I love coffee, but I cannot drink it. This has been the case since my doctor issued the verdict last month – no coffee and no milk. I was quite disappointed to hear that as I love coffee, but I was determined to follow expert medical advice. That conviction, however, did not last more than one week into a new semester with a full course load. After three days of experiencing the overworked, sleep deprived college life, my determination began to waver, and I gave in. so I had a cup of coffee.
It was decaf and whitened with soymilk. It was bitter, it needed a lot of sugar to be sweet enough for my taste, and it left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth long after the cup was finished. And yet, I kept drinking it. Several times a week, I would drink a bitter cup of decaf coffee which I did not enjoy and which was not even effective as a stimulant. With every cup I told myself that I would stop. I questioned the logic of drinking something I did not like, but the logic was not strong enough. So, I kept going for the coffee because for me, coffee means something more.
It started when I was a small child, drinking a sip from my father’s coffee thermos which he would take every day to work. And from that first sip, I was hooked. Well, perhaps not quite hooked, since the next time I tasted it was several years later, and I did not enjoy it at all, but still, looking back, I see that first coffee encounter as a positive introduction to a drink that I would later come to enjoy.
I didn’t just enjoy coffee. It wasn’t just a drink. For me, coffee was comfort. Coffee was the warmth of a steaming brew in a disposable cup that I sipped in high school on those mornings when I really did not want to be in school. And a year later, in seminary overseas, coffee came to mean even more.
It’s not just that in Israel you can find the most delicious cappuccinos and lattes. It was the comfort of connecting with something familiar from home during those first few homesick months. And over the year, coffee came to mean friendship, the warmth of conversation and times shared with friends from different countries and states, on so many occasions, in various cafés around the country.
Even in Israel, despite the excellent quality of all things milk based, it wasn’t just the taste that made the coffee. As much as I loved my mochas and lattes, some of the best coffee I had was that shared with my principal, late at night in her apartment, which was always instant and usually decaf.
After completing the academic year and returning home, coffee was a tangible connection to Israel. It brought me back to so many places I had been, and while it induced longing to be back in the Holy Land, whenever I drank a really good cup, the way they make it in Israel, in some small way, I felt like I was back there.
Back home, post seminary, I continued to form positive associations with my special drink. As in Israel, coffee meant friendship and good times shared with my local friends who I had missed when I was abroad. And so, I kept drinking coffee.
When I started college, my coffee intake really soared. I needed the caffeine for energy on all those early mornings and late nights, and the sweetness was great company during all those hours I spent locked up in a room with nothing but my laptop and a stack of books. And of course, over coffee, I continued to make new friends and nurture old friendships.
But now I am told I mustn’t drink coffee. And so I don’t drink the real thing. I avoid the caffeine, I avoid the milk, but I can’t avoid the memories. The struggle to relent and have a coffee, compromised though it may be sans caffeine and milk, is still so very strong, and I often give in. And so I keep drinking bitter, decaffeinated coffee, illogical as it may be, because the associations I have with the drink are so very positive. Despite my best reasoning, I keep drinking something whose taste I don’t enjoy, and whose effect I have defeated by using the form without caffeine. Because to me, coffee is not just a drink. For me, coffee is comfort.
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