Sweeten or spice up your life at the Green Bean

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Completed drinks on one of the counters in the Green Bean at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 1, 2022. Anna Beatty/The Occidental

Walking into the Green Bean, customers are greeted by the chatter of students working and talking, the rumble of milk steamers, and music ranging from lo-fi beats to Cardi B. Multi-colored rows of cans and bottles fill the display case and lists of teas and syrups lie on the counter.

According to Occidental’s website, the Green Bean is a “hub for student life” and a “home for the chaos that is caffeine.” Every day, students, staff and community members congregate in the Green Bean to work and socialize, ordering bottled drinks or one of the house-made concoctions from the menu behind the counter. There are countless ways to customize these drinks to each person’s preferences.

Nicole Schwyn (senior), a shift supervisor, said she does a little of everything at the Green Bean – working the cash register, managing the refrigerators’ temperatures and of course, making drinks. She said being a shift supervisor can be overwhelming at times, especially mid-morning, around noon and during what employees call “rushes” – when 25 to 30 people order back-to-back. Schwyn said that although it can be harder to make more complicated drinks during these rushes, she is always interested to see new combinations when they appear on the cups.

Schwyn said adding syrups is the easiest way to change up a drink. She said she loves making the adventurous drinks that people order. While it takes some experimenting, adding a syrup to a drink you already like is a way to ease into trying drinks outside of your comfort zone, Schwyn said.

“If you’re adding a syrup to a drink, I’d go for either lavender or vanilla because they’re some of the most popular flavors and they go well in lots of different drinks, especially teas,” Schwyn said. “A lot of people also ask for caramel – they’ll get a caramel macchiato or add it to a cold brew.”

Schwyn said that when the Green Bean was out of one of their most popular syrups, lavender, for almost two weeks in the middle of October, it gave people an opportunity to try different flavors. She said people often order lavender syrup in tea and that fruit-flavored syrups also pair well with hot or cold teas.

“Green tea with lychee, mango or passion fruit is popular. Even adding some honey to any tea can change things up a bit,” Schwyn said.

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Customers’ drinks in the Green Bean at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 1, 2022. Anna Beatty/The Occidental

Sara Bautista (sophomore) is also a shift supervisor and said even though customers have a wide variety of options to play with their orders, there is some hesitancy to be adventurous among avid coffee drinkers or those who don’t know how to jazz up a classic drink they already love. Bautista said there are many options available at the Green Bean beyond traditional coffee shop beverages and that with a wide variety of products everyone can find something they enjoy.

“[The Green Bean] also has smoothies and two refrigerators, one in front of the counter and one to its right, that are stocked with drinks that don’t need to be made behind the counter if you’re in a rush,” Bautista said. “An underrated thing people do is to pick a La Croix from the fridge and add different syrups to it – there are endless combinations people have made, and it’s a good way to play around with syrups because you can taste more of them in sparkling water than a coffee or tea.”

Ashley Rosas (junior) is a barista at the Green Bean and said she observed that people tend to stick with a single drink once they find their ideal recipe or if they already have a coffee shop favorite. She said she encourages people to experiment with temperature and flavor combinations and to consider ordering a smaller size when trying out a new recipe, to avoid wasting too much if they do not end up liking it.

“People don’t realize they may actually like a drink better if they order it hot instead of iced, and vice versa,” Rosas said. “Don’t be afraid of that long list of syrups! Everyone’s taste is different, so one thing that is considered weird or a drink with clashing flavors, like putting caramel in a hot matcha might just be your new favorite.”

Bautista said a good tactic to widen your Green Bean drink horizon is to ask the barista what their favorite recipes are, especially while a friend is behind the counter, to ease the hesitancy when asking for recommendations. In the back room, there is a wall where employees can post recipes that they like, so there is never a shortage of drink advice from Green Bean baristas, according to Bautista.

“Just asking the people behind the counter what their favorite drinks are can make the ordering process a lot less intimidating. I have a friend who used to not go to the Green Bean because she didn’t know what or how to order, but after taking some of my recommendations, I see her at every one of my shifts,” Bautista said.

According to Bautista, tasting funky flavors is part of the process of exploring new drinks and learning more about different combinations. She said sometimes the drink you order just doesn’t work out, but you can use that information to order something different the next time around, with the help of a barista’s recommendation if it’s not too busy.

“I can’t say any drink is inherently bad – I’ve definitely made some weird ones. One time I was asked to put pumpkin spice and mango in a cold hot chocolate, but [the customer] ended up really liking it,” Bautista said. “Being adventurous at the Green Bean is about the journey of finding something that fits your flavor profile and sometimes challenging your taste buds.”

Contact Anna Beatty at beatty@oxy.edu.