I drink black coffee and therefore, I am a badass. It suggests that I have places to go, people to see and don’t have the time to fuss around with milk. It gives off the (vital) impression that I have my shit together.
My equilibrium is set at a healthy level of caffeination at which I can then proceed to be a functional member of society. Which I am.
In my defense, I grew up next door to a coffee shop. Philz, a chain that sprouted within a grocery store in San Francisco, spread throughout the Bay Area and landed just across the street from me. In fact, it’s so close that my home Wi-Fi reaches the outside seating with a strong signal.
The Philz aesthetic can best be described as “grungy granola.” The baristas are inked and pierced, questionable indie rock plays overhead, and the pastries are, of course, gluten-free. Back then I was into the doctored-up stuff, ordering my coffee sweet and creamy to hide the bitterness it inherently assumes. My friends and I hung out there after school and tried to study, but mostly just talked and dreamed of our futures. Philz was my fictional escape, my version of Central Perk or Luke’s Diner, the coffee shop where my splendid, teenage shenanigans ensued.
There I submitted my college essays and had interviews for schools I didn’t get into. I eavesdropped on some disastrous Match.com dates, which I vigorously transcribed and will later develop into a comedy series called “How Not to Date.” A boy asked me to the school dance with a coffee and a note that said, “It would Phil(z) me up with joy if you went to prom with me.”
There was also the matter of the cute barista. He wore tiny black gauges that my parents would have hated and listened to The Growlers, a “psychedelic rock” band that I pretended to like because he did. His Instagram almost exclusively featured his (illegal) graffiti art, and on his breaks he would sit with me and tell me about his sleepless night of artistic inspiration. I thought he was dreamy. He was dark and twisty in all the right ways, so we flirted and he gave me free drinks.
I’ve recorded those afternoons at Philz into perfect memories — the sunny California weather, the young people, the coffee. To be fair, the weather was perfect because the state was experiencing its worst drought in decades, but I didn’t care, because I was 16 and in my sweet, creamy bubble.
By the end of high school, I was having my coffee with a splash of cream and a teaspoon of sugar. I’d had my first taste of loss, failure and rejection. I’d also learned to steer clear of guys that are into psychedelic rock.
My freshman year at the University of Michigan came and went with all-nighters and morning classes. Naturally, my body craved the strong stuff. The endless reel of college life left no room for extras and so my equilibrium had to adjust. My year was fast, exhilarating and always caffeinated.
When I returned home for the summer, Philz seemed, at first, just as I’d left it (except for the curious disappearance of the cute barista). Lines of decaffeinated civilians wrapped around the door and the smell of roasting beans wafted through my bedroom window at 5:30 in the morning.
A year older and somewhat wiser, I returned to Philz and ordered a coffee that my freshman year of pseudo-adulting had inspired: no cream, no sugar.
It hit the spot, but this summer, spending time at Philz felt out of place. Sunny afternoons paralyzed me like unwelcomed memories from the past, ones that I couldn’t ever re-live, nor did I want to. I’m still young and naïve — I know — but I’ve also made a place for myself in a world that is bigger than what it was a year ago. I’m 19 and impatient. I want life go faster, to discover everything faster. Going backward feels so unnatural.
Maybe black coffee is just a placebo, an attempt to convince myself that I can handle the bitterness that real life is laced with. Because, as much as I don’t want to admit it, things have changed. The friends that I spent afternoons drinking coffee with, the ones I thought would be mine forever, have drifted into different directions. The fantasies I created from across the street of the house I grew up in — of internships I’d have and men I’d meet and places I’d live — seem less and less realistic. At least for right now. College has turned me into a bit more of a realist, less likely to fall into the traps of the romantic storylines I’d concoct in the safety of the little shop a minute away from home.
Maybe it’s OK to grow out of things and grow into new things and try to forget that some things happened all together.
I’m a little less sweet now and don’t need as much cream to dilute reality. But, as previously mentioned, I’m also kind of a badass. So I can take it.