Buzzed on Coffee
A daily caffeine addict’s look back on how it began and led to lavender honey lattes
When did coffee become a part of my identity?
This is my investigation through reflection.
I remember as a 10 year old child grabbing a steaming cup from my mom to get a taste. I took my first sip of the freshly brewed coffee and immediately scrunched my nose in disgust.
Ew! How could you like this? It’s so bitter.
I wanted to know so badly why she loved drinking this dark brown liquid daily. I categorized coffee in my mind as an “adult drink.” It seemed all adults enjoyed it. I thought once my taste buds turn 18, I’ll like it then too! But still it was so bitter I could not imagine liking it.
I am 21 now. I have drunk coffee daily for the past 3 years and weekly for the past 5. But I have realized I drink it now because coffee has become more than just my source of energy boost daily. It has become a part of my identity.
The story of this coffee journey begins in high school when during my sophomore year, I began to study for long hours. I spent an extraordinary amount of time preparing for tests and writing essays. I also did this while balancing all my extracurriculars, which included tennis for 2–3 hours daily, art, piano, and newspaper, among others. All of this is to say that during the weekends, I felt I needed this potent caffeine-infused boost at least once to get through all of my activities.
Remembering the bitterness, I would head to Starbucks to get either a white chocolate mocha in the winter or a matcha green tea frap in the summer. Since this was the year I also learned how to drive myself, it felt like an adventure. The caffeine was very effective too, given that I did not drink it frequently. Coffee began to have a positive association for me, and I looked forward to my weekly grande. I was treating myself!
What kept me from going from weekly to daily in these first few years was one, my lack of disposable income and two, my knowledge that caffeine would not do me any fitness favors. During this time, tennis was extremely important to me, and my diet, including limiting consumption of any caffeine, was crucial. This was a time of Propel, Cliff bars, and dark chocolate. Coffee was not a staple yet.
The Inflection Point
When I entered college in Michigan, I had no intention of drinking coffee daily. I knew my sister and mom drank (and still drink) it for years every day, often 100% black no milk no sugar, but unlike my friends, I got no Keurig or instant coffee pods in preparation. I thought I would save money by only occasionally getting coffee at the local cafes while studying.
Little did I know how much I would be at these coffee shops. I soon fell in love with studying at cafes. My favorites on the Ann Arbor campus my freshman year included The Lab, the cafe inside the Law School, Roasting Plant, and Espresso Royale. I had my favorite spots within them. The busy yet cozy atmosphere was a warm embrace while I bore the cold and strange chaoticness of adjusting to college as an out-of-state student from sunny California.
I would happily spend 15–20 minutes walking in the cold and even snowstorms from my dorm to these coffee shops, as I could never get any work done in my dorm. I began to associate coffee with productivity. At this point, I only drank lattes, mostly hot because of the harsh winters in Michigan. Sometimes I would get creative with sea salt caramel or oatmeal or lavender honey lattes but mostly I stuck to regular lattes with no sugar. For how much I drink, no sugar is absolutely necessary. Also, I guess my adult taste buds really did embrace bitterness.
I was not always a morning coffee person, though. I could go most of the day without it, only to feel like something was missing around 3 or 4 pm if I had not had my daily cup. It was the feeling I would miss, not the taste or the -$5.50 from my bank account. I would miss the excitement of taking my infamous artsy pictures of perfectly poured latte art on creamy milk foam espresso in a porcelain white mug. I remember how satisfied I would feel as I uploaded my fifth picture that week of coffee to my Instagram.
I would look back at all the coffee shops I tried that week. I felt strangely accomplished.
I think I owe my lattes a lot for getting me through college. I can still feel the heat radiating through the cardboard coasters onto my palms wrapped around the to-go cups. It would be a competition with myself — how long could I keep my fingers out in the cold while walking to class before the heat wanes. Side note: I own gloves but rarely use them. Through all the change and confusion, my favorite coffee orders remained the same.
Starting last year, I would more frequently get iced lattes, and even while I watched the snow fall outside, it made me feel like I had a piece of California still with me at my table. My business school has a Starbucks inside, and it became most convenient to grab an iced latte between class and sip on it during class. Honestly, it made me more engaged. I would bring iced lattes to club events, group meetings, and any study spot. Overall, it would just make me more excited to go. I hope you see the pattern now. Coffee = positive :)
The Social Side
Let’s grab coffee.
In college, this side of coffee really came out for me. My freshman fall, I pledged a business fraternity. This meant a lot of 1:1 meetings or what we call “interviews” with brothers to get to know them. It was convenient to meet in cafes to either talk over coffee or have brunch together. And for me, brunch always involved coffee. If it was a diner, I would go with black coffee and add milk myself. Or if it was a fancier brunch place (my favorite in Ann Arbor is Avalon), I would get an iced latte to match my eggs benedict or avocado toast.
Since I would often have more than one 1:1 meeting each day, sometimes my daily cup would escalate to 2 or 3. The only thing that often stopped me from drinking more was the fear of staining my white teeth. And the only thing that stopped me from buying more was just how much lattes cost. I would get jittery after 2 coffees sometimes too, which would worsen my mood.
At this point, I was working part-time jobs and had money saved from internships. I did not want to be spending this money mostly on coffee but even with careful budgeting, that is what ended up happening. This past year, I often ordered a raisin bagel and iced latte for the morning and would get another coffee sometime in the afternoon. The daily total would be at least an over-priced $12. I was not only a Starbucks gold rewards member constantly redeeming her rewards, I went through multiple Espresso Royale punch cards (10 coffees) each semester.
Coffee became the way I caught up with people, made new friends, and got work done in teams. Even the libraries had coffee shops, so late-night studying would involve a more milk-heavy coffee. It became hard to say no.
Having coffee chats also became associated with networking and recruiting. Coffee was not always involved in these events where an interested candidate and full-time employee would talk, usually in a more casual setting than an interview. Still, the phrase speaks to just how much of a staple coffee is in business. For many of us, we are running on little sleep, and companies often provide coffee for free or little cost to employees. We begin to rely on coffee to get through our day. It becomes socially status quo to get coffee together with co-workers and to meet near the spaces where coffee is. At internships, I made getting coffee a part of my routine by myself or with other interns in the morning.
When I was studying abroad or traveling, I greatly enjoyed trying new types of coffee, particularly beans from different regions around the world. When I was in Belgium for example, the coffee tasted different than from Prague or Paris. When I was in New York City, I would attempt to try as many coffee shops as possible. I would pop into multiple cafes during the weekends. It helped in my search to get a sense of a city that felt new to me. I knew I had finally settled into Prague in the short time I was there when I could study in a coffee shop there on my own. It felt like a rite of passage.
Meanwhile, when I go back home to Bay Area in California, I already know I will be getting Philz Mint Mojitos with friends.
What I have realized even from writing this is the magnitude of influence coffee has played in my life. The impact is professional, financial, and deeply personal. I still drink it every day, even in quarantine. I save a lot more money now by making it from instant Starbucks packets, and my mom and I often do pour over coffee together, splitting what we brew.
I do miss the social aspect of coffee and the novelty from trying new drinks and cafes. I hope to one day open my own brunch place and cafe. I have taken a latte art making class and hope to make good coffee more affordable, sustainable, and accessible.
Coffee has brought me smiles, peace, and warmth. Even the scent of coffee, like fresh-baked bread, is powerful enough to envelop my thoughts and bring me into the moment. I have countless vivid memories of it.
I always laughed at the idea of decaf, but it sounds more and more appealing. It might be a few more years before I reach that point of getting decaf, but I do know coffee will remain a huge part of my life and my identity.
So here’s to collecting more mugs that express how a yawn is a silent scream for coffee and exploring more cafes. To coffee being more than a caffeine fix.