Coffee Is My Frenemy

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Coffee and I go way back. My second job, which I worked at the same time as my first job, was at a coffee kiosk in the mall entrance of a Dillard's. That would make me seventeen when I was first truly introduced to the nectar of the gods. We offered dozens of flavorings and endless drink recipes, so I spent day after day drinking PB&J lattes, Rocky Road mochas, and Cinnamon Toast granitas. It was a good introduction, as I didn't experience the bitter, acidic coffee that most do. Instead it was a sweet, delectable, energy enhancing brew. Now I know that coffee, while still delicious in its own way, doesn't taste like that in real life. Unless you add 500 calories worth of artificial flavors and colors, of course. Still, it was love at first sip.

Even though I moved on from that job after about a year, coffee and I were destined to cross paths again. After meeting my future husband, we moved to St. Louis from Montana so that he could advance his career. We rented an amazing apartment above a shop on a cobblestone street in historic St. Charles, MO for the first year. My son started preschool, so I decided to get a job to occupy my time and expand my severely limited social circle. I had gotten to know the owner of the local coffee shop I walked to every morning, and she offered me a job. Coffee and I quickly became reacquainted. This is not to say that we hadn't dabbled in a relationship over the previous years. I just rediscovered my love for it. There was also a tea shop in the back with floor-to-ceiling jars of loose leaf teas. Although I found them to be beautiful when displayed, I always thought of tea as coffee's redheaded stepchild. It just couldn't compete and I never caught on to the appeal flavor-wise.

The consummate coffee professional

The little shop closed after a bit (I had nothing to do with it...I swear!), so I applied to work at a nearby Starbucks. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. Some of my closest, dearest, lifelong friends were met working there. They encouraged regular tastings of (gasp!) plain old coffee. While I like the organization, and still frequent their drive-thru a lot during the semester, I'm not a huge fan of their black coffee. We weren't allowed to say bitter during tastings, but we were allowed to say bright. Well, a lot of their brews are very bright. If I remember correctly, they roast their beans just to the point of burning for a deeper, more consistent flavor. I don't mind it as much if there is something added to settle it. Still, I developed a greater appreciation for the art that is coffee roasting as a result of working there. My Crest Whitestrips budget was really high during my Starbucks years. I drank a lot of coffee there, too, but still couldn't warm up to their tea.

Family photo, coffee in hand

Fast forward a few years. Shortly after moving to New Hampshire, I decided to seek out a doctor who practices Integrative Medicine to help with my allergies, stress level, weight and overall health. One of her first suggestions? Break up with coffee. Pronto. What? Coffee and I go way back. You don't just break up out of the blue! I had been dealing with a lot of stomach upset and jittery nervousness, so I was willing to do what it took to feel better. And you know what? I did. Within a week of being coffee free, I felt way better. But I really missed the warm comfort my frenemy coffee provided. She suggested I switch to tea. So I did that, too. I just couldn't warm up to it the way I had with coffee. I'm so punny. I should go to a punitentiary and be punished. Wow, I really showed my nerdiness just there.

This kitchen cabinet is my dirty little secret. Well, not anymore. It is where I keep most, but not all, of my teas. I was so ashamed that I organized it immediately after taking this photo. In hindsight, I should have organized it before taking a picture. Martha would have. What am I saying? Martha wouldn't have a cabinet this shameful in the first place. My problem with tea goes something like this: "Oooh! Pumpkin pie flavored tea! I love pumpkin pie! This tea must be delicious!" However, seldom does the tea actually taste like pumpkin pie. I've had coffee that tasted like pumpkin pie. But tea? Not so much. So I get through two cups and push it to the back. Then I'll find another variety and fall into the same trap. Hence the hideously disorganized tea cabinet.

Despite my love-hate relationship with tea, I do like how it makes me feel. It depuffs my Hobbit hands and gives me a little perk without the jitteriness of coffee. And although I have found a few kinds that I really like, I still tend to like them based more on their effect rather than how they taste. I'm a person who is really good at "mind over matter," and as a result, can learn to like almost anything. With tea, I've learned to be neutral. But occasionally I'll get one that is bitter and I realize all over again how it doesn't stack up to my first love, coffee. Flavor-wise at least. I'm just not sure tea and I will ever go steady or make-out under the bleachers.

I recently went through a coffee phase again. My husband got a new position that allows him to be home more, and he's a coffee drinker, so it was around. I also decided to whip up a batch of my favorite cold brewed iced coffee. Yum. Yet every afternoon I'd find myself an anxious ball of caffeinated energy. I was restless and jittery all over again. So we broke up once more. I'm like the Elizabeth Taylor of beverages. Minus all the fabulous jewelry. Coffee never gave me diamonds.

Yerba Maté

Prior to being in a Sophie's Choice beverage situation, I did have a run in with tea once...yerba maté specifically. I had just moved to Big Sky, a ski town in south central Montana. I got a job at a private resort. I think I may have been the only non-hippie there. Someone introduced me to yerba maté, a tea from South America that is touted as being amazing for the body. You must know me well enough by now to know that I don't typically dip my toes in the water. When I'm in, I'm all in. I am very Robert Downey Jr. a la Tropic Thunder that way. So I bought a gourd and bombilla to drink it with and carried around a thermos of hot water to refill throughout the day. It sure gave me a pick-me-up! And I was a bonafide granola! Shazam. I was working really hard to get healthy during that time, and the constant flow of caffeine definitely dampened my appetite and contributed to, along with other factors, a 30 pound weight loss over the season. By the end, my gourd sprung a leak and I hung up my bombilla. It now lays rusted in a drawer somewhere in my kitchen, probably never to be sipped from again. Poor thing. A while back I read that it may cause cancer in mice after high, prolonged doses. Thank goodness I'm not a mouse.

I think I'm finally done experimenting with tea flavors, for the most part. No more tea traps! I hope. I know for sure that I do not like the teas from Repulic of Tea. They look delicious, but never satisfy. At about $10 per tin, I was spending a small fortune only to be stuck with dud teas. So I'd force myself to drink them or give them away. I get a catalog from them every so often and immediately recycle it after taking out the free bag that is always attached. Those go in a jar for house guests. No more looky-looing through the catalog and getting sucked into Key Lime tea. I can assure you it tastes nothing like it. Instead, here are some of my faves which I keep in my now organized cupboard:

Kusmi Tea Mini Wellness Assortment

This tea was a Birchbox introduction. I got a couple bags of the Detox flavor and instantly liked it. A lot. It has yerba maté, so that may have something to do with it. Plus lemongrass and peppermint. It has a very refreshing quality. So I bought a full size box of it plus this little sampler. I'm drinking the Boost as I write this.

Zhena's Gypsy Tea

I stumbled onto this stuff by accident a few years ago while looking for coconut lip balm on I didn't get my hopes up because I'd been burned before by the promise of coconut tea deliciousness. I liked it from cup one and now have many of their products. They are all really good and taste like what they say they will. I tend to avoid berry flavors, though, because I find them to be really bitter. That is true for any brand. I recently bought a stack of their caffeine free mini tins and like them, too.

Tazo Chai Full Leaf Tea
When finding something to replace my morning latte, I turned to chai lattes. I drink soy milk, and the combination was just like pumpkin pie. Really sweet drinks don't do it for me anymore, so I save chai lattes made with chai concentrate for special occasions; like when out shopping at Christmastime. Instead, I have my local Starbucks make a Soy Chai Misto. It is basically a chai latte made using a teabag rather than the liquid concentrate. Is it the same? No. Is it still satisfying? Definitely. It took some getting used to, but now it is a drink I can definitely say I enjoy. Plus, almost no one else orders it so the baristas know it is me. I'm like a celebrity. Without the free clothes.

I've come to the end. My relationship with coffee is a sordid tale, no? But as Gloria Gaynor said, "I will survive." Occasionally I'll have a hankering for my old friend and we'll have a little fling. Usually it's just a Café Misto, which is half coffee half soy milk. I still get to remember the feeling of him on my lips, the taste on my tongue, and the warmth in my belly. Whoa, Sarah! Get a room.


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