The specifics of a coffee order are essential: Hot or iced? Sweetened? Flavored? What kind of milk? Which roast would you like? Would you mind waiting for a pour over? Amid overwhelming options and intricate drink menus, we find what works best and we stick with our favorites. It seems simple enough. But when a cup of coffee follows you through life, a simple question seems impossible to answer.
The Flat White with Almond Milk
The flat white I ordered in high school walked with me from class to class. I would substitute what is supposed to be a velvety, bubbly layer of whole milk for airy, flat almond milk doused in vanilla syrup. It tasted like the dog-eared pages of an old library book — more sweet than bitter, with an aftertaste of wooden popsicle sticks dipped in stale espresso. It was the kind of flavor that you’d want to give another chance, knowing it won’t get any better. I would sip on it while watching the snowfall onto a deserted baseball field through the window of my World History classroom, completely zoned out from a pointless debate about heavy metal music. It tasted like drawn-out conversations cured by wired headphones stuck in a loop of Girl in Red and Verzache. It was the epitome of looming midwestern dread and teenage angst better left in the past. Ordering this now would feel like a cruel joke.
The Red Eye
Freshman year of college was all too familiar with the red eye. Each extra shot of espresso carefully poured into my dark roast made up for hours of lost sleep. Tired, hungry eyes would stare back at me in the reflection of the dark liquid. It tasted like premature burnout — notes of blueberry and nutty flavor overwhelmed by scattered thoughts and term papers. But the red eye got me through it. It sat with me in lecture halls, and it stayed up with me in dimly lit libraries. It witnessed class crushes turn into first dates and held my hand steady during heartbreaking conversations. Days-old coffee cups would pile up along the window sill of my dorm room, reminding me of their loyalty. It fared exceptionally well with frigid walks across campus, anxious moods and imminent deadlines. Best accompanied with Mac Miller’s album Circles for slow surges of overwhelming deja-vu. When busy days come around, the redeye may find its way back into my mug again.
The Oat Milk Cappuccino
When the company is cold, the oat milk cappuccino would be a warm hug of consolation. It would ease the deafening silence between a mother and daughter too stubborn to say what they are both thinking. The ceramic mug would reach for taciturn lips, but its generous size required two hands. Mine were far too shaky, and hers were holding each other. The idea of brunch would be stained with amber-colored splotches on the white table cloth. I ordered another one for the road, and this one tasted like forgiveness. To consume the oat milk cappuccino is an act of radical acceptance, bound by no season. Its oaky flavor feels explicitly autumnal, but bleak Februarys insist on its golden aura. When the paper cup burns through my numb fingers, I seek solace in the layered froth to melt away my resentment. In time, I’ll meet the oat milk cappuccino with matured palms, and we will reminisce about how far we’ve come.
The Black Coffee
Between every cafe order is a cup of coffee from home: simple and unadulterated. Grind. Scoop. Press. Load. Drip. Stir. Sip. Bliss. Its mundane method recites lessons of discipline and consistency: Perfect the water ratio, and observe the pour carefully. Black coffee is a spiritual practice. Between sips, its steam rises into whispers of affirmation and, for a second, the chaotic mind is tranquilized. It tastes like regularity and stillness — the stillness of sitting on my back porch swing in the quiet morning air, the regularity of leaning against the host stand right before the evening set at work. A cup to go with peaceful moments becomes habitual. Black coffee reminds me of the people in my life that I trust most. Uncanny resemblances of strength and simplicity draw me in, and I stay for a sense of security. The same security of late-night conversations with an old friend gathered over a final cup. Right before parting ways, the black coffee leaves its scent fastened in the fabric of my clothes, assuring me of its return.
How do I take my coffee? I take it piping hot with nostalgia and stories of a life once lived. It should be bittersweet with regret and hope, infused with peculiar memories and distant dreams. How do you tell a barista to make a drink like that?
MiC Columnist Easheta Shah can be reached at email@example.com.