Monday, April 13, 2009


See, when I was in high school, in a town ten blocks wide, I discovered the cappuccino. Except my cappuccino came from a metal box in the town gas station, one spigot next to the regular coffee. It cost twenty cents more than the regular coffee, and tasted like coffee with cream-flavored cotton candy mixed in. My high school boyfriend used to buy them for me.

We picked the coffeeshop at random when my father and I went up for the college visit; I think it was the closest restaurant to our parking spot. I'd never been in a coffeeshop before. The gas station sold coffee, all the restaurants in my little town sold coffee, but this was a place with pages of coffees on its menu, the number of coffees by far dwarfing the number of fair-trade sandwiches. There were musical instruments painted in mural around the walls.

I ordered a cappuccino. An iced, mocha cappuccino. It came in a glass eight inches tall, fat and thick as a milkshake. I feel like there must have been a cherry in there somewhere.

This coffeeshop was, in my mind, the epitome of everything I had heard about college. Musical instruments painted on the walls! I knew it would be my favorite restaurant.

But--despite my scholarships and general frugal living--the economies of my own student life meant that I never went back into that coffeeshop, not on my own, not for over a year. I think I went four times during the four years I attended that school, and whenever I went someone else paid, which meant the only drink I dared to order was water.

In grad school there was another coffeeshop, this one utilitarian and hippie and activist, the only decorations hand-painted signs which read things like "meat is murder" and "abortion is not murder." The coffee was much cheaper here and came in water-stained tumblers. The "Mexican" coffee, done up Chocolat-style with the chili powder, was delicious; but the economies of grad school were even worse than those of college and I rarely ever went--and never on my own, just to sit and savor. I've tried to recreate that coffee on my own but it turns out dumping chili powder into a cup of coffee isn't quite the same.

Now I go to Tryst every weekend and drink a chai that is better than any other chai I've ever tasted, with foam two inches thick that can be cut with a spoon, and two animal crackers on the side. I go in with a book and sit next to four other people on a squished couch or at a long table, and we talk sometimes and read sometimes and I scoop up chai foam with the head of a giraffe. I do this in part because I spent eight years not being able to do this, not once, and in part because... it is nice, after all, to sit and read in a warm room filled with other people, and to do it with a cup of something rich and hot and foamy.

Next week I'm going to be back in my undergrad college town for a few days, and I'm going back to that coffeeshop with the musical instruments and the iced mocha cappuccino. It's still there. And for the only time in my life, I'm going to go back as often as I want.

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