Tea barista Tina Wilkens adds spice to the job


Submitted photo

Tina WIlkens showcases a ready-made cup of Sencha tea.

Routine tasks and long hours aren’t usually a recipe for enjoyment, but all can be forgotten with the presence of a fellow co-worker. Senior Tina Wilkens, who works at the Sencha Tea Ball in the Mall of America, has found ways to transform monotony into adventure in the one and a half years she has been working. 

“My co-workers are very fun, and they make the job worth it. But there are lots of moments of dullness, especially during the week, a lot of times in the fall and spring,” Wilkens said. 

Many times, Wilkens finds herself sitting behind the counter, doing cleaning tasks, and occasionally eating behind the bar. Though co-workers provide much-needed entertainment, customers can also be such a source. On the job, Wilkens finds herself bemused at some orders and the people behind them. 

“There was the caramel-mango shake, which is one of the worst things I’ve had,” Wilkens said.  

And there’s also the people who I guess just don’t know how to order or don’t know what things are—we get lots of Aloi jelly, I got an Aioli jello once [instead of Aloe].”

— Tina Wilkens

Her most memorable customers are those that stumble on pronouncing orders, or who simply have odd tastes. 

“Someone ordered a loose leaf tea—a ginger-lime rooibos—and then put caramel in it,” Wilkens said. 

Many foreign foods, like quinoa, are met with difficulty to English-speakers. Teas, Wilkens observed, apparently have similar struggles. 

“And there’s also the people who I guess just don’t know how to order or don’t know what things are—we get lots of Aloi jelly, I got an Aioli jello once [instead of Aloe]. People will have any way to pronounce Tapioca pearls: Topeka pearls, tropical pearls, literally anything else.”

While behind the bar, Wilkens observed Sencha’s role in a busy mall environment and its shopper’s varied needs. She was surprised, however, that these needs included grossly overpriced avocados. 

“Someone once came in and said, ‘Can I get a whole for four dollars?’ And on our menu, we have avocados, and under avocados, it says ‘whole for four dollars and a half for two dollars,’ and someone just wanted a whole for four dollars. I did get permission from my boss to sell a whole avocado sealed in a cup for four dollars if they ask me.”

Despite the usually nice crowd of shoppers, the mall can also be home violent characters. In a mix of horror and comedy, Wilkens recalled the moment she learned that a man had thrown a 5-year-old boy off a third-floor balcony. 

“I was actually there the day it happened [the baby dropping]. I didn’t hear a whole lot about it, but when my boss told me and I was like ‘oh my god,’ but honestly it’s not surprising.”

Some of those threatening characters even manage to find their way inside Sencha. 

“We have a few people who come in, who have been banned from other malls but haven’t been banned from the Mall of America. One guy, who actually said something about taking a gun into the Mall.”

Ultimately, the pepperings of outrageous orders and events highlight the quirks of working in a mall setting.  

“It’s not like working in a regular store, it’s just a different environment,” Wilkens said.