I came late to the joy of coffee, and the road there had its fallen trees, potholes, and badly signposted detours, but coffee and I have settled into a very happy relationship.
Did you see that I wrote a new short story? You can read The Emperor’s Cat here. Yes, it’s about a cat.
For various reasons, this week has been hard. Actually, it’s currently only Monday, so let me revise that.
Last week was hard.
Don’t ask why. I couldn’t tell you.
But hard weeks make me appreciate the good things in life, and last week made me appreciate coffee.
The pre-coffee days
As an undergraduate at university, I was never a coffee drinker. I can attribute this to several causes.
First, I couldn’t afford to be a coffee drinker. Once I paid for rent, food, electricity, and other unavoidables, I had $1.50 a week to splurge on whatever I liked. That wasn’t a lot of coffee money.
Probably the more important reason was that it never occurred to me that drinking coffee might be a good idea. I worked hard and occasionally fell asleep at my desk, and when I needed a pick-me-up I took a caffeine pill or took a power nap. Coffee was unnecessary.
My first job
My first job was an internship in a team of people who earned considerably more than me. This wasn’t hard considering I earned marginally above the minimum wage.
Three times a day, the team traipsed downstairs to buy cups of coffee for $4 apiece.
Yes, $12 a day on coffee.
Not especially liking coffee, I had no intention of paying that. But I did see the team-building value of “getting coffee”, so three times a day I went downstairs with my team and watched as they bought and drank coffee.
They probably thought I was weird. They were right.
(They probably thought I was more weird for going along at lunchtime and doing the same thing.)
The development of “going for coffee”
I was still an occasional coffee drinker when I arrived at grad school.
There I encountered the idea of a “coffee meeting”. If you wanted to meet with your advisor or another professor, you didn’t go to their office, you went for coffee.
I never tried to figure out if the coffee was obligatory, or if it could also mean “tea” or “hot chocolate”. When you’re getting the precious time of someone that busy, you don’t ask.
The coffee grew on me.
I started going to coffee with fellow grad students. Once a day we would leave the gloom of our cubicles and the artificial glow of our laptops, and sit in the sun, drink coffee, and watch the squirrels and hummingbirds.
Often I arrived in my cube in the dark and left in the dark. Those short coffee breaks were my time for forgetting about work and communing with the sun.
I developed warm fuzzy associations with coffee. It meant sitting with friends and commiserating about how stressed out we were, or appreciating that outside our offices beautiful things still existed, such as flowers, scorching asphalt, and ridiculous statues.
Life after grad school
“Going for coffee” became a daily activity. Work for a few hours, then go for coffee and enjoy engaging conversation and a quick pick-me-up.
The world was in balance and I actually got some practice at talking to people. The staff in the coffee shop learned who we were, and saved us the best table.
Then work stress set in. One coffee a day became two, and on bad days two became three.
I discovered something unfortunate: too much coffee gives me a headache. Not a mild headache that a glass of water and a nurofen can fix, but a nasty, scratchy headache like claws on the inside of my skull that no amount of drugs can dull.
The only solution was to cut back to one coffee a day. I mourned my lost freedom. I drank a lot of tea. Some days I cheated.
Eventually I came to terms.
Coffee deserves respect, and if I forget this the claws inside my skull come back. But, so long as I remember, coffee is a cosy log fire in a cup of frothy milk and cinnamon.
What does coffee mean to you?
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