Bitter Coffee Can Be Enjoyable

It’s intriguing to think that a casual, public place, such as a coffee shop, can allow deep self-discovery and insight into the world around you. Not everyone can say they’ve had this experience, but I’ve come to find that the coffee shop I regularly study at is my beacon for epiphanies and nostalgia. But what’s so special about the only Starbucks in Laramie, Wyoming? Well, nothing really. It’s not about the place, it’s about what happens inside this place. Since the beginning of college when I had found this tiny cafe, I am almost always there either studying, making art, or reading. My back-road journey begins with fifteen minutes of skateboarding before I arrive at my caffeinated workspace.

The clear glass doors always have some sort of smudges on them. Whether they be from little children smacking their sticky palms against it in attempts to enter through the heavy door to everyone pushing the door open with their oily hands rather than using the door handle, the smudges never cease to exist. Upon opening the glass door, a gust of black forest roast blend and salted caramel waft into my nose. I take a deep breath and inhale the coffee-scented air around me. The smell of bitter, black coffee reminds me of the times back home when I woke up to that same unsweetened fragrance. Halfway downstairs, the pungent combination of bacon and waffles swam around the air, misleading my nose to believe it was at a fancy breakfast restaurant. My father liked his coffee to be viciously bland and I would always ask him why he preferred it that way. He responded with the same typical answer: “Because it’s a reflection of my life.” That dialogue still occurs to this day.

As I reminisce, the gentle sound of conversation fades into my ears and I find myself back in the coffee shop, drifting away from memory lane. Inside the grey-walled cafe, I take four short steps to my usual table. For some reason, sitting at the first table on the left causes me to be the most productive than if I were to sit anywhere else in the building. Sitting down in the polished, wooden chair, I place my heavy backpack on the tiled floor and rest my skateboard against the wall. My taste buds begin to tingle as my eyes frantically scan the menu above the front counter. I examine the mouth-watering photos of various sandwiches and beverages, all portrayed in vibrant colors. My session of self-interrogation commences: What sounds yummy today? I’m not really hungry, but I do have ten dollars so I could treat myself. However, I did treat myself yesterday so maybe don’t spend more than needed. This silent soliloquy is delivered so often in the moment of decision that I should practically have it memorized. God! Why is this so hard? That’s what she said. Okay, focus, just get the same thing you always get. A moment passes as I stare at the menu through squinted eyes, struggling to convince myself to order the item I purchase every single time. It’s cheap. Sold!

The closer my caffeine-deprived self gets to the front counter, the more times I rehearse the line I’ll deliver to place my order. Preparing a request for a beverage is nothing like preparing for a Broadway musical, but I still get “stage fright” when talking to people. Even after knowing exactly what my stomach is yearning for, I pensively look at the menu, pretending that I’m observing all my options. To avoid being awkward, I wait until I see a worker walk my way in my peripheral vision to know when they are ready to give me service. The exchange begins with, “What can I get you?” My eyes glide up to a random item on the menu to give off the impression of looking at my desired drink.

“Can I have a small chai latte?” The worker nods their head and browses the buttons on their Toshiba monitor to place the order.

“That’ll be three eighty-nine.” The worker stares back at me, waiting to receive my dirt-green, paper bills. I grab my tiny orange wallet from my back jean pocket and pluck out the messy roll of one dollar bills. My hands shake slightly out of nervousness that I’m holding up the non-existent line behind me. The soft paper money lightly jitters in between my thumb and pointer finger as I hand it to the cashier. It’s humorous how anxious I get during any face-to-face encounter. It reminds me of the first time my shaky voice and I entered into a poetry slam. Essentially, I was overconfident and then suddenly nervous and froze at the beginning of my poem. Trying to read words on paper when shaking like a leaf is not a simple thing to do. It’s safe to say that was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life.

Practice makes perfect, I think to myself as I grab my hot paper cup and shuffle back to my table. I unpack my sticker-covered laptop and turn it on. On multiple occasions, I’ve received compliments about the array of bizarre stickers – from the cute tan teddy bear with yellow button eyes to the cartoonish neon-green alien in the pink spaceship. Little children love to stare at this art piece I call my computer while adults affirm the spunky aesthetic. I plug my headphones into my laptop and carefully scroll through the songs to find the one I’m dying to hear – Dream A Little Dream of Me by Doris Day. A small draft of air conditioning falls upon me from the ceiling. I look at the stimulated environment around me. Many students are tracing their fingers back and forth along the lines in their textbooks while others are scribbling in their notebooks, their faces pinched in concentration. The dim lighting of the room blends with the natural light of the setting sun, causing everyone’s skin to have a gentle glow. The scene makes me wonder what’s happening in the other customers’ minds. Some might be rapidly spitting out numbers and mentally talking themselves through their math homework. Others are probably peacefully reading or feeling scatterbrained, drafting what they wish to say to their crush or significant other. We can never truly know what someone else is thinking and in a populated environment, such as this coffee shop, it’s common for me to dive into my curiosity by silently analyzing the studious humans. Aside from their internal thoughts, I find myself wondering what kind of person they are. Usually, staring is not polite, so I repeatedly glance at others from across the room and identify how their clothing and study habits define who they are. I occasionally get too caught up in my secret psychoanalysis that it takes me a couple minutes to begin my own homework. Observing the world around me is a regular step in the process of beginning my school work.

I take the first long-waited sip of my latte, expecting a warm, flavorful taste. Instead, I tip the cup back a little too far out of anticipation and a steaming stream of scorching liquid immediately flows to my tongue. I jolt the burning beverage away from my lips and clench my teeth, attempting to recover from the burn as casually as possible. My taste buds feel sparky and my tongue feels like it’s throbbing. I move my tongue along the back of my bottom teeth, hoping my ability to taste will come back soon. The semi-painful feeling reminded me of a phrase my professor told me that is still perfectly locked in my mind: “Pain is either not that bad that you get used to it, or it’s so bad that it kills you.” Whenever I am in physical pain now, that is the first sentence that comes to mind and the pain slowly dissolves out of existence.

I allow some time to pass for the coffee to cool down before cautiously drinking more. The latte is now the perfect temperature and makes for a more heavenly experience. The cinnamon spice flavor satisfies my longing taste buds, so I take one more sip and place the cup gently on the corner of the tiny table. A distant memory walked into my mind of the time when my latte sat in the same position and my laptop screen covered the cup from my view. Enough time passed that I forgot about the coffee and backed my laptop further up the table to make some writing space. Suddenly, a sloshing splat audibly filled the room. I slowly leaned over to see that my beverage had spilled, creating a light brown puddle on the floor. Since then, I have learned from my mistakes and keep my drinks in plain sight at all times.  

It’s interesting how even the most insignificant details and unconscious actions can remind me of memories from my past. These mental cinematic moments allow me to revisit the times when leisure living existed, and I didn’t have to worry about the struggles of being an adult. My study spot lets me revisit cherished recollections but also introduces me to new understandings. Thanks to this small brown building, I realize I want to add a little sugar to my coffee because bitter, tasteless coffee is unsatisfying. Even to this day, I watch my father at the kitchen table, sipping on his unflavored beverage, grimacing at the way it slowly stains his teeth. The sugar bowl lays two feet away from his reach, yet he enjoys his homemade, flavorless coffee just the way it is. I look down at my own home styled coffee, analyzing its light hazel color. Swirls of white creamer and a small pillow of whipped cream swim in the hot liquid. Similarly, it resembles the same color of my chai latte from Starbucks. This coffee shop is the reason I realize that, even with bitter coffee, life can still be delightful.