From Tea Bag to Coffee Factory – The Story of a Teenager’s Caffeinated Paradise

It was hot.

Steamy. And smelled … oh … that glorious sensory tingling smell. The type that conjured up images of Smurfs and Care Bears.

At five years old, I drank tea. And five-year olds have no concept of the term “clear.” I preferred mine with cream. Lots of cream. And one lump or two? Oh, no. Sugar me quadrupedal me sweet. I tossed enough cubes to raise the liquid one centimetre.

Then, I moved onto coffee. On weekends, my mom would hand me my Strawberry Shortcake Thermos and I’d “help” my dad in the barn. Looking forward to coffee time, when I’d shake my little Thermos – stirring up the four teaspoons of sugar and quarter cup of cream.

However, before school, I didn’t have Captain Crunch and coffee. No, coffee was special at the time. Like that snifter of wine at family reunions.

In 1995, I went to university. In 1995, I dropped out of university. But I didn’t stay stagnant for long. Because my uncle offered me the job of a lifetime.

Working in a coffee factory. Folding boxes. For $10 an hour. In a coffee factory. It was like offering a chocolate lover a job at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

I passed the interview, and I became a bonafide caffeinated Oompa Loompa. Waking at 6 a.m. to work at Willy Wonka’s … I mean the Melrose Coffee Company, formerly on the corner of Waverley Street and Scurfield Boulevard in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

My daily outfit was a smashing blue smock, maroon and moss-coloured suede steel-toe boots, and a sexy hair net and ear buds. Swimming in the aroma of Starbuck‘s, I’d fold and load boxes onto six conveyor belts. The boxes floated towards an overhead dispenser, where they were filled with bags of coffee – dropped by angels playing harps.

Again, this was 1995. Working at $10 an hour for 40 hours a week? At 19, I’d won the lottery. While others invested in MTS and Nortel, my money went into Mariposa, Suzy Shier, and Hangers – the store, not actual hangers. Although, I did purchase more.

Then, the ultimate. I worked in the flavour room. Think of all of your senses maxing out. That’s the flavour room. It smelled of intense espresso and dark chocolate with a hint of amaretto. The room ran one-line. I’d stack boxes and zone out. Yes, the job was tedious. But it didn’t matter. I had my own bachelor suite and semi-grown up responsibilities. Such as paying bills and singing in bars.

Since I was the youngest at the factory – and I reminded people of Betty White‘s character, Rose, from Golden Girls – two women quickly took me under their wing. We’d stay after work and have coffee – my third or fourth cup of the day. The girls would setup opportunities for me to talk to my crush. They consoled me when he dated someone else. I viewed them as my work sisters. I wish I had a photo of the three of us, because we resembled each other.

As a seasonal worker, I was laid off every Christmas. Not before the presents though! A massive 10lb box of flavoured coffee. Peppermint, Amaretto, Egg Nog, Hazelnut, Irish Cream.

And technically, they were the Kraft Melrose Coffee Company. As an employee, I could order Kraft products. At cost! Kraft Peanut Butter – the large containers. Boxes and boxes of semi-sweet Baker’s chocolate. For my mom, of course, for Christmas baking. The important thing is she received the (majority) of the boxes unopened.

When I was recalled, it was for the night shift. Getting to work wouldn’t be an issue. But, at the time, the buses didn’t run after 11 p.m. Without a car, I invested in a mountain bike, helmet, and handlebar mirror. Plus a red blinky reflector light to clip onto my backpack.

Monday to Friday, I’d navigated through 3 p.m. Waverley Street traffic. If day shift was awesome, night shift was a blast. No supervisors. While we accomplished our work – I mean, those boxes didn’t exactly fold themselves – the night shift was a calmer atmosphere. More relaxing and chill. No strict coffee or dinner breaks. Three or four machines ran on the night shift compared to nine or ten during the day. To some extent, it was quieter.

I was the only girl on the night shift. And the guys quickly learned I wasn’t like Rose from Golden Girls. One even punched me in the arm and said, “You’re just like one of the guys.” I wasn’t sure how to take that at first.

Back then, no one was on Waverley Street after 11 p.m. It was peaceful. Add some rain, and it was perfect. Minus the time I jumped onto the bike lane, and I didn’t pull the handlebars high enough. I tumbled onto the cement. Pride, injured. A stranger even stopped his car to ensure I was alright.

Sadly, I was taken off the night shift. Happily, I returned to the day shift. But about eight months later, I was laid off again. And my recall came when I was in Arborg during a blizzard. Needless to say, I plummeted to the bottom of the callback list.

Melrose no longer exists. But I still think about my former co-workers and our shenanigans. The only memento I have is my little black box cutter.

At five years old, I was drinking tea. Today, I’ll order coffee when it’s plus 30 degrees. I admit, I drink half-caf. A “tall, non-fat, decaf latte” is my standard since I have to limit my caffeine intake.

I’ve dwindled from six legit cups to three semi-imposters.

Isn’t that ironic.

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