career in the coffee industry. Bosses stress that they look for coffee experience, but really look for business management knowledge. They hide the fact that there are only a few good coffee jobs that you can earn a living wage with. 

Baristas are told  the company is working on diversity, inclusivity, and accountability. Yet workers get chastised in public for giving out the bathroom code to a houseless person, aren’t allowed to speak up when a customer says racist comments, and get written up for being on their phone when trying to find a babysitter when the first canceled. 

Baristas are frequently left alone to run stores without managers, (or the common curse, “Where is the A-S-M”) and when it comes time for raises, suddenly the shop doesn’t have the budget for it. 

Baristas turn the coffee shop, the third space, into a Sanctum Santorum. Corporate says everyone should feel welcome, included, and part of a community. But, the third space for the customer is the second space for the barista. They are required to be there. Nothing bonds people together more than shared struggle, and every cafe worker will share stories of lines out the door, rude customers, and the dreaded “clopen” shifts

Luckily, coffee professionals have a secret dark magic, whispered in back rooms and before the “Open” sign is lit. One that stops even the coldest-owner/boss/disruptor’s heart. A phrase that breaks the bosses’s rules…


The part-scientist, part-magic alchemist of the ancient times challenged preconceived ideas of natural and philosophical knowledge and sought to establish the rules of how the world worked. 

The part-scientist, part-magic barista of the modern world challenges preconceived ideas of how coffee shops operate in this late-stage capitalist society and seek to break the rules to better the conditions of their fellow coffee professionals. 

How often have we read or watched fantasy stories where one wizard becomes more powerful when others channel their power through them? 

At the time of this writing, over eighty Starbucks locations have filled for union election. Never has there been a cafe worker movement to this scale. Never has there been so many modern day alchemists channeling their power together. 

These workers are transmuting the mundane drudgery of work into the magically radical by building workplace relationships in their cafes. Unionizing is the most powerful magic spell that combines the individual powers of workers into a collective force. 

Make magic happen, alchemists of the third space!