This week, I was pouring my morning coffee and received a text from a friend from college – Jen. We texted back and forth a bit and then after a while, I messaged her a photo of my coffee cup and maker with, It’s nice that we can still have a nice chat over coffee.
Jen’s house was where everyone gathered in college. It was like what’s-his-face’s loft on Felicity. Her house was right off campus, within walking distance of all our classes, and the perfect size for guests. At some point, everyone in our circle was hanging out there or living there. I quasi-lived with Jen. I was a couch surfer for the most part. Not because I didn’t have a place, I was just too lazy to return to it at the end of the evening. It was easier to crash out and then head home the next morning to shower. Jen always woke me up with a cup of coffee.
I teach undergraduates and I see them walk around with their water bottles and Monster energy drinks. One day a student walked into my class and cracked open what looked like a 40 oz tall boy Red Bull. We have a Starbucks downstairs, but most of them walk away with frothy frappuccinos and other iced beverages.
My brain tells me that everyone drank coffee “back in my day” but that wasn’t the case. It’s just how I like to remember it. And I feel – as I did then – like the non-coffee drinkers – even though they might have less stained teeth– are missing a sense of community.
I’m old, which means I can recall a time before Starbucks normalized candy beverages with caffeine. I actually enjoy the taste of coffee. Good coffee. Fresh coffee. I own oversized-sized mugs like on Friends in my cabinet because who doesn’t want a bowl of their favorite drink? I like the phrase, “Let’s meet for coffee.” I once worked as a barista and learned how to make different styles of drinks. I study fancy coffee machines on the websites of bougie kitchen stores like Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma. I own an espresso maker, a French press, a pour-over, and even once owned a Chemex but broke it because I am not made to own fragile things.
Jen’s house had a Bunn coffee maker. This style is usually located in old-school offices. The water is always hot – stored in a boiler. When you are ready to make a pot, you pour cold water in. This pushed the hot water out and you have a fresh pot of coffee almost immediately. Jen’s parents gave her their old one when they upgraded. We gathered around this coffeemaker in the mornings either bleary-eyed from studying or -- more often than not -- hungover. We drank it like a magic elixir, as fulfilling and satisfying as midnight Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
When I couch-surfed at Slone’s, she dug out a maker that an aunt had given her for Christmas that she never used. It was my first experience with a Mill and Brew. You placed fresh water and fresh whole beans into the hopper. The beans were ground and then brewed. It was the freshest coffee I’d ever tasted and I was in love. Slone didn’t love it because you had to clean the grounds from the blades. Some mornings, she would just say, “Let’s go out for coffee.” and that would mean Jen’s house.
And while the coffee woke us up – it was caffeine after all – I think our communion over it had more to do with being homesick and needing to gather around something that reminded us of the familiar.
I grew up drinking Maxwell House in my childhood home. The big blue can was a staple in our house. We had a programmable “space saver” maker that was bolted into a cabinet so you could store items underneath. We would wake in the morning to the smell of coffee drifting through the house. And if we didn’t, it was because someone forgot to program it the night before. This responsibility ended up becoming mine because I got sick of my mother asking me to do it all the time.
“Why should I be the one who has to do it?” I’d whine in my most teenage voice.
“Because you are just so good at it,” she’d always say. At that point, she realized the carrot worked far better with me than the stick.
In the morning, we’d all make our mugs and sit in the living room watching whatever my mother turned on before getting ready. My much younger sister would eventually emerge from her room in her pajamas to open-eyed snooze on the couch. It was often the calmest part of our days – before anyone could stir up any drama.
So when I was away from home for the first time, whether consciously or subconsciously, I looked for those nostalgic creature comforts. When Jen and I first met my sophomore year – before she rented the house that became our headquarters – she was relieved to hear that I wanted to meet her for coffee as opposed to pizza or Sun Drop. Many of our ilk would turn down coffee but insist upon Dr. Peppers instead. She took me to her dorm, poured me a cup of coffee, and handed me a gallon-sized Tupperware container full of sugar and a plastic spoon to make it how I liked it. Then she handed me her photo album and walked me through who everyone was in the photos. The next time we hung out, she said, “I can’t believe you sat there while I forced my photos on you. Weren’t you just bored to death?” But I wasn’t. She needed to share with me. I was happy to listen. She also had coffee.
The coffee was a catalyst for openness. It’s this warm, comforting elixir that we held close to our hearts while we sipped. It made it possible for us to consider that our plans and ambitions were possible. It helped us vocalize our ideas and problem-solve. It created a safe space to exchange and share. And it was possible because it reminded us of a home that we would never admit aloud that we missed.
In my home now, W. is in charge of making the coffee. I didn’t have to cajole him – he wanted the responsibility. At 9 pm on the dot, he walks down and pours the beans into the hopper. Every morning I wake to the whirr of the beans grinding. I smile knowing it’s there waiting on me. Often W. and I meet in the studio with our drinks to not talk. Comfortable silence. He reads his phone. I eat my yogurt. We are content together in a safe space of non-obligatory engagement.
Read Books. Wear Boots