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Essays

Caffeine Fiends

Take two steps into my apartment’s kitchen, and you might assume that you’re walking into an underground local coffee shop operated by college students. You would be mistaken, but you’re also not entirely wrong to assume so. 

In my apartment of four roommates, we have three coffee drinkers and eight different coffee machines. That’s three French presses, two Keurigs, two Vietnamese drip coffee filters, and a Nespresso machine. While we like to drink the beverage, we differ in our particular preferences and our rituals surrounding coffee. 

Ian, the only non-coffee drinker of the house, despises the smell and taste of coffee and finds our drinking habits ridiculous. “There are two main things I don’t understand. First: can you people decide what coffee machines you use and don’t use?” he said, admitting that he passive-aggressively puts them away on the top shelf, so it’s hard for the rest of us to reach. (Ian is the tallest in the house at 6’3”, so that’s no harmless action.)

Due to miscommunication on all of our ends when moving in, we now have an excess of coffee machines. Peter and Sean each brought their Keurigs and French presses because they assumed no one else had any. A week later, I received a French press as a housewarming gift from my girlfriend. We continued to expand our brewing horizons as the semester went on. Peter got into Vietnamese drip coffee, first purchasing a small, followed by a large, drip coffee filter. Not to be one-upped, my girlfriend surprised me with a Nespresso machine for Christmas, which I keep in my room for special occasions. 

Ian also doesn’t understand the appeal of coffee or the ritualized nature behind it. “The second thing I don’t understand is: aren’t you supposed to drink coffee in the morning? There is no time in this house where someone isn’t drinking coffee,” he explained.

Sean wakes up every morning to a cup of coffee, and he describes it as an essential part of his morning routine. “I’m completely dependent on coffee, without a doubt,” he admitted, sharing that he probably drinks way more coffee than the average person. 

As of recent, the ever-present coffee smell in the kitchen has dissipated. While Sean used to brew French presses every morning, he realized that he needed more caffeine. Now, he stops at Starbucks before class and orders a large latte with three espresso shots to get him through the day. During finals season, he goes a little haywire on the coffee consumption, confessing, “I might have upwards of around eight shots of espresso a day.” 

Peter, as of the last month, has completely stopped drinking coffee. He would drink two cups of coffee a day at his peak, but he began to realize that he was dependent on caffeine. Without a cup in the morning and the late afternoon, he wasn’t able to wake up or do work. Peter stopped drinking coffee cold turkey, supplementing his intake with less-caffeinated teas. He swears that he hasn’t felt better since.

I am the last coffee brewer in our house. While Sean drinks his coffee solely in the morning, I, on the other hand, reserve my coffee-drinking for the second half of the day. I drink my first cup around 1 p.m. when I begin to fall into my afternoon slump, and my second cup of coffee after dinner around 7:30 p.m. I know it might sound crazy, but this allows me to have enough energy to stay up and work on my assignments while still going to bed by 1 a.m. I might sneak a third cup of coffee somewhere in between these times, depending on the day and how I’m doing. As if the caffeine isn’t enough, I drink my coffee with two large spoonfuls of sugar and some caramel creamer in each cup. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with the taste of coffee, so the sugar makes the drink even more addicting.

While I might not have the healthiest attachment to coffee, I’m not ready to give up my ritual of coffee drinking just yet. No matter how many times my roommates and friends mock me for drinking too much sweet coffee too late in the day, I’m comforted by the familiarity of the drink. My go-to brewing method is the Keurig; I enjoy packing my pre-ground beans into a refillable pod, pouring 10 ounces of water into the machine, and waiting as my coffee turns out the same every day. This method is quick and reliable,  I know what to expect every time I press the brew button. If I’m working on a large project or just exhausted, I’ll turn to my French press, brewing a larger batch of coffee to consume over an hour. And as I said before, my Nespresso machine is reserved for special occasions, like preparing for job interviews, drinking coffee with friends, or if I just feel like treating myself. Whatever method I choose, a cup of coffee keeps me on task for homework sessions and ultimately keeps me functioning. 

The coffee machines are still on display in my kitchen, with several currently out of commission. Twice a day in my apartment, you can expect to catch a whiff of the classic coffee smell when I’m brewing up a cup. Maybe this summer I’ll try to wean myself off coffee, but realistically I doubt I’ll ever give it up. 

Cover Photo Courtesy of Roasty Coffee.

Editor’s Note: This article was edited on May 1, 2021, to reflect two word changes on behalf of the author.

Categories
Essays

A Food Breakup and New Beginnings

“Dinner’s ready!” I yell to my roommates as I place down a homemade platter of fried chicken, buttered corn, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

After stuffing our faces full, Peter and Will glanced at one another and then turned to me. “Logan, we talked about this and we think we’re going to go on a diet.”

My heart sank into my chest. I felt like I had just been broken up with. I associate diets with no more sweets, no more carbs, no more fats, and definitely no more fried chicken. Eating always comforts me. Being able to eat whatever I want feels so liberating; to take those feelings of freedom away just felt cruel. 

To free up time, my apartment serves family-style meals where each roommate cooks at least one dinner a week. I suddenly worried that our pasta dinners, stir fry nights, and Taco Tuesdays would disappear, replaced with flavorless meals of chicken and two sides. Grilled chicken can only be eaten so many times before it becomes outrageously boring. Nonetheless, maybe I needed a change. 

“We only want to add more vegetables to our meals and cook with less oil. That’s all,” my roommates clarified. 

I was skeptical at first, but I begrudgingly agreed to try it out. Rather than view these guidelines as limitations, I took them as a challenge. From now on, I would use these suggestions as motivation and turn these bland dishes into something flavorful and tasty.

After decent meals of butternut squash soup and vegetarian Mapo Tofu, Friday night came around and it was my turn to cook dinner. While I was craving breaded pork chops and rice pilaf, I scrapped that idea for a more ‘roommate friendly’ meal. I opened the fridge to see what we had: chicken breasts, spinach, mushrooms, and some old pizza. I shuddered. I had a flashback to my middle school cafeteria lunches of dry chicken, spinach slop, and frozen mushroom stew. Bringing myself back to reality, I knew I could do better. I chucked the pizza slices in the trash, grabbed my ingredients, and got to work. 

I sliced the chicken into pieces and coated them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder before browning in a pan. We had no heavy cream to make a creamy sauce, so I had to improvise. The chicken was replaced with butter and garlic and I worked on the sauce. I sweated out the mushrooms and added some chicken broth. I added in my spinach and threw my chicken back in, letting it simmer until the sauce thickened and the flavors melded together. I added salt and pepper to taste, and as a final touch, I grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano all over the meal.

Photo Courtesy of The Kitchn.

I did it. I not only cooked according to my roommates’ standards, but I also finished in record time. I am notorious for underestimating how long my meals take to cook—an estimated 7 p.m. dinner often turns into an 8:30 p.m. supper. I turned a meal I despised into something filling and flavorful.

I realize now that I limited my opportunities for food excellence by ignoring multiple food groups. I challenged myself to make a bland meal taste better, and mushrooms, spinach, and even grilled chicken can be delicious if cooked correctly. Although I prepare dinner each week, I only cooked to my tastes. This process made me broaden my culinary range and adapt my meals for my roommates’ taste buds. Pushing these boundaries led me out of my comfort zone and took my culinary skills to a new level. 

Setting down the platter of creamy spinach and mushroom chicken, I yell, “Dinner’s ready!”

Cover Photo Courtesy of Salt and Lavender.