Just Beans

“Coffee tastes like sadness. It tastes like a 40-year-old divorcee who had to give up her lucrative homemade lotion business for a 7-year-old bratty son who will definitely grow up to become a serial killer.”

Margeaux Perkins

September 27, 2014 | The Coffee Table Book | Fall 2014

Every morning, long after I’ve boarded the 7:15 bus to go to work, my boyfriend makes himself a pitcher of iced coffee. The process may begin the night before; I’m still not completely clear on the details. Regardless, he’s a groggy mean mess before he gets it in his system and I’ve never spent a morning with him in which he didn’t beg me to run down to the corner cafe to get him a cup. Though we’ve been in love for over three long years, sharing everything from a bathroom space to lamb curry, the one thing we will never have in common is coffee. I will never understand his desire for it. The only thing I know is that he and everyone else that I love (besides my sister) seem to be addicted to this magical brown liquid. When my mom visits me, she brings her own K-cups, creamers, and packets of Splenda and still orders coffee when we go out for breakfast. In the middle of the afternoon, friends will beg me to stop at Starbucks with them for lattes. Professors want to explain paper critiques over cups of joe. When I go out to lunch and pass the inevitable 10 different Starbucks locations, all of them are filled to the brim with people in line desperating awaiting their favorite overpriced beverage (Why aren’t you eating lunch? I think). Airports, airplanes, grocery stores, every street corner, diners, cafes, even bars–today, it’s nearly impossible to get away from the stuff. Perhaps you’ve gathered from the tone of this article: I don’t like coffee. I don’t mean that I don’t like it as in: “I don’t like lattes” or “black coffee is gross.” I think anything and everything with coffee in it is vile.

BeansI have no idea where my coffee-hating origins lie, but at least I’m not alone. My sister loves Starbucks…for their hot chocolate. It seems strange that two people who actually cannot function without a cup and a half each as soon as they rise would produce two mutant coffee-hating offspring.

I can’t really describe what it is about coffee that I hate. Maybe the smell is too sharp for my delicate nostrils? Or the flavor is too bitter for my still-developing taste buds? Now of course, you’re probably assuming that I just don’t like regular coffee. Most of the coffee-loving population has to have it in some other form other than black, you say. But I don’t like anything with coffee in it.

Like all teenage girls, I tried to become obsessed with the then-romantic idea of Starbucks. Getting a pumpkin spice latte on a cool autumn day or sipping a frap piled high with whip as I ogle clothes with my girlfriends at the mall was always such a fun thought to me. I tried almost everything at several different coffee retailers to no avail. I like caramel but hate macchiatos. I’m a chocolate fiend but mochas make no sense. Vanilla is perfect, but pair it with coffee and I will actually spit it out. I can’t understand why someone would take perfectly good flavors and ruin them with the god-awful taste of coffee.

I thought for a very long time that maybe I didn’t like coffee because I didn’t understand it, but I’ve come to the point in my life when I will never understand coffee. Not just why people drink it, but what’s in it and why it comes in so many forms. What really is espresso anyway?

My sister and I had a theory growing up that no one really likes coffee but everyone pretends to because it’s a societal norm (we were strange children). We thought that we and everyone else who didn’t like the stuff were secretly heroes and anarchists because we refused to conform. While all of my girlfriends ordered frozen frappuccinos smothered with caramel drizzled whipped cream, I got to keep my $5 and grin smugly to myself (You’re such a badass, I thought). My theory now is a little less extreme. When you’re a teenager, you secretly hate coffee. Yet, you drink it because it makes you feel grown up and interesting. So you keep drinking it and drinking it, until eventually you just get used to the horrible taste…but you never actually like it. At that point, you’re so addicted that you can’t live without it even if you wanted to. This theory has to have some kind of truth to it. Kids these days are kickstarting their addictions younger and younger. The six-year-old I used to babysit asked me if I knew how to make a frappe.

A lot of people ask me what I drink in the morning to wake myself up. While everyone worships the espresso machine where I work, I refill my tumblr with water and sip and refill leisurely throughout the day. In lieu of liquid caffeine, I fuel up with a cup of fresh fruit and try my damndest to stay hydrated throughout the day. I must admit that in cold weather I do drink tea. Tea!? Flavored water?! Of course she drinks tea! What a hippie! To that I say: yes, I am a hippie, but my liking of tea has nothing to do with my distaste for coffee. As I said, I tried coffee when I was a teenager and didn’t like it, but I adamantly refused to try tea. Hot flavored water sounded much more unappealing than strong-smelling filtered water. At least coffee came with all kinds of sugars, whipped toppings, and syrups. It wasn’t until my third year in college that I decided I had to try tea. My aforementioned coffee-loving boyfriend is also an adamant tea-lover. He took me to David’s Tea in Chicago and I instantly fell in love with the inventive flavors, delicious smells, and actually yummy hot flavored water.

Before this adventure, however, I decided to try my hand at coffee again. It was midterms, and I figured I would choke a small cup down to get some energy. My boyfriend always drank it black, so I turned down the barista’s inquiry about room for cream and passed up the various sweeteners on my way back to my computer. I choked it down for a few minutes, distorting my face more and more with every sip, and then had to stop out of fear of vomiting. My best friend came along and balked at the fact that the coffee was black. She added her special blend of cream and sugar and told me to try again. This time I actually vomited. It tasted as if someone had tried to put icing on dirt and pass it off as a cake.

They say food aversion usually occurs due to something that happened in childhood. Though I hesitate to call my distaste for java “food aversion”, I will share an anecdote that could explain my anti-coffee stance. Growing up, my mom was always trying to get me to taste her coffee. Before you pass judgement and think she was a terrible mother, it happened when chains like Dairy Queen and McDonald’s started to serve things like Frappes and Moolattes, trying desperately to compete with Starbucks and the like.

The first time was my own fault. For some unknown reason, I turned down ice cream while we were in the drive-thru at DQ and then drooled at the whipped and syrupy concoction they handed my mom through the window. I asked for a sip. It looked like an Oreo milkshake. My mom had to command me to swallow it for lack of napkins when I began to moan in disgust about what I had just consumed. It wasn’t sweet and there certainly wasn’t an Oreo in there. It was a mocha Moolatte. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson. Too many sips of iced lattes disguised as chocolate milkshakes later, I now possess a deep mistrust for all things coffee.

I think coffee is just too much for me in a multitude of ways. First, it’s way too strong. The flavor blasts me in the face and makes my eyes water. Second, the temperature is never right. It’s piping hot and I burn my tongue every time and then one minute later it’s frigid. (Yes, I do drink tea, but only occasionally. And I burn my tongue every damn time.) Third, no matter what you do, coffee will always be bitter and mean-tasting. Coffee tastes like sadness. It tastes like a 40-year-old divorcee who had to give up her lucrative homemade lotion business for a 7-year-old bratty son who will definitely grow up to become a serial killer. Pure bitterness. Though you can try to mask the flavor with flavor shots and creams and sugars, I can still taste the mean bitterness deep down in my soul. Maybe that’s why I like tea. The flavor is subtle, it warms your insides instead of punching you in the face and saying HEY, I’M COFFEE BITCH!

It sucks when my loved ones pass around steaming cups of coffee on Thanksgiving after we’ve stuffed ourselves silly and it makes me feel all kinds of sadness when I see a couple holding hands and sipping from those little plastic cups. Fuck being an anarchist; I hate that I can’t participate in this societal norm. After many years, my sister finally disclosed to me why she drinks hot chocolate from Starbucks. The cup looks like every other coffee-filled one, so she looks normal when she arrives at work. I found myself doing the same thing with tea this past winter. Though I meet people every single day who don’t drink coffee, I will forever be surrounded by cries of You don’t drink coffee?! How are you alive? And honestly, $5 didn’t feel as good as sipping fraps alongside my best friends when I was in high school. I wish I could participate in this tradition, but coffee just tastes so bad. I would die to drink iced coffee next to my boyfriend in the mornings or actually order something with caffeine in it when I go to a cafe with my best friend.

My only solace in this coffee-dominated universe is the health revolution or the potential extinction of coffee plants. Nowadays a lot of people are opting for tea and fruit juice in the morning instead of coffee. But do I really want to be grouped with the green smoothie crowd? When people incredulously ask me why I don’t like coffee, I really should get all high and mighty and explain how bad caffeine is for you. But being a vegetarian has taught me that being high and mighty about anything is even worse than being one of those people who asks how you can possibly live your life coffee or meat-free. I would never condemn someone for their decisions be it coffee, meat, or what-have-you, though I am constantly bombarded with people who condemn me for mine.

For the most part, I’ve come to realize,  most people don’t care whether I do or I don’t consume the nectar of the gods. More coffee for them, I guess? Maybe more people will become like me. Studies come out every week saying that coffee is bad for you. But then again, more studies are coming out saying that it’s actually good for you. Popular Science published an article in early 2013 saying that it decreases your risk of dying (whatever that means), is good for your liver, and helps you burn fat. Who knows, with my still-developing taste buds, maybe someday I’ll start drinking it and drinking it and become addicted just like everyone else. More likely, I’ll continuing hating it for the rest of my life. It’s just beans after all, right?

Illustrations by Geoff Bates

Margeaux Perkins has made it her life's mission to never be described with the terms "shy", "boring", or "quiet". She tries to find happiness in the little things in life, like making her boyfriend's lunch with the early morning sun peeking through the windows or going pee after holding it in for too long. Writing has been her thing since she wrote her first short story at age 12. It was an 18-page Microsoft Word Document about a 20-something New York gal who falls in love with her male best friend. She's been tickling the backlit Mac ebonies ever since.

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