My Relationship to Coffee

Coffee consumption is controversial. I talk to folks that don’t TOUCH coffee or strictly limit it. I just had a conversation with a woman who finds coffee twice as harmful as an alcoholic beverage. She called coffee “poison,” along with white sugar, red meat, and processed foods. But then there are the folks who can speak five different languages in coffee (types, sizes, and brewing methods). I am the latter-I can speak all five languages fluently.


Well, if you know me, you may not know that I love chocolate, you may not know that I love olives, and you may not know that my new obsession is listening to music in the shower. BUT ONE THING you DO KNOW - is I am a "multiple-cups" of daily joe drinker. 


Coffee is a tool for connection, daily rhythm and routine, and a slow-living technique for me. It’s my way to cultivate a peaceful heart. 


Around 11 years ago, I told my small group at church that I felt like I didn’t have time for prayer and reading The Word. They asked what my one must-have in the mornings was. "Coffee, of course." They suggested that I read and pray with coffee. Every morning since, I have my Coffee and Chat with the Lord. My other cup (or three) comes when having coffee time with my husband Mike, when he’s in town, each morning at 7:00-7:30 am.

MY COFFEE JOURNEY:

 

Funny enough, though, I was able to resist the liquid gold for half my life (yes, I include infant years). Both of my parents are avid coffee drinkers so mornings in the Stone house consisted of at least two pots of drip coffee and long conversations. Like children in Brazil, both of my younger siblings knew the beauty of a good cup of cafe au lait by the time they left the nest. So, to enter college, not being a coffee enthusiast was quite a big deal in our family. 


My coffee aversion officially began, though, when my mom - someone who’s endless energy still boggles me - decided she was going to cut coffee out of her life. She was starting to see some of the effects of all-day caffeine consumption, namely: sleeplessness. I hadn’t known the Lynne she was before coffee entered her life. I thought that I was going to see the transformation of the energizer bunny to the tortoise but instead, I noticed slight headaches, a little grouchiness, and tons of decaf drinking. Watching her go through “withdrawal” was enough for me to say, “No, thank you!” That lasted until my second summer as a Proctor & Gamble intern. 


To give context, that summer:

  • I was finishing up my first year of college

  • I was back in the same city as my beau of two years (Mr. Steel)

  • My social habits had changed

  • My internship was a weeding out process that included hours on the road and tons of early mornings/late evening projects.

And to boot, that summer I sat right beside the coffee marketing department. Y’all, what can I say about P&G marketing folks? Basically, no matter how early I got there - they were there. No matter how late I stayed - they were there. No matter how many times I walked by their desks - they were huddled or working independently.


But guess what else they had? You guessed it! There was always a piping hot cup of java in their hands - the only time I saw them move was when they walked to the coffee studio, usually in pairs - discussing a project. And it was a coffee museum, all different flavors, creamers, sugars - it was like a spotless and shiny 7/11, QT, UDF full of just coffee (or at least that’s what I see in my memory’s eye). So what does a 19-year-old do when she’s hunkering at her desk at 7:00 am - gazing at a computer of words (pre-social media, pre-texting, pre-library downloads on your cellphone)? I roamed into the coffee gallery. My life has never been the same. 


The following school year, I thought about quitting coffee but then read a National Geographic article that said it was healthy to drink coffee . That was all the affirmation I needed. I cannot find the report but did find this one from 2018 (if you’re interested). At that point, in my mind, coffee was God’s way of: helping me bring in academic honors, keeping up with my retail job, holding down executive sorority positions, continuing to edit and write as a co-managing editor of the school magazine, thriving on the student government association, and being a reasonably decent Resident Assistant. Basically, it equipped me to do all the things that an over-engaged, over-scheduled, and exhausted college student does. Afterwards, moving to New York City with Teach For America did nothing but empower my habit. I was surrounded by other passionate, jittery, ready-to-save-the-world human beings that had access to coffee on every block - whether the bodega or a chain cafe.  


Coffee became my secret power; it was a magical brew that I could drink and do all the things. Throughout the years, our relationship (me and coffee) endures, only pausing slightly during pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

Coffee Isn't All Good

My old work computer (sorry, tech team). My favorite computer sticker was cut off: "I enjoy long walks to protest social injustice" lol. Classic

So, here’s my truth. While working at both charter schools and in the pastry world, I had early mornings. In pastry school, I had to be in uniform with the rising dough by 7am and later, by 5am in cafes. Black coffee in both environments was the coffee of choice. Milk was available if opened but I’m lactose-intolerant, so... black it was. In charter schools, the time was 6:45/7am. And what does that mean? I have to go to bed early. What happens when you drink coffee all day as your fuel? You can’t sleep at night! And then the amount of coffee it takes to fuel the body after little rest for me created jitters, anxiety, and an altered my mood... Note: some of these side effects could have also been the side effects from a lack of sleep. 


I became strict at cutting my coffee-drinking at noon. I am ruthless about my noon rule and immediately switch to decaf or tea at 12:01pm (caffeinated tea if I need a little caffeine lol). That said, now I am in a space where I’d like to take naps and my body cannot rest midday. When I try to reduce coffee too much, I experience headaches, fogginess, lethargy, and even flu-like symptoms. My body doesn’t function the same without coffee. 


UPDATE: After watching 50-year old J.Lo, perform at Super Bowl, I googled her diet (for obvious reasons): she doesn't drink caffeine because it ages the skin. I have been researching and while there are mixed results on that truth, a night of Googling isn't enough. I'm going to continue investigating and will update when I find facts.

A Responsible Coffee Drinker? 

Because coffee is a mainstay in my life, I’ve learned ways to reduce the adverse effects on farmers and the environment. 


Here are my tips (there will be a video illustration later):

  • We mostly make our coffee  

  • We don’t own a coffee maker that uses filters

  • We own a French press (no electricity) that we use quite often.

  • We also use Nespresso. I drop off our pods to be recycled and composted  

  • We compost most our grounds, but I've also used coffee grounds as body scrub

  • We reuse all cups (even the occasional disposable ones - I wash them out and reuse until I no longer can and then recycle them) 

  • We always, ALWAYS, buy Fairtrade. I even lobbied my local stores to have Fairtrade coffee and got them on the shelves - woot! woot! 

  • I try to find brands and go to cafes that can track the farming practices for the coffee (farm vs. canopy, fair trade, country, labor practices, etc). I have no problem asking. 

I hope this helps you navigate your cafe journey. 


Drink slowly and intentionally, friends. Polepole,

Shelby 





Copyedited by Ashley Yancey