I love coffee. I also had to let go of coffee.
In my angsty youth, coffee was everything. Walking into a warm room, that acidic, oily smell in the air, and because of the era during which I most drank the stuff, usually some couches around and hints of peppermint or vanilla floating into my senses, too. I loved my peppermint mochas and vanilla lattes, okay?
Opposite of the open-mic or bookstore corner coffeeshop culture, I would also sit for hours with my friends in back booths at Big Boy or Denny’s, nursing the free coffee refills and talking, studying, laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe.
My oldest friend Jessica and I would sometimes meet for breakfast, and I’d pour extra sugar and cream into my cup while we caught up.
As soon as I graduated from high school, I got a job at Full City Cafe. There, Mandi trained me how to pull a shot of espresso and how to not scald milk or curdle drinks with fruity syrups in them. And, told me I could have as many coffee drinks as I liked. I fell madly in love with one of our regulars, who one day came in wearing a sweater with a reindeer knitted on the front. I loved him anyway. Silently.
With a little experience under my belt, I moved on to Water Street Coffee Joint – the ‘cool’ coffee shop. When I picked up my application the barista working tipped me off that the owner would be in after 6, so I took it back around 6:30. He was at the espresso machine when I arrived, and said “hold on,” as I was about to leave. We sat together for few minutes and talked. He said “huh, well, if you lasted eight months at Full City, you must have a good work ethic,” and hired me on the spot.
I fell in love with him, too. Just not quite as silently.
I continued on this way (the working in coffee shops, not the falling in love with coffee shop people) after I moved to California, working at Caffe Cardinale in Carmel, then becoming the first-ever designated barista at the first-ever designated coffee bar at Roy’s in the Spanish Bay Resort.
In my non-working time, I spent hours…and hours…and hours at Wildflower Cafe in Pacific Grove. Wildflower was an old Victorian house converted into a cafe, with the walls still up to create little spaces in which to sit, read, sip, listen, chat, write, laugh and weep. I could ignore people there; I could make friends there. I was home when I was there, just as those dark, warm cafes from my early teen years had felt like home, too.
Then, I traveled to Australia. I tried to pick up bits of money here and there wherever I could, and one afternoon a coffee shop owner in the small town where I had landed was short-staffed, so he let me jump behind the machine. By then I made the best foam anywhere around: I was famous for my foam. But the accents and the orders threw me – what was an ‘all white’?! – and I caused more confusion and irritation among the customers and staff than if they’d been minus one worker. I never tried that again.
A funny thing happened in Australia, though. Aside from that proper coffee shop, I only found one other good cup of coffee (at a stop suggested by the history professor who picked me up while hitchhiking. Very nice man). Otherwise, the coffee was terrible. Powdered, instant stuff that tasted like watery dirt. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the tea-drinking culture; I was planning to spend a minimum of three months there, after all. When I returned to the states, I found that coffee made me crazy; I couldn’t handle it anymore.
It’s been 20 years since then, and I still drink tea. When I try to drink coffee, it makes me all cracked out for a few minutes, and then I crash – hard. It’s not a pleasant experience for anyone involved. I sometimes forget how super into coffee I was.
Until I walk into a dark, warm coffee shop and I remember that smell. And I remember what home feels like.