Coffee, a love affair

Image credit: Emil Sands

Much as I vehemently deny any resemblance whatsoever between myself and my mother, the truth is I’d be lying. Ever since I was tiny, every day would start off with the familiar sound of her grinding coffee beans and as we came down to the kitchen and the smell of fresh coffee would greet us at the door. It was a comforting smell, one that reminded me of home, and when I left for uni, morning coffee was a habit that I took with me.

Once at uni however, my morning coffee quickly became an early morning, mid-morning, lunch, afternoon, evening and night-time one. Before I knew it I was on six cups a day, skipping meals and skimping on sleep. I felt great though, I could power through the day, had more time to socialise and get my work done, and most importantly, I enjoyed coffee. I mean who doesn’t? Just the smell is soothing and there is nothing cosier than snuggling up under a blanket with your hands wrapped around a warm mug of coffee. Coffee and I were best friends, and despite some red flags in our relationship, we were inseparable. I can safely say that I owe it to coffee for getting me through exams last year, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.

One of the great perks of a language degree is that you get to travel abroad, and so when I went to Italy, the first thing I naturally did was to seek out a coffee shop. Easier said than done. I could find plenty of coffee, but not a coffee shop. I only struck lucky with a couple of places, such as Anticafe in Rome (where you pay by hour and not by what you eat) and Super Fox in Florence. The coffees were also a lot smaller, even the cappuccinos, and were drunk within a few minutes of chatting and standing at the counter. It was a similar experience in France, with metal chairs and tables replacing the comfy seats I was familiar with, and a range of alcohol and cigarettes also on offer. The coffee was the best I’d ever had, smooth, creamy, perfectly roasted, and yet fussy old me wasn’t quite content.

When my Italian host family told me I drank too much coffee, I laughed at the irony but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I actually started to ponder their words. As I sat at my desk with a trusty mug of coffee by my side, I realised that it wasn’t a certain amount of coffee that I was craving nor a certain quality, since I had had the best and plenty of it. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but through the confused caffeine cloud I eventually began to see things more clearly. What I liked wasn’t so much the coffee itself, although I am and forever will be a true coffee addict, but rather the social factor surrounding it. Coffee shops are my favourite places to work, meet up with friends, or just spend time in on a rainy day. It’s a cheaper, friendlier, and more inclusive way to socialise, especially if you don’t drink, and the huge variety of coffee shops around, especially in Cambridge, means that there is a place for everyone.

With this in mind, I approached my second year of university a little bit differently, partly because my bank account was groaning at my caffeine addiction and partly because in second year you get old and espressos no longer do the trick after an all-nighter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge coffee snob and am unfortunately not afraid to voice my opinions about the blend of beans or temperature of milk. Instead, I decided to take to the sensible approach of listening to my body, starting with getting a proper amount of sleep and cutting down from six cups to one or two. Heaven forbid this should be interpreted as me telling you to quit coffee, I’d be the first one to advocate how good it is for you. But what I did find was that rather than needing it, I was wanting it, and because I was less addicted to it, I was appreciating it a lot more. My regular spot is still a coffee shop, and hardly a day goes by where I don’t drink coffee, but this year I’ve rediscovered the simple pleasure of enjoying a cup o’ joe rather than depending on one.

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