Bartenders & Baristas: Russ Kaskalla at Xtreme Bean

By Wynter Holden

Barista Russ Kaskalla is your average 23-year-old college student. He switches majors like coffee flavors, doesn’t like to think about the future, and enjoys getting blitzed after a hard day. Most days, you can either find him decorating lattes and working the drive-thru window at Tempe’s Xtreme Bean Coffee Company where he’s been for the past two years, or playing a show downtown with his indie psychadelic rock band, TrEmUlaNtS. He’s not sure what he wants to be when he grows up (phlebotomist, rock star, coffee shop owner or recording engineer are all possibilities), but for someone his age, that’s okay. Now, when he turns 30, we’ll have to talk. Again.

Chow Bella: How long have you been a barista? Russ Kaskalla: Two years, in December. Before that, I served people pancakes and mashed potatoes at Mimi's Cafe in Ahwatukee.

CB: What would you like to do in the future? RK: In ten years, I’d like to be owner of something, make my own schedule. I think it’d be fun to have a cool co-op slash coffee shop with an organic garden in the back.

CB: What’s your non-alcoholic drink of choice? RK: I’m addicted to coffee. Americanos have always been my vice, but the flavors change. Lately it’s been honey and cinnamon, or today, nutmeg. I try to just stick to one four-shot iced Americano a day.

CB: And your favorite drink to make? RK: It’s fun to put the chocolate on the latte cups, or do latte art. I’m not one of the best, but some of the people here can pull leaves or hearts or stars, so the design shows in the froth. I did a leaf earlier today. It was cool…it just takes practice.

CB: Tell us something good that happened to you recently. RK: I have a crappy ’89 Accord, and sometimes it doesn’t start. A few weeks ago, I went grocery shopping and it died, and I was just sitting there staring at the dash and the small mileage odometer had my ATM Pin code on it. So I went a bought a scratcher and won $50. I really needed the cash, too.

CB: Cool. Will you give us your ATM pin code? RK: Yeah...

It’s 1-2-3-4.

CB: I don’t suppose you’ve seen any nudity at the coffee shop, have you? RK: Well, actually…not complete nudity, but I’ve seen two people on the wall over there by the dumpster with their hands all over each other.

CB: Are there any other crazy antics going on around here? RK: One of our old coworkers here, Benji, he once chased after a guy who walked up and stole the tip jar from the drive-thru window. He caught up with the guy and I think he actually got the money back from out of the guy’s hands. We used to have a really cool pumpkin head for our tip jar, so if you guys know where that pumpkin head is, we’ll give you a cup of coffee if you return it, just for being honest.

CB: What about you? Have you been involved in any scandals? RK: I can tell you how I got fired from my old job. It was Thanksgiving, and the whole restaurant was completely booked for the whole day. Turkey dinners or whatever. It was a long, strenuous day and I worked a double – actually, I was working doubles all week – so I was really burnt out.

One of the things I do when I’m really burnt out is get drunk. So I went and had a big jug of sangria, you know, with the glass handle. I got really drunk and I was supposed to be back the next day at 11, but I was throwing up red wine outside my parents’ car at 3 in the morning, so I didn’t make it to work. I got fired.

CB: You got fired for missing one day? RK: Well, I was fashionably late a lot. But I’m a really good worker, when I’m there!