“Good morning! What can I get for you?”
The bartender smiled at me, warmly. His hair was painstakingly messy—the kind of bed head that looks equally effortless and expensive. His matte black nose ring was tasteful, yet rebellious. He looked like he knew a lot about the science behind nitrous cold brew, but would only talk about it if someone asked him to.
Panicking, I scanned the display and chose one that sounds palatable.
“One caramel macchiato, please.”
My mind went blank. Smiling awkwardly, I desperately tried to remember the scene from “I Love You Man” where Paul Rudd mocks coffee sizes.
That’s my frame of reference.
Despite my amateur coffee status, I give off all the indicators of someone who’d enjoy a good cup o’ joe: my hair is carefully coiffed, I (kind of) have a beard, and the heather grey Patagonia vest I’m wearing is unzipped just enough to show off my J-Crew knitted tie. My outfit suggests I frequently use the “Stocks” app on my iPhone and have a bad habit of taking loud business calls in public. Neither is true, but I do follow “Goldman Sachs Elevator” on Twitter, so that’s something.
“What’s the one that’s not venti, but also not the small one?” I ask, averting the barista’s gaze.
“That’s grande. You want a grande caramel macchiato?”
“Um, yeah. Thanks.”
I’m embarrassed. I’d never really “got” coffee’s appeal. Coffee is for people who are stressed and important. People who order mocha frappucinos to-go on their way to a job interview to make partner. Like the woman in a power suit who power-walked past me when I entered. It’s not that I didn’t have places to be or things to do, but previously, I hadn’t felt the crunch bad enough to turn to caffeine.
Recently, that changed. My first attempts at “educational networking” had landed me some great opportunities to do some consulting, content creation, and website design. Career opportunities like this, on top of my full-time teaching job, required caffeine.
As I wait for my caramel infused coffee, I absorb Starbuck’s ambiance. The wispy lo-fi plucking of Ambar Lucid’s “A letter to my younger self” danced overtop the hum and grind of coffee machines. It’s inviting, if contrived, blend of artisanal taste and hustle-bustle. I scanned the room for open seating—a large wooden table with sturdy, functional stools or a pair of gently worn leather couches. I chose the table.
Seated next to me were several aspiring graphic artists and/or novelists who clicked away on their refurbished Macbooks and periodically adjusted their Warby Parkers. It reminded me of all the half-finished projects I hadn’t committed to: publishing my sci-fi short stories, creating a podcast, or starting a band. Coffee is also for creatives, I mused. People who read Camus and attend art gallery openings and shop at vintage clothing stores. People in no-nonsense black turtlenecks drinking no-nonsense black coffee. I hadn’t needed coffee to keep me working through the night on my latest magnum opus.
That’s changed too. My first few educational blog posts and graphic designs generated enough attention in my tiny corner of the internet that I’d finally committed to writing and creating with more regularity. A few authors and outlets I deeply respect even offered me a chance to do some collaborative work. Creative opportunities like this required caffeine.
I had some time to kill before my order is up, so I pulled out my laptop. It’s a black and red Lenovo Legion Y520. I use it to plan lessons, create websites, and do some graphic design, but I bought it to play modded versions of Pro Evolution Soccer and The Witcher 3. It’s sharp edges, and glowing scarlet keyboard contrasted harshly next to the matte Space Grey of the would-be novelist’s Apples. It was a splotch on Starbuck’s meticulously curated aesthetic. It has all the power and potential of a Macbook but lacks the air of sophistication.
What gaming laptops lack in gravitas, they make up for in graphic processing power. The issue is, only one of those lends you social capital in the “real world” and it’s not my GTX 1050i. On the bright side, it gave me the tools I needed to complete my jobs and passion projects and still lets me get lost in distant, virtual worlds. Even though I’m about to become a coffee drinker, I’m not ready to kill off my “Mountain Dew” side quite yet. One day maybe, but not yet. I still like Doritos too much.
“Trevor!” a blonde barista called, sliding my caramel macchiato on the check-out counter. I stuffed my Lenovo Legion away and walked over to pick it up. It certainly looked aesthetically pleasing—the milky white cream rested at the bottom was crested by the rich mocha brown on top. A delightful combination of two seemingly competing flavors. Still, I wasn’t sold on the idea that a drink with so many different flavors and ingredients would taste as good as it looked.
I stirred the iced contents and took a long pull from the green straw, hoping for the best. It was delicious. Like, it was basically a caramel milkshake. The sweet cream and pockets of caramel were a welcome reprieve from the more bitter slurps of dark roast, but the caffeine kick was a necessity to kick my busy day into gear. I was surprised that it’s eclectic offering of flavors worked to its strength, not its detriment.
I greedily sucked through my green straw and smiled to myself. Perhaps I could be a coffee guy after all.