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Meet Emily Clune, Iowa City’s High Ground Coffee Barista

Name: Emily Clune 

Age: 20

Major: Nursing

Favorite part about Iowa: Attending a big school and being involved in Greek Life

Meet my roommate and High Ground Coffee’s fave barista Emily Clune! Emily is a sophomore nursing major at the University of Iowa. She loves the Big 10 atmosphere and enjoys being involved in her sorority, Tri Delta, and Greek Life at Iowa as a whole. When she isn’t going to class, hanging out with friends or binge watching Parks and Recreation, she is whipping up coffee at one of Iowa City’s coffee hot spots: High Ground Coffee. Ever wonder what it’s like being a barista? Check out Emily’s insight below!

What is your typical day at High Ground Coffee?

My typical day at High Ground is that I get to work, clock in, then jump right into business.The main jobs that I switch off sporadically throughout my eight hour shift are either working the register, making tea or coffee at the coffee bar (the machine that makes espresso and foams milk), making sandwiches. In between all that, I’ll be collecting and washing dishes, sweeping, wiping down tables, cleaning counters, taking out trash, refilling milk containers or to-go lids or napkin holders, etc. At the end of my shift, I collect my tips and clock out!

What is your favorite part about working at a coffee shop?

My favorite thing about working at a coffee shop is the smell of coffee! I love coffee, and it’s ironic—even though I’m allowed to make myself a drink (of coffee, like a latte or whatever I like) while I’m on the clock, I tend not to drink it while I work to keep myself from getting too jittery. Also, there are some regular customers that come into the café every single day without fail, more often than not ordering their “usual,” and one of my favorite regulars is this little elderly man named Bill. He somehow always knows the exact total of his purchase before I ring him up (like he’ll say “$3.65,” then I’ll punch in his order, and low and behold, his total is $3.65). He always orders a 12 oz. decaf iced coffee and an espresso shot. Sometimes he sings songs from musicals to me, and he always has a book, like Huckleberry Finn for example, in hand to read for the few hours that he just sits at the same table and drinks his coffee. He’s just a little sweetheart. One more super tiny feature that I like about where I work is that for people who want to drink their coffee or whatever in the café are given a porcelain mug instead of a paper to-go cup, which not only helps the environment by reducing waste, but also gives a more “homey” feel to the café.  

What is your least favorite part about working at a coffee shop?

My least favorite thing about my job is how long the shifts are; I’m on my feet for eight hours straight, cleaning or making drinks and only snag a quick two-minute break to sit on the stairs in the back kitchen when there aren’t any customers. I’m always dead exhausted after work.

Did you have prior knowledge in coffee before getting the job at High Ground? If not, how did you learn all of the different types of coffee and how to make them?

I had no prior experience of working in a coffee shop, or any kind of food retail for that matter, before working at High Ground. I’ll admit I was nervous at first to try and make coffee drinks like a latte or a macchiato, out of fear of making a customer just a bad drink. It was easy to learn how to make just regular coffee or do pour-overs (just a slower but more flavorful method of making an individual coffee using a wetted coffee filter, putting ground coffee on top of the filter and pouring hot water over the grounds, which then drips down into the coffee cup below). Over time, my coffee making skills with espresso based drinks where I’d have to make a shot of espresso and foam milk were sharpened, and I’m getting better at making cool designs in the drinks.  

What is the vibe at High Ground?

The High Ground “vibe” is definitely laid back. It’s a chill place for people to come and socialize or study. There are a few things that I feel contribute to this vibe: 

  1. Us employees do not have a specific uniform—we can wear whatever clothes we want, as long as they are appropriate and that we wear closed-toed shoes, as we work with very hot drinks and don’t want anyone spilling boiling hot water or milk on their feet.  
  2. There’s a cool fireplace in the middle of the café with a big comfy couch next to it.
  3. I feel that all of the employees, including myself, are very sociable and genuinely enjoy talking to our customers, and the customers respond really well to them being able to comfortably have a nice conversation with us, whether it be polite and brief or more lengthy and in-depth. We have good relationships with many of our customers, which is why we have so many regulars come back every day for their favorite food or drink.  

What is your least favorite drink to make?

My least favorite drink to make is a latte, because even though it is delicious, it takes a while to pull the individual shot and steam the individual cup of milk for that one drink. When there are multiple latte orders in a row, it can be stressful to make the same individual drink over and over again, as I can only do it one at a time.

What is your favorite coffee drink?

My favorite drink is called a café miel (pronounced mee-el). It is a latte made with honey and cinnamon, and those flavors harmonizing together with the richness coffee flavor is simply delicious

Best coffee spot in Iowa City (besides High Ground!)?

Another coffee spot that I really like is Java House. They make a mean hot chocolate and have a similar down-to-earth and laid back vibe as High Ground. The only thing about Java House is that because it is more popular, it can be hard to find an available table to sit at and study or hangout.  

Next time you go to High Ground Coffee for your caffine kick, watch out for Emily whippin’ up your drink!

Alyssa Pozen

U Iowa '19

Editor-in-Chief for U Iowa Her Campus. Senior at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and earning a certificate in Entrepreneurial Management. Obsessed with meme culture, entrepreneurial podcasts and the Real Housewives franchise.
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