When I was young and poor and beautiful, many moons ago, coffee played a major role in my daily life. I cared so much about it and elevated it to the highest status, right up there with shelter, good health, true love and a great handbag. Even though I was living with my mother, taking a bus and the Market-Frankford El into work, and earning less than $16,000 a year, I still wouldn’t dream of degrading myself by consuming the free coffee served in my office kitchen. I may have been poor, but I wasn’t a philistine.
Back in the day, we would all line up obediently like good little soldiers at Au Bon Pain every morning, ordering our caffe au laits and lattes. This was pre-Starbucks and Panera, of course. Au Bon Pain was the original aspirational coffee shop.
As I clawed my way up the corporate ladder (hear that, kids? graduating college in 1990 wasn’t a picnic in the job market either; I started at the bottom-of-the-bottom), both my coffee taste and consumption level seemed to grow proportionately. From Au Bon Pain, I moved to independent coffee shops, then to Dean and Deluca, then to this hot new company from Seattle called Starbucks, and finally to coffee purchased directly from Hawaii and shipped to me for $35 a pound. Yes, I was that person.
At the height of my addiction, I was probably drinking half a pot a day. It didn’t sound like that much back then, because like any proper addict, I comforted myself by knowing people who were worse off. I had plenty of friends who were just getting warmed up at half a pot.
I am not sure when things started to change. It was gradual, that much I know. Once I stopped working professionally, I still drank coffee, but as a nursing mother, not very much of it. Certainly not half a pot! We would buy bags of Starbucks, whatever variety struck our fancy on any given week (but never flavored), and I’m pretty sure one week I found a good sale on a different brand. That was the beginning of the end. I started to question the wisdom of spending so much money on coffee when, let’s face it, I really only wanted the caffeine.
My descent probably went something like this: Hawaiian Kona, Local Roaster, Starbucks, Green Mountain, Dunkin’ Donuts, Eight O’Clock, Wegmans Store Brand, Folgers and/or Maxwell House. But wait, it gets even worse! Last month I stumbled upon a small jar of Maxwell House instant coffee in my pantry, probably left over from some fancy-pants recipe of mine. Does anyone under the age of 70 admit to drinking instant coffee? But I decided to give it a try, and guess what? It was perfectly fine, as caffeine delivery systems go.
Just when I thought I couldn’t fall any lower, yesterday I was in the coffee aisle and right next to the Maxwell House instant, I saw the store brand instant for sixty whole cents less a jar and thought, “Sure, why not? Maxwell House, ha! Who do I think I am, Oprah?” I’m pretty sure the only place left to go at this point is a caffeine pill. Generic, of course.