Just Don’t Call Me Latte For Dinner (wocka wocka wocka!)

I love coffee. So why don’t you marry it, you might ask? I have a ring on layaway and I’m only waiting for the right moment. That’s why.

This week’s love is maybe a tiny bit of a cheat since I make time for coffee every single morning without fail. (see also: I can quit any time I want.) (see also: I don’t have a problem, you have a problem.) But I sometimes go long stretches without visiting a coffee shop, where my local alchemist can transform a hill of beans into black gold.

My history of drinking coffee is actually kind of young, but it was certainly a spectre of my childhood—the smell of it haunting rooms for hours and one timid sip of it haunting my taste buds for two decades. I long held onto a theory that anything said to be an “acquired taste” wasn’t worth the effort. I’ve been proven wrong on a lot of things: black olives, sushi, beer, dark chocolate, bleu cheese, any album by KISS—I acquired a taste for one and all.

Coffee is probably the proud sponsor of Being An Adult; almost any child you meet would rather drink toilet water than down a cup of joe. Although I have seen small groups of kids wander into coffee shops and order themselves lattes, although I’m convinced they were faking the whole time.

Things I was promised coffee would do to me if I drank it as a child: put hair on my chest, make the hair on my head curly, make the hair on my head fall out, stunt my growth, give me a heart murmur, turn my eyes brown. Things I was never told coffee would do for me: make me a better person. And it has–I have written more, ran farther, lifted more, talked longer, and driven faster because of it, and I’m really thankful.

My coffee training wheels were cappuccinos from my local Hardee’s in a time when they were trying to be fancy, I guess. It had a fancy name, a fancy smell, and a fancy amount of sugary powder clotted at the bottom every Styrofoam cup. What wasn’t to love? And I did love it. My Frisco Breakfast Sandwiches (delish, jus trust me) now had a sidekick. Plus, the little kick I got from the half portion of weak “expresso”, as I surely called it, didn’t hurt.

Hardee's cappuccino: straight from the sugar cane plantation to your mouth. Diabetes included at no extra charge.

Hardee’s cappuccino: straight from the sugar cane plantation to your mouth. Diabetes included at no extra charge.

The first time I ever drank straight coffee on purpose was more for business than for pleasure. It was finals week of 2007, probably, and my roommate Steph had brewed up a pot. With eleven hours of intensive reading ahead of me, I accepted her offer to pour one for me. She made a good cup—good enough for me to come back for seconds. This very morning, I came back 42,652nds and I plan to come back for 42,553rds in about fourteen hours.

In the summer of 2008, I found myself gainfully employed as a barista at Cantabria Coffee Company in Bemidji, Minnesota. I really don’t know what qualified me for the position—I had never made of, consumed, or heard of an Americano, a macchiato, a breve, or their many cousins. But I could stand upright, smile, and exchange light banter with customers, so the job as mine.

Portrait of the latte artist as a young man. Not pictured: actual latte art skills. Or any skills.

Portrait of the latte artist as a young man. Not pictured: actual latte art skills. Or any skills.

Truly, I loved that job. It probably has something to do with other things going on in my life at the time, but it was a relaxed period of having a wide circle of fun people to hang out with, a laid back roommate who would watch a lot of Food Network with me (hi, Matthew), a string of challenging roles in some theatre shows, of writing the draft of a comic book that I still haven’t finished. I dated some pretty great girls, had some pretty fine adventures, and felt more present and open than any other stretch of time.

But maybe there’s a correlation to the causation of me drinking more coffee than I ever had before. We got one free specialty drink per shift (the origin story for my love of amaretto lattes) and all the drip coffee we could drink. Which was a lot.

I’ve since learned that a cup of black coffee a day can ward off depression, so I was perhaps onto something. And if one cup wards off depression, five cups must ward off jus about everything else, or so I assumed.

I’ll let you know in a few years if the damage to my cardiovascular system was irreparable. Hurt murmur schmart murmur, am I right?

So yesterday, I took myself out for an amaretto latte. Mom and pop joints will always have my heart, but if there’s no amaretto syrup behind the counter (or at least almond and cherry, which combine to come magically close) I’m outta there.

Caribou it was. If I was stuck on a desert island and forced to bring along one chain of coffee shops, I think it would be them. They’re no Cantabria. But who is, really?

I settled next to their electric fireplace and joyfully slurped my way through a large cup and several chapters of The Art of Neil Gaiman as people around me made joy in their own ways—a young pair of acting students rehearsed a scene (I think they had crushes on each other), a group of older women passed around digital cameras with pictures of baby relatives, a young woman beside me worked on a school project about labor unions. All of us buzzing away like caffeinated little bees.

I loved it. I should do it more often.

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