Desiring Decaf (Or, WTF, Coffee Snobs?)

balanced breakfast
                                                                                  balanced breakfast

Today I started my morning with part of a Cupcake Royale raspberry pavlova cupcake (vanilla cake, raspberry sauce, lemon buttercream, meringue, delicious) that I’d saved from the night before, and a cup of hot black coffee. In bed. It felt so right.

The coffee, incidentally, was decaffeinated: not because I’m 36 week pregnant (it’s generally accepted that moderate caffeine consumption is just fine during pregnancy), but because I’m extremely sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Anything more than a single cup of black tea makes my heart pound unpleasantly and turns me into a jittery, anxious mess.

It’s a cliché for mainstream coffee drinkers to sniff “what’s the point?” when reminded of decaf’s existence. My partner once mistook this for acceptable banter when I ordered a decaf Americano, resulting in a fight during which I called him a dick in front of the mortified barista (we laughed about it later). Recently, I remarked to a veteran barista friend that I liked a certain coffee shop because I didn’t feel like they were judging me for ordering decaf. “Oh,” she assured me, “they’re judging you.”

But why? Caffeine is a drug, the effects of which don’t agree with some people. I’ve been a caffeine drinker in the past, but after I quit cold-turkey in an effort to address my night bruxism (aka tooth grinding/jaw clenching; it helped, somewhat), my tolerance plummeted. To this day, I reserve anything more than the relatively tiny amounts found in tea, chocolate, or decaf coffee for emergency situations (solo road trips, deadlines that require all-nighters – of which there are mercifully few these days). There are simply those of us who want to enjoy the taste of coffee without corresponding ill-effects.

I’ve heard it said on many occasions that people like me should just avoid coffee, because, you see, no one could possibly enjoy the taste of decaf. That’s news to me: I happen to like it. Admittedly, my taste in coffee is not very sophisticated. I’ve worked as a barista and received training that enabled me to understand the nuances of coffee roasted with restraint. I can appreciate the floral, citrusy, or herbaceous complexity of a single-origin shade-grown light-roast pour-over. But I still prefer the robust, earthy, pedestrian (okay, haters, burnt) flavor of a good dark roast. And, let’s face it – when you’re roasting coffee beans to a charred crisp anyway, the flavor differences between regular and decaf are negligible. There are even some roasters who do a pretty good job with their decaf beans.

Why should anyone care whether I have shit taste in coffee? Does that make me less of a person? I like what I like – why is that a problem for you? The only conclusion that makes sense is insecurity. Why else would anyone be in the business of policing someone else’s preferences?

As a server, I always liked it when someone had the chutzpah to ask for ice cubes with their wine. And if someone wants their steak cooked well-done, or wants to put ketchup on said steak, what business of it is mine?

An apparent lack of sophistication in others stirs up anxieties about the parts of ourselves that may be underdeveloped, unformed, or simply out of step with what the culture considers “cool.” A truly secure person (I’m not necessarily claiming this designation for myself!) has no need to pass judgment on the aesthetic preferences of others. A truly secure person doesn’t waste time scrutinizing someone else’s taste. A truly secure person says (and means) “right on: you do you.”

So, even when I’m no longer pregnant, I’ll still enjoy my decaf, listen to corny 90’s country music, wear brown and black together, and dip my fries in my milkshake. Snobs be damned.

Ful Moon Encounter

“There was this girl… eighteen or nineteen… nine months pregnant. She jumped off the bridge! I figured, if she could do it, I could do it! Course, she was drunk and high at the time.”

And so on. From mysterious wealthy Middle-Eastern friends with limitless supplies of top-shelf weed (“I speak Persian, Farsi, Iranian, Iraqi”) to underground gambling dens where you can get three and a half grams of pure opium for $175 (“try to buy that on Mercer Island, it’ll cost you $1,000 at least! I speak Vietnamese, though, so they let me in. You wanna smoke some opium? You probably don’t even know what opium is!”).

Slight and wiry with upright posture and an ageless face under an orange baseball cap, he bobbed up and down as he spoke, oblivious to our occasional interjections.

He told us he’d been a bootlegger’s mule when he was a kid during prohibition, jacket stuffed with pint bottles of moonshine. He told us he’d been in Cuba before Castro, when Batista (he called him “Bastille”) was still in power. “Che Guevara, Castro, his brother, that Raul…”. Cackling delightedly, he rattled off names of politicians and revolutionaries and oligarchs and mercenaries, “all those crooked motherfuckers.”

He told us he’d once bet a friend that he could swim from Mercer Island to the Ballard bridge. Just two miles short of his goal, he was hauled out of the water by cops in a police boat.

“They took me to jail. I was full of energy, coulda swam for ten more hours. They didn’t know I was on speed, thought I was just on pot. Wrote me a ticket and let me go! Then I sat here by the canal, all jacked up and sleep deprived: I started hallucinating. I saw a road opening up, right over there. Lights. I said to myself, ‘wait a minute… there ain’t a road there!’ The road was full of people, foreign people, from Hungary,  walking around in circles holding those old-time record players – there was some sort of wedding going on – Filipino guys fishing. I knew I was hallucinating, though, so I just sat there and laughed. I got sense, see; if I’d have been younger, I probably would’ve jumped in the water. It took me four hours to break that hallucination! Forty hours without sleep. I said, I ain’t never doing that again!”

He claimed to be 89 years old, a veteran of Vietnam, Korea, WWII. He claimed fluency in eleven languages. He couldn’t find his lighter, implied that I’d filched it. My friend reassured him (correctly) that he’d find it in about the time it had taken him to find his pipe a few moments earlier (roughly three minutes).

He offered us beer and pot, not wanting to go home, though he said he needed to be up at 3 am for work.

When he’d first approached, Ayla barked furiously at him. Undaunted, he started to talk, and didn’t stop for a long while: he’d found in us the audience his tales demanded.