top of page

Life of the Barista: JaeShawn Moore

I met JaeShawn Moore back in July of ‘23. I remember it vividly.

LOKL Cafe, abuzz with all the activity of a late summer day. A line runs past the end of the pastry case, as long as a Lincoln Town Car. I jump on the end. DJ Tiësto’s song “Hot In It,” all thumping beats and bright minors, issues from the nearby speaker.

I’m a percussionist. (I would later find out, so is he). I can’t resist a beat.

I’m not even caffeinated yet and I’m bouncing, blending into the cafe’s electric atmosphere. A big part of what keeps me coming back.

Between shimmies, I notice the guy behind the counter. He engages in his own dance, not to the music of Dutch DJs but to the Bounce of the Beans, the Call of the Coffee, and not in one place but between the espresso machine and the cash register. He takes orders and dispatches them with aplomb, his eyes dark but deep like two friendly cameras.

I find myself at the front of the line. The song is over. It’s my turn to sing. 

Me and the guy see each other: both tall, longhaired, young at heart and smile-ready, but with a depth that hides just behind the surface, behind the one-way mirror.

I call it a “Bro-nnection.”

"Suuuuh dude,” I initiate in my best Millennial babble. A risk, I know, but my intuition is correct; this man speaks Millennial babble fluently.

“Asuuuh,” he intones, flashing a sideways Peace sign. I reply in kind.

I didn’t know his name, but I knew him.

Quickly, he recapitulates: “What up bro. What can I get you?"

"Yoooo,” I procrastinate, “it's like...HELLA busy right now!"

"I know!" he replies. “I love it!”

He means it. At that moment, we realize that we see the world with similar eyes. 

But enough about me. (When isn't it?)

A few weeks later, our conversation spans the breadth of human experience: from enjoying a Chaggachino (“it tastes like god”) to getting screamed at in the face on two hours of sleep inside a military base (“I kept my cool.”) 

On life’s tougher days, we might think we can’t handle it. But it’s easy to forget that the hardest times make us the people we are, and without them, we’d be even less equipped to roll with the punches of everyday life.

And let’s face it: sometimes the punches outnumber the knuckle-bumps.

Curriculum Vitae

JaeShawn’s work history is fairly clearcut: first, there was the daycare for a bit, then a forgotten second job—très mystérieux, n'est-ce pas?—followed by slinging coffee, not yet at your LOKL Cafe, but at another place in Morristown called Cosí.

Don’t look for it; it’s not there anymore.

But experience never goes out of business. It was at Cosí that JaeShawn realized his more-or-less innate skill at dealing with the subtle charms of caffeine- and calorie-deprived cafe patrons.

At LOKL, a few years later, he was a master at it. Not just from Cosí, but from something else too...

But will we talk about that? And what experiences can he draw from it?

“It’s like there’s a line around the block, figuratively, and these coffees don’t make themselves, ya know?” He tells me about a time he was manning the espresso machine like a wheel tech in an F1 pitstop. He’s frothing milk; out of nowhere, someone appears on the other side of the counter and asks for a spoon.

He’s incredulous. “There are two other people behind the actually next to the spoons, and you’re going to ask me to get it?”

The crowded store, the noise of the machines and the background music, the clatter of dishes and disparate topics as time ticks down towards “too late”....the mind just wants to focus on the task at hand. But a human need arises; a need, not a luxury. 

Just a spoon. 

A spoon. A tool used for eating. Not lawnmowing, right?

He locks eyes with this person, his mind narrowing onto a moment from his past: 

The sun-drenched field bristles with knee-high grass, just down the way from the barracks. 

Recruit Moore’s drill sergeant, dressed in fatigues and sunglasses, stands beside him and a few other new recruits. 

“Moore! What do you cut your grass with?” the man says, his shades only inches from Recruit Moore’s eyes.

“A lawnmower, sir.” 

“At home, maybe. At boot camp, you cut it with this.”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an object and shoves it into Recruit Moore’s hand.

A spoon.

“If you finish before sundown, you can have dinner. If not, you can have breakfast, tomorrow. Now get to work.”

“Get to work.” It echoes in his head like a verdict. Recruit Moore stares out over the tall grass which trembles in the wind, wishing it would take him up with it but only for a moment. This grass isn’t going to cut itself. 

The moment carries on and passes. The field fades away, the grass with it. Recruit Moore is JaeShawn again, the barista, back at LOKL Cafe. Still facing this spoon-deprived soul, he points down the counter and flashes a little grin.

“You can ask Ray over by the pastry case; he’ll get you one.”

“Thanks!” the person says and turns away, their need addressed.

Meanwhile, the milk is frothed. Perfectly.

Remembrances of Things Past

We bond over the charms of independent coffee shops compared to corporate ones. “The people are cuter here,” he confirms. “Most people are so kind.” That’s what he loves most about being a barista.

Corporate stores are a different culture. “In a ‘bucks or a Dunkin, everyone seems so angry and depressed. It’s like smile a little, ya know? I know it’s hard to smile everyday...”

We can all relate to that.

“...I try my best to do that. It goes a long way. It could make someone else’s day, you know?”

Having “made days” myself, and having had my “days made” countless times, I concur wholeheartedly.

“Plus the food here is better,” he amends. “Obviously.” Favorite sandwich? “LOKL in Paris.” Turns out our man JaeShawn is a fig fan. The food of kings. Who isn’t? “It’s scary how good that sandwich is.”

He’s also a fan of a busy store but likes a little downtime too. I ask JaeShawn what coffee means to him, as a barista. The question is too broad, but there is one non-coffee drink that comes to mind.

“This hot tea. It’s got a weird-ass name, Big Hibiscus. Once it starts to cool down, to turn to a really dark purple, more of the flavor comes out. It’s just really good.”

Coffee keeps us going through the rush of the day, but tea has a reflective quality—down, quiet, like a calm cafe—that Proustian confluence of memory with the light but piquant moment.

At least that’s what comes to my pretentious mind. I repeat my question about meaning, expanding the scope to include both the leaf and the bean.

“Tea, I can definitely associate. Like six years ago.”

This is going to be good...!

2017 or thereabouts. Before his first job. Before his time in the military. JaeShawn and his Uncle Joseph. Two men in an apartment. Neither could cook. “My grandmother cooked, but she was away. And we were both basically broke.”

JaeShawn and Joseph got takeout once a day. It was beautiful when it happened, at 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 in the evening.

So how did you make it that long without food?

“I’d drink tea. It filled my stomach.”

Several teas a day. Chamomile or peppermint; mostly peppermint. Little bit of sugar. 

“I had peppermint tea for a whole week. And you know what? It was actually pretty good. I felt great. It was weird, it was like fasting.”

But I bet that food tasted good when it came.

“It did. We tried our best. We did our thing. We ordered Domino’s twice that week.” The things we remember.

I’d say they did very well. It wouldn’t be his last brush with hunger. But would this experience serve him later in life? 

“Later? Like at work?” Anytime.

He pauses; looks into the Zoom camera, through it.

The field of wet grass lies prostrate under a cloudy sky. Recruit Moore stands up from his last set of burpees, two days without sleep or food, knees and chest soaked through, spooncut grass stuck to his hands. The drill instructor walks down the line of bleary-eyed recruits, his yelling voice echoing like a car horn.

“I don’t care how tired you are. I don’t care how hungry you are. I don’t care, so you don’t care.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” He says it in unison with his comrades, but Recruit Moore barely hears himself over the scream of his empty stomach. 

In the respite from his toil, he glugs a slug from the water jug. It’s as cold as the air and just as wet. Recruit Moore’s neighbor hands him the cigarette pack.

He does not say thank you; he is not permitted. He lights up, his seventh of the day. Anything to fill the void. He watches the torch match burn down to his fingers, smells the sulfur commingled with menthol. It would be his turn again soon.

The smoke warms his throat before the water freezes it, another guzzle of something for his insides. It’s not peppermint tea, but ya gotta make do. Recruit Moore already knew that.

Water and smoke. Better than nothing. Time for more burpees.

Dues: Paid. Future: Being Made.

JaeShawn is also an avid musician, playing multiple instruments including guitar, keyboards, and percussion. He sees a future for himself as a chiropractor. What drives that pursuit?

“I just love cracking bones.” 

There’s more to it. This man who brings coffee and light—same thing—into people’s lives, who does what he has to do with a smile, is driven by something. I’m about to find out what, but he volunteers it.

“It's also like, I have back pain. Everyone has back pain. Why not relieve it for them? I could actually help someone walk again, and it’ll allow me to provide for my future family. So why not give it a go?”

Chiropractic takes a good amount of schooling, I remind him. He admits to certain procrastinatory proclivities, but still commits: “I know I can do it.”

Considering his trials, the attempts on his patience and persistence, and also just in his tone of voice through the phone, I know he can too.

We end the call soon after. Ever since then when I see him, it is like the first time. Bros on the level, a feeling anyone can feel. Like old friends with a secret joke that no one else gets, the joke of having lived and struggled, yet made it through, and the rest of life is spent laughing.

Story: Mark Ludas

Photos: Peter Stog for LOKL cafe


bottom of page