Three weeks ago, I had to take some sort of leadership assessment and working styles survey at work. One of the questions read: “I work best when _____________.” A lot of my coworkers put things like “I work best when I am present,” or “I work best when I can work with others,” etc.
I didn’t realize the oddity of my response until I read it out loud: “I work best when I am working on or have finished my first cup of coffee for the day.”
Perhaps it is less about caffeine and more about association. How a cup in a smooth, ceramic mug reminds me of the first time that I tried it–out of necessity, in my head–my junior year of high school on pitch-black mornings before my Environmental Science class. It was then that I realized it would take years for the hue of my drink to match the early morning sky.
How when I drink it at home, it always has to be with half and half, because that’s how my mom took hers. Even today, when I venture to grab my coffee from an outside vendor, experimenting with Americanos and lattes and black vs. with almond milk, whenever I am inside of my apartment and the brewed aroma starts to snake its way through all 800 square feet, the only logical successor to the blackness in my cup is half and half.
Coffee in styrofoam cups or tall, slender metallic mugs will always be softball to me. I don’t know how many people know this, but when you store styrofoam cups in the pantry above the washing machine for an extended period of time, your coffee will taste faintly of Gain and dewey Saturday mornings. The white linoleum ground is layered with a thin coating of red clay dust.
Iced coffee means best friends. It means orders before the bus left for an away-trip, the beginning of Patriot League play, Brett Eldredge, Boyfriend #2, and bacon-egg-and-cheeses on an onion bagel. It is the transition from french vanilla cream and sugar to hot with cream. Because I don’t really like Inhouse.
Bitter coffee is end-of-semester-have-no-cash coffee. I could never quite put my finger on it, but I think my manager at my college’s coffee shop habitually messed up the coffee-to-water ratio–perhaps she had been taught wrong–and a cup of coffee, no matter how much cream, bit the surface of your tongue, but you accepted it. I would be lying if I said that I had never compared it to battery acid. I would also be lying if I told you I even knew what battery acid tasted like.
The taste of coffee, chocolate, and a Dunkin’ Donuts cup will always be the biting, early October air in Massachusetts. It will always be Alex’s dad, my first Dunkaccino, hoodies, and “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. It will be the orange and pink drive-through I could barely see through the leaning towers of duffel bags and suitcases, knees almost touching my chin. It will be my first East Coast fall.
We don’t have any black or navy blue mugs in the 80’s style white-and-wood cabinetry of our parallel kitchen in the apartment. Those are saved for Dad, in California. I always thought that a black mug kept your coffee hotter, but then again a fresh cup is always hotter than a standing cup. He always had a fresh cup. Black and blue mugs are the sound of typing keys late into the night, a sliver of light leaking into the hallway, and a cold cup brought back to the kitchen when the alarm rang a couple of hours later.
The searing heat of a disposable coffee cup without a sleeve on my right-hand fingers is the half-concealed smirk on my face when I was scolded for giving away free breakfast sandwiches to my friends. It wasn’t my fault the prices were raised.
K-Cups are the home where I first fell in love. They are Nestle Vanilla creamer, whole milk, or black. They are a green lid, a loud, vibrating machine, spilled water on the counter, excited car rides from New Haven’s Union Station, silent car rides to, and a three-hour Greyhound trip. They are every season, but they are especially June of 2012.
Perhaps it is less about caffeine, and more about association.
Photo courtesy of jon700, Flickr Creative Commons.