Food files: Caffeinated accounts of an occasional coffee drinker

An assortment of filled coffee cups of various coffee blends
Graphic by Erin Slichter

Among the many questions my dad asks me each time I come home, there’s one that doesn’t feel like a drill on my life choices.

“Can I make you some coffee?”

It comes early on my first morning at home, and the answer is always: “Yes.”

That first sip, half coffee, half warm milk in a Fiestaware mug, is what really brings me home. It’s usually followed by a second question from my dad — “How is it?” — to which the answer is always: “Great.”

Coffee has been a presence in my family for as long as I can remember. My dad religiously buys Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend and brews himself a pot of it every morning. He makes a point of asking for coffee orders whenever we have family over and keeps decaf in stock in case caffeine isn’t their thing.

I remember drinking my first cup of coffee one weekday morning in middle school, thinking to myself: This is it. I’m a grown-up. I’m in.

To me, coffee is for curling up on the couch with the Sunday comics and waking up early to finish an essay in middle school. Coffee is hospitality. Coffee is a hug from the inside-out. Coffee is family. Coffee is home.

For a while, that was all coffee was to me. But then came high school. Then came Coffee Awareness. It was a time to scrutinize the quality of coffee. Coffee Awareness meant trips to Starbucks and all the things it had to offer my unaccustomed Peet’s palate: cappuccinos, frappuccinos, this-and-that-uccinos.

Caffeine suddenly became a necessity. Sporadic study sessions at coffee shops were social events. 

It was a new world, and I was not prepared for it. I once drank three large cups of black coffee at breakfast before a seven-hour car ride I spent alternately writing an English essay that hadn’t been assigned and trying to stop myself from shaking.

I’ve learned from my mistakes, and now I usually go for a latte or an Americano with plenty of room for cream — that is, if I get coffee at all. There are late nights here and there and the occasional cup on the way to class. But on the whole, I drink less coffee in college than I did in high school.

It seems to me that coffee is less of a “thing” now; caffeine culture has shifted from coffee to tea. We go to T & Joy to do work on the weekends. We meet friends at Milk & Honey for a study break. 

We sit down to a bowl of soul at The Motley. Although “Friends” and its infamous café, Central Perk, is experiencing a renaissance, sharing some joe with your own friends is not.

Coffee has receded from the social sphere into a more solitary role. Coffee is a grab-and-go before class. Coffee is a late night on the sixth floor of the library. Coffee is a GO Cube, a chewable block in plastic packaging.

Although Gen Z is drinking less coffee than previous generations, mainstream coffee options on campus suggest that coffee still has a place here: Peet’s is served at Frank Dining Hall, Frary Dining Hall, The Hub and the Sagehen Café, and Starbucks is available at Malott Dining Commons, Jay’s Place and The Café at Harvey Mudd College.

Now, in the midst of tea-oriented social life, a solitary cup of coffee is a chance for me to return to myself — a rare, nostalgic treat best accompanied by self-reflection.

Erin Slichter PO ’21 is TSL’s food columnist. She’s an international relations major who spends the time she’s not reading political theory riding her bicycle, reviewing Russian verbs and baking sourdough bread.

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