Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Four Dollar A Day Habit

Lara Nelson
English 101
Division and Analysis

It seemed that every Monday through Friday, before I made the decision to not do this routine anymore, I would stop by my local coffee shop on my way to work, and wait in a line behind maybe 3 or 4 people, all of us waiting to place a tall, medium, or large espresso coffee drink order.  If the line were longer then 3 or 4 people, I would still wait, even if it meant I would have been late for work.

Even though I had repeated that same routine many times, every Monday through Friday, it still would take me a moment or two to decide on the same coffee drink I would order every weekday: a 20 ounce americano made with Sumatra coffee beans, a half ounce shot of sugar free caramel syrup, foamed skim milk on top, and room for cream.  Why I never wrote this on an index card and recited it to the barista is beyond me.

I did enjoy the atmosphere of the Kimball Espresso Gallery Coffee Shop, on Kimball drive, in Gig Harbor Washington, the old lived-in couches, abstract paintings on the walls by local artists with price tags displayed underneath each one, the mini running water fountains, the local folk music playing, with the artists music cd’s for sale displayed on a rotating stand by the door.  I also enjoyed the aromas of fresh ground Sumatra beans and toasted almonds that filled the air.

It’s not that I could afford the luxury of spending 3 dollars a day plus a 1-dollar tip to the barista, it's just that I felt a sense of privilege as if I were a part of a corporate world of remote laptop computers, Wall Street Journal Newspapers, PC Magazines, intellectual conversation, intelligent music, hot lattes, cappuccinos, and americano coffee drinks.

I enjoyed the luxury of drinking coffee out of a disposable paper cup.  It felt lavishly selfish knowing that I was the first person to drink out of each new cup, a cup that before my lips no other lips had touched, and when the coffee was gone I could just throw the cup away.

I guess at that time this selfish luxury helped compensate my low esteem.   I don’t even think I really enjoyed the coffee shops coffee anymore than if I would have brewed it myself.

"Oh, who am I kidding it could never compare. But, I should not do this, when money is scarce,  and if It gets better, then should know.
I don't need to do this on every "weak" day. Drink expensive, cool coffee, then toss earth away."

I was awed by the 20-ounce recycled paper cup which was inserted into another cup of the same type, then placed in into a brown recycled paper cup holder (to protect hands from the hot contents that was inside), topped with a domed black plastic cap with a hole to insert a straw.

It felt good at that time that I could frivolously spend money just like the people who pulled into the shops parking lot in Jaguars and BMW automobiles, that I was their equal and could live and behave like I believed they did. For a moment I thought this was it what it is.  I never wanted the cars, just the hope to fit in.

The stylish design of the cup and how the hot liquid felt through the cup on my hands had given me comfort, like a warm blanket on a cold day protecting me from the brisk coldness of a world I normally felt unfit to live in, and how when holding and drinking from the cup added to the illusion of acceptance, success and security that I had created for myself.

It seemed a waste to just throw away such a brilliantly engineered cup with all of its parts, but yet it still was thrown away at some point in the day.  I would sometimes refill the cup at work with the free Yuban coffee made for the office employees.  The Yuban coffee did not taste all that bad when I drank it out the elegantly designed paper cup.

I was a student at college who purchased my clothing in thrift shops, my groceries in outlet stores, and yet I was willing to spend 3 dollars plus 1 dollar tip for a cup of coffee every weekday morning, that I could not afford.  I had to ask myself why I was so convinced it was such a luxury to drink coffee out of a paper cup enough to spend such a large amount of money every weekday.

I also asked myself how much money in a year I could save if I were to give up this lavish habit.  I did the calculations and was a bit shocked to discover that I was spending $960 dollars a year!  To some people that may not seem like much money, but to a college student with an 8 year old kid, bills to pay, and living paycheck to paycheck, this was insanity!

Why I did not just buy a bag of Sumatra coffee beans for 10 dollars a pound, grind the beans, and then brew it fresh I did not know then, but I think I know now.  The coffee would have lasted me a month and I could have had a second cup of the same coffee without returning to the coffee shop.

I did and still do have a coffee maker on my desk at my office, but I guess the routine of going to that coffee shop, the smells of the shop, its atmosphere, and that fantastic paper cup, played a huge role in my being compelled to keep up that routine.

The weekday morning ritual was comforting. I was calmed by the repetition of the routine.  I felt for a moment, when buying an overly priced cup of coffee in a fancy paper cup, privileged, like the person who drove up in the Jaguar or BMW, and a sense of control over the ever stressful, unpredictable workday that awaited me.

I believe I may have been addicted to the strength of the espresso which was made by applying 200 lbs of pressure that pumped out perfect one ounce shots of espresso, the consistency of warm honey, of which I would have 2 shots in my americano, from an elegant but forceful looking espresso machine.  I never considered at the time that my coffee habit was not much different then that of a cigarette smoker.   I depended on that coffee to control my mood and give me energy, yet that americano coffee drink, almost always left me feeling jittery, not completely satisfied and craving more.

Was it the caffeine blast, the routine, or the feeling of privilege that compelled me to keep doing, what was for me, an irresponsible practice?
There are certain things that I feel I should be able to control in my life: who I love, how I love, who I spend time with, whether I choose to watch a television program or read a book, and what I eat, so I should be able to control an expensive coffee habit, right?  Sure I could, and I did gain control of this habit.   How I gained that control was not by eliminating the 20-ounce americano forever, but limiting how often I indulged in having it and when I did, I would make it a truly special occasion by bringing my husband and son.

I began a new routine of making coffee at my office in the machine on my desk and decided on getting a brand with only half the caffeine to drink on a more regular basis, as well as a bag of Sumatra beans that I would grind in the five dollar coffee grinder I purchased at a local thrift shop, just before brewing, and I would drink on occasion only, to avoid getting the jitters.  Also, I purchased an elegant custom painted ceramic coffee mug, for nine dollars at the same little coffee shop I bought the pricy americano coffee drinks to drink my coffee in.

Now I brew fresh coffee and enjoy it out of an artfully designed, hand crafted mug every weekday morning, instead of drinking the expensive americano coffee drinks prepared by the barista.  True, I’m still drinking coffee (I never said I wanted to quit), but I feel I took a step in a positive direction making the changes I did.

A one pound bag of Sumatra coffee beans can last me approximately two months at ten dollars a bag and the tin can of coffee with half the caffeine as regular coffee can last me three months at eight dollars a can, adding up to approximately $92 dollars a year, significantly less than what I would spend before I quit the four dollar a day habit! The late arrivals to work, from waiting in the occasional long line at the coffee shop, have ceased as well.

I enjoy my new routine of preparing my own coffee and on the days when I make the Sumatra I put my nose up to the fresh ground beans and smell the rich aroma just before putting it in the coffee filter.  Once and a while I still go to the coffee shop, but now I go with my husband and son on an occasional Saturday or Sunday, my son will have cocoa, my husband a cappuccino, and I always have my usual americano and we all enjoy the cozy, intelligent atmosphere together.

The adjustments I have made in my routine have made me happier in the sense that now I truly do have control over what makes me feel good, when in my old habit I did not really have that control, because I was spending money that I could not afford to spend.  It took a little time to get used to the changes, maybe a week or so, but than I felt just as good in my new routine as I did in my old routine, but this time I was saving money and not feeling wasteful or selfish.

I feel better about myself because I am not wasting money for something I do not need and instead that money can be spent on my family.  I am not late for work anymore, because of the occasional long line at the coffee shop, which I am sure my boss appreciates.  Also, I am drinking less caffeine on a more regular basis and as a result my nerves are calmer.  In all actuality I feel better than I had before, because I don’t have to frivolously spend money to enjoy a good cup of coffee or drink coffee out of a paper cup that will just get thrown away.

(updated  ~9/9/2012 LGN)

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