A Long & Weird History Of How Coffee Has Flowed Through Each Era Of My Life
Today I feel like each section of my mind is a continent unto itself, the only thing connecting my fragments is the ocean of my forward movement. I feel like I’m living in the space between the pre-set stations of an old car radio.
August was a rough month.
Our car gave out, and were it not for our amazing West Coast family, it would have died a sad and expensive death. Our rabbit was inexplicably on his deathbed, too, causing many of my oft-mentioned hot yoga tears. And my grandma, who lives in Florida, was having serious health problems of her own—and she was holed up in the hospital for weeks while the hurricanes raged on.
So of course, my husband and I decided to quit coffee.
The withdrawal and our bodies’ bitterness about not having it lasted about a week. Day three was all migraines, and day four was pure anger. I was so mad at everything, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it was coffee desperation.
Now, a couple of months later, I can gladly say that I have coffee about once (or twice) a week, and it’s always as a treat. I’m reclaiming my celebration of the drink, rather than abusing it and then blaming the poor innocent coffee for my mistakes.
So today, since I indulged in a lovely black iced coffee, I thought I’d poke around my own history with coffee and share my story with you. It’s filled with many (caffeine) highs and lows, and you’ll see that I went to some very strange lengths to get my warm little cup of sunshine.
Let’s start off with this tidbit - an amazing epigraph about coffee from the 17th century, that I discovered while doing a high school research paper on—you guessed it—coffee.
That Grave and Wholesome Liquor,
That heals the stomach, makes the genius quicker,
Relieves the Memory, revives the Sad,
And cheers the Spirits, without making Mad.
My first cup of coffee was while I was playing SimTunes on the computer in my brothers’ room. I think my parents had just gotten a coffee maker and my dad was chatting with me while sipping his cuppa. I jokingly tried to drink his coffee (I was a Mountain Dew kid because I knew it had the most caffeine. I was a caffeine kid.)
He surprised me by letting me take a sip. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, and I knew that coffee was an adult drink of sorts. I tasted it, and it wasn’t half bad. He then made me my own tiny cup and we had to add heaps of sugar before I could really drink it all.
The next experience I had with coffee was my first latte. I was with my mom at a Christian bookstore to see a band perform and browse the hottest new Christian books, and she helped me order a zebra mocha at the cafe. She didn’t believe I had actually half-enjoyed the first coffee I had tasted, so she wasn’t surprised when I hated the mocha. Then she tasted it.
Turns out, it was dreadfully burnt, quite possibly tampered with—it tasted like a milky pool full of cigarette butts.
Those were my first two experiences with that grave & wholesome liquor, and I decided coffee probably wasn’t for me.
This girl had been drinking coffee with her parents since she was 8—we were 15 at this point. l imagined her as a child, sitting with a newspaper and adult-sized mug talking about stocks and the weather. So when she made me a cup one morning at her house, I felt entirely unprepared to handle her mature drink.
Drinking coffee at her parent’s home became one of the most meaningful rituals of my teenage years.
I had my favorite mug, my favorite Coffee Mate creamer. When I get homesick to this day, I often get homesick for her kitchen, for watching rain fall outside those beautiful windows after an early morning cross country practice, watching as she prepared my coffee with just the perfect amount of creamer. Talking about boys and about kittens and never once using a serious voice.
And I tried, so hard, to bring that coffee with me to college. She went off to a different college than I did, so I lost those weekly coffee dates. I got a mini coffee maker, bought the same creamer and the same coffee, and even got a tall, skinny mug like the one I would drink from at her house (it was a failure—the lip wasn’t nearly thin enough). Nothing ever compared.
It’s funny—even when I went to visit her and she would brew cheaper-than-Folgers coffee and we’d use cheaper-than-Coffee Mate creamer (because college), it was always the most delicious cup of coffee I ever had. She’s magical.
That first year of college, my relationship with coffee changed. I started drinking it as an “intellectual” and brewed it late into the night to fuel my collegiate reading and writing. I sipped the brown bean juice while gazing out of windows and wearing scarves and glasses. It showed up in almost every poem I wrote, and I felt like the first person who had ever written about coffee.
Coffee helped me become a poet.
It was there for me when I dropped out of my apparel design class on the first day and switched to creative writing. It was there for me when I missed the drop date of my interior design class, but had at least realized enough to know it was time to get serious about creative writing.
I camped out at coffee shops because that's what writers did, I tried desperately to enjoy black coffee because that's what writers drank.
I became obsessed with Tuesdays, of all things, because of coffee—their trudging, climbing pace, their penchant towards cloudiness and poetic drama. It was the perfect day for moody window-gazing and sitting by streams, watching dried leaf-boats set sail.
I got a tiny espresso maker to reaffirm my dedication, and even though my homemade drinks were truly terrible, I fell in love with the idea of being a barista. One of my first Pinterest boards was dedicated to all the recipes and furniture I would have in my someday coffee shop. I started a blog (er, I wrote a single post) about my future coffee shop.
I found myself making coffee for my new friends, creating a community around it. Sad? I’ll make coffee. Happy? I’ll make coffee! Hungover? I’ll make coffee and you can throw it up later.
I even volunteered at The Pourhouse Café, a coffeeshop that donates all of its tips to different nonprofit organizations each month. All I got in return was a 15% discount and a free coffee each 4-hour shift. I didn't care—I loved learning how to make the coffee, and loved my Café Miels even more (a vanilla latte with honey drizzled in the cup before adding espresso + milk, and then on top of the foam). Every Friday for at least a semester, I trekked a few blocks off campus to help make coffee for my fellow Hoosiers, and then trudged back through the snow to my on-campus office, latte in hand and feeling pretty damn good about myself. Free coffee!
And then coffee became a utility.
I started getting more involved on campus, through internships and the student programming board. I started to venture into the business school to get my minor, and I needed lots of coffee for those long database assignments. Hah, coffee helped fuel my love for well-organized spreadsheets, too.
I hardly ever entered campus without a travel mug filled with that brown liquid gold (and in the fall, my homemade pumpkin spice simple syrup.) I left travel mugs to become petri dishes in my office over breaks. I drank coffee that had been sitting in the carafe for far too many days, and I drank it instead of breakfast. And lunch. Not the right way to lose the freshman 15, kids. I was so depressed and fatigued all the time. The answer was always more coffee.
I went into an all-out shutdown my senior year of college. Coffee, spaghetti with marinara sauce, cottage cheese and alcoholic beverages were my dietary staples. Yikes. I got better by the time I graduated.
Then there were the cave days.
In my first job out of college, my coworkers didn’t like the fluorescent lights in the office we shared, so they worked by the light coming in through the windows and their computer screens. Only trouble was, I worked in the desk farthest from the windows so most days were just a battle to stay awake.
I drank the coffee that came from one of those ancient, giant machines you see at the mechanics while you're waiting for an oil change. Just thinking about it makes me gag. I got really into french press coffee around this time, and would savor good coffee when I got ahold of it like it was my first breath of oxygen.
Then there were the Keurig days.
My next job had an industrial-sized Keurig. We had unlimited access to it, and I fell in love despite the insane wastefulness of it all. There were these half-gross mocha K-Cups that filled my coffee cup to the very brim and I had to regulate myself to one a day because they’d make my stomach feel awful. If I opted for plain coffee, I’d sometimes use the Coffee Mate creamers that were set out on the cupboard until the day that I realized how gross it was that they were just sitting there, unrefrigerated and very, very artificial.
That was after I squirted a pump into my cup and saw ants swimming in it.
Then, I started to realize that no one ever cleaned the Keurig. I’d run it three or so times without a K-Cup in it before the water didn’t come out brown and filled with old coffee grounds and residue from the machine.
The world was working against my love of coffee, and I’m only now realizing how much gross coffee shit I’ve experienced. But still I soldier on.
Then there was the lonely coffee days.
This section of the story takes a hard left turn, so hold on tight.
We got rid of our coffee maker before we moved to Los Angeles because it wasn’t worth the space it took up in our car. We tried to hold out without one, but finally got a tiny 5-cup coffee maker a couple months in and got really into black coffee.
I worked from home, so most days I’d send my husband off to work and pour a cup to drink alone as I started my days. I didn’t have any lovely morning rituals or habits that helped me ease into the day—I just started plugging away at work and chugging away at my coffee.
TMI alert—it’s no surprise that coffee makes people poop, but it would come upon me immediately once my husband left for work. Even after a single sip. The coffee would totally wreck me for the rest of the day (especially on days I didn’t eat a good breakfast), and I just figured that’s what being an adult was supposed to be like. Lots of poop.
Fast forward to a weekend, when I would have multiple cups and never have the same, uh, toilet situation, as I did during the weekdays. My sister-in-law pointed out something that hit closest to the truth: coffee wasn’t entirely at fault, for the first time ever. I had been going through some pretty bleak mental health doldrums at the time, and she asked me if I thought it might be anxiety over being alone all day.
I had the lonely poops, even on days I didn't drink coffee.
It improved since I started yoga, then got better when I started working in an office every day, and now I can say that I feel much more normal ever since coffee became a treat instead of a utility.
The caffeine kid is still alive and well, though, since I’ve discovered a love for Earl Grey and Yerba Mate. I actually found myself craving Earl Grey instead of coffee one day and had to take a moment to question who I even was.
I think we’ve all had our own emotional journey with coffee, and I encourage you to think about yours. It’s kind of a fun little exploration. And if you, like me, think it’s time to take a step or two back from your daily joe, let me know and I can hold your internet hand while you deal with the withdrawal.
Wishing you the warmest sleepytime tea & the coziest of blankets for your beauty sleep tonight, my lovely friend.