Students stay energized at Taste of the Tiger Coffee Kiosk

 Where can you find a student-run business that combines customer service, managing payments, inventory control and a perfect hot mocha with extra whip cream? In LaGrande, Oregon, at the Taste of the Tiger coffee shop, transition students and high school students are serving up coffee drinks and more to a loyal clientele – and they are learning valuable business skills along the way.

 

Barista skills—there’s a latte to learn!

“The Taste of the Tiger business has helped a lot of students learn time management and accountability,” said Corey Ackerman, youth transition specialist for the La Grande School District. Ackerman has been the supervisor for the coffee business since 2004.

Students learn more than just making the perfect latte. Working in a coffee shop involves making customers feel welcome, tracking multiple orders at once, and keeping the shop tidy. Students also learn to handle pressure when there are lines of customers ordering through the windows. “Some of our student workers struggled with interacting with others. This job helped them learn to communicate, work with people and follow through on tasks,” said Ackerman.

The student baristas must work as a team during busy times. Often, two students will take orders and payments while the other two make and serve the drinks. Communication and attention to detail are important habits to develop during these times—both can be skills that lead to success at future jobs.

 

Building the coffee culture

Taste of the Tiger has been part of the LaGrande High School culture since it opened in 1996. Launching the coffee shop required support from many partners, including the Youth Transition Program, LGHS special education department and Career and Technical Education (CTE).

At the start, the program was simple. The coffee shop was set up in the school building with one professional espresso machine. Students with disabilities and general education students worked together with staff to learn the coffee shop business: making coffee drinks, keeping the shop stocked up and tidy, taking payment and tracking sales. The barista teams at Taste of the Tiger continue to include high school students from general and special education, along with transition students.

Over the years, Taste of the Tiger grew into an established business with a loyal following of coffee lovers. The menu now includes chai drinks and smoothies.

In 2021 the shop moved off campus into the J House Youth Center, across the street from the high school. The new space allows student baristas to take orders and deliver drinks into the youth center gym and into the breezeway outside.

Taste of the Tiger is open during weekday mornings and lunch hours. It is located on Second Street between J Avenue and K Avenue, across from La Grande High School.