Just Thinking: Coffee is a drink worth famously savoring

Margo Bartlett
ThisWeek

It seems I’m known for my not-so-secret vice. 

The first time, years ago now, I stepped outside my workplace to see what the new coffee shop across the street was all about, I thought I was going on a one-off adventure.  

I drink coffee, sure, but for me it’s a breakfast thing. The first cup and a half are fine, but after that, coffee’s about as appealing as liquid in a Styrofoam cup someone had left on the curb by the bus stop. 

Margo Bartlett

I had heard about coffee drinks, though, the way you hear about other trends that start in places where you aren’t and gradually make their way to your own neighborhood.  

Bell-bottom jeans were like that, way back when bell bottoms were as exotic as frilly pantaloons or those plague doctor outfits with the beaked masks. I saw bell bottoms first at church camp, the place where many young people begin to discover the world. Within a year, they were as common as shoes with chunky heels. 

Anyway, about coffee drinks. I tried a latte, and it was like that song by Bryan Adams: “I got my first real six-string ...” In my case, I got my first real espresso drink. 

The outcome wasn’t rock-star fame. It was just a gradual realization that one hot, milky coffee drink a day kept me pretty happy and willing to deal. It’s important to note that I don’t know what I like best: the hot, the milky or the espresso. I suspect the whole business is linked to ice cream, and my habit of microwaving a bowl to achieve a soupy, creamy effect. 

But my point is, it’s apparently impossible to keep a minor habit like coffee on the down low. Even when I was still going across the street every midday for my favorite drink, the barista would see me through the coffee shop window and have the drink waiting when I stepped up to the counter. 

I took my latte habit with me when I started another job. I’d pull into a coffee shop drive-thru lane so reliably that the voice over the intercom would greet me by name and say, “The usual?” 

That was understandable, but then came the day I visited a new outlet mall for the first time. I had an errand to run, but when I noticed a coffee shop, I naturally headed for it. 

“Want your usual?” the person behind the counter called out the moment I walked through the door. Now that rattled me. I had never put foot in this shop or on the surrounding retail acreage. How could my coffee habit be known here? 

It turned out the employee usually put in her hours at my regular shop, which was a relief. 

There is such a thing as too much notoriety, even when one’s notoriety is based on a drink whose worst sin is its cost. I justify the expense in sentences that always begin “At least.” 

At least I’m not spending money on jumbo jugs of gut-curdling wine. 

At least I don’t hold up liquor stores. 

At least I occasionally make lattes at home, even though they’re never the same, the way homemade pizzas aren’t like those baked in commercial ovens. 

At least I have my “at leasts,” although I realize I’m privileged to have the kind of pleasant life that includes a soothing treat more days than not. That much I’m genuinely aware, even as I tell myself all the ways I could be seriously disappointing my family. 

This brings me to last week. I was in the final stage of checking out at the grocery store when a woman who works at the store’s coffee stall stepped up as the cashier was handing me my receipt. 

“Will you be coming over for your latte?” she asked me. Oh yes, I said, because of course, I was. 

“I’ll have it ready,” she said, and indeed she did. For once, I dispensed with the sheepishness that accompanies being known for an unnecessary, frankly self-indulgent habit and just appreciated the friendliness of community. 

It’s warm and it’s comforting, a lot like a you-know-what. 

Email margo.bartlett@gmail.com.