Hey, loves. I just wanted to share an essay I wrote last Spring about coffee shops, and their significance in my life. I hope you enjoy this kind of long post. I hope you can either relate with your special place being coffee shops as well or maybe somewhere else completely. Anyway, here’s “Home is Wherever I’m With You, Coffee”.
In a joking manner, I say, “There’s a fair chance I may just run away to Italy, open a cafe on the Amalfi Coast, and no one will hear from me again.” Although we laugh at the idea of abandoning all responsibilities and take a sip of our coffees, a hint of truth lingers. We talk about life, funny stories, and our friends while the espresso machine and chatter of others fill the background. The hours pass, and our drinks have sat empty on the table for a while, but we make no move to leave or order anything else. Instead, we sit, enthralled in our conversation about nothing. Even though we are not doing homework, being productive, or active, we are happy. We are happy because of each other’s presence, the coffee, the subtle buzz, and the atmosphere of the cafe. You may ask where are we? What is the name? Do they make pastries? When are they open? And the answer is we could be anywhere. The only prerequisite is coffee.
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The characteristic wind slams against me as I fight to the door of a small coffee shop in Livingston, Montana. This tiny place known as Coffee Crossing which boasts on their website “Livingston’s favorite cup of coffee…” is a favorite of everyone from middle schoolers ordering their sickly sweet marble mochas after school to adults grabbing the cheap, dark drip coffee to start the morning. The door sticks a little as I turn the handle, but with some force, it slowly opens up, welcoming me in with a subtle jingle from the bell hung on the door. The first sensation that hits is the warmth, a stark contrast from the gusts outside that leave my face a bright crimson and my hair a massive knot. The homey scent of coffee comes next. The bitter and sweet notes mingle in the air, creating an easily recognizable smell associated with long conversations with friends and relaxation. The barista calls out a sweet hello which is almost lost among the chattering of high schoolers and the sound of milk being steamed. After a short wait, I take my place at a small, square, cold, metal table and wrap my hands around the cup holding my coffee in an attempt to recover from the weather outside. A single sip brings heat back into my mind, the sharp taste embracing all my taste buds while simultaneously causing my brain to release dopamine, the chemical that controls pleasure in the brain (Mandal). I bask in the glow of my drink and the atmosphere until the door jingles, and a friend I have not seen in months enters. Greetings and hugs ensue, and we talk until the sun sets and are ultimately forced to depart.
Over five thousand miles away on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, I find myself in a cafe, my legs exhausted and begging for a rest after a long trek on cobblestone streets from a nearby town. The layout is simple. The majority of tables and chairs are placed outside to provide customers with a view of the blue waters and an optimal opportunity to people watch. Inside stands a simple counter with a cash register, a pastry case, and everything needed to craft the perfect cappuccino. I sit at an outdoor table looking out towards the Mediterranean Sea while my dad, the one to blame for my love of coffee, orders our cappuccinos inside at the counter. I am engulfed by the crashing of the waves, voices speaking a colorful and flowing language I do not understand, and the distinct steaming of milk. The sun warms me from the outside while the espresso drink warms me internally. Again comes the delicious bitterness and the dopamine. We sit for a couple hours, people watching and relaxing.
Even further away from my hometown, over seven thousand miles this time, the streets of Ho Chi Minh City bustle with seemingly billions of motor bikes that each hold anywhere from one to five precariously seated people. The honking and noise of traffic are inescapable. There is no silence in a city of eight million. We treacherously cross the street, praying to not be hit the entire time, and duck into a small cafe. Miniature plastic chairs and tables similar to the ones one might find in a preschool fill the tiny 10’ by 10’ box. A surge of confidence arises when I successfully order my iced coffee or “cà phê sữa đá” in Vietnamese without the help of my mom. While I wait, I continue to revel in the independence glow. Ordering my own coffee, something I love, on my own in a different language is a pivotal moment. I think to myself, “If I can navigate a different language, culture, and country semi-independently, I can handle college.”Although the sound is simply more unintelligible conversations and horns honking, there is an undeniable feeling of familiarity. The taste of coffee only confirms the inkling, and despite being far far away from Livingston, I am home.
Scientifically speaking, coffee has been proven to improve moods. A study from Andrew Smith, Rachel Clark, and John Gallagher, showed that coffee, especially when combined with eating breakfast versus not eating breakfast improved working memory, attention, mood, and cardiovascular function (1). A lot of research exists detailing all of the effects of coffee, and while I tend to ignore the articles stating it is bad for you, I still believe there exists something greater behind coffee than simply facts and numbers. Coffee is a bonding force. I do not drink coffee for the caffeine. I drink it for the taste, the feeling, and the memories it evokes. I drink it for the bond my dad and I share because of our mutual love. We critique coffee together, search for the best cafes on vacation, and discuss how to make the best latte art. This is our connection point.
According to the National Coffee Association, “Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau…where legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans” (“History of Coffee”). This strange bean drink has kept us awake for centuries all over the world. I am immediately bonded to anyone who shares my love, similar to the love for football or soccer. There is coffee is South America and in the United States. Coffee in Africa and in Europe. The poor and the rich both drink coffee. This export is what provides me with a feeling a home no matter where I travel in the world.
Alex Ebert, the lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Jade Castrinos, a former member of the band, croon in their hit song “Home”, “Home is wherever I am with you.” While I do largely agree with this phrase, and I love singing along to the song, there are more places that can be home than simply where your loved ones are, unless you count coffee as a family member or a love. Home can be a physical location, a mindsight, an action, a feeling or emotion, or a person. My home is in Livingston, Montana, but it is also in every coffee shop or cafe I step foot into. My home is the small dorm room at the University of Montana, but it is also every cup of coffee I bring to my lips.
My official title at Gil’s, the local cafe where I spend my summers, was “front of house”. However, that truly meant I was a waitress, cashier, barista, and busser. However, not even the stress and chaos of the food industry could scare me away from my beloved coffee shops, an experience I am sure many others can relate to. Even amidst working over 40 hours a week, I still found myself in a coffee shop on my days off, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. They are an escape from daily life, somewhere you can relax and truly be yourself. Everyone deserves to have their own place of contentment. For some this is in the ocean, their childhood home, etc. It is impossible to deny the happiness that bubbles up due to the barista’s hello and memory of your usual order. Nothing quite compares to enjoying a strong cup of coffee while reconnecting with people, working on a paper, or reading a book. Your bank account may not necessarily thank you, but your soul certainly will.
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The colors of the sky begin to change to a fantastic combination of red, pinks, and oranges, and the barista begins to wipe down the tables, flipping the chairs upside down and setting them down on the table in preparation for sweeping and the next day. The buzz of conversation is gone besides ours. Long gone are the business professionals stopping in for a black coffee to go and the high schoolers gossiping about prom and boys. The scent of coffee of course lingers, but it comes time to leave the safe, warm haven of the cafe. We hug and make a few jokes about one day this will be me, closing up my own place and watching my last customers say goodbye. “You’ll have to come visit me in Italy,” I chime in, and then we part our different ways. The evening air is crisp but not cold. I begin the stroll home, the train horn sounding loudly. A mere block away, I sneak a final glance at the storefront, only to catch the lights disappearing. I continue my journey, humming, “Home”.
Home, let me come home.
Home is wherever I’m with you.