I love the allure of a cup of coffee. I long to be sitting street-side at a café on a crisp day, warmed by the steam rising off my Italian espresso. I just don’t love the taste of it.
Actually, I kind of really hate how it tastes. And for that reason, I’ve never had a whole cup of coffee in my entire life. You’re already judging me, I know.
Most people have a hard time believing that I don’t drink coffee. Apparently, non-coffee drinkers are a rare breed nowadays. Starting the morning with a cup of caffeinated bean water has become so integrated in our professional lives and pursuits that surely, they say, I must have had one by now. The truth is I haven’t.
Until recently, I hadn’t even stopped to wonder if the absence of something that is so important in so many people’s lives had created a meaningful void in my life. But when I look back on how not drinking coffee has affected my career thus far, I recognize three defining moments.
The first moment took place when I was just beginning my career as a writer and I landed a coveted job interview. I had been emailing, cold-calling, and exhausting my connections for weeks when I finally got a notification in my inbox, subject line: ‘Coffee?’ I was stoked, anticipating my big break. It’s all finally happening! I responded excitedly without mentioning my distaste for coffee, because why would I? Surely, the coffee shop must have other beverages on offer, I figured.
The morning of, I was as nervous as in the minutes before a particularly high-stakes first date—except worse, because this person also had the potential to pay me a salary. I threw on my most impressive wares, put on my best hype song, and made my way to said coffee shop. I arrived confidently, and exchanged pleasantries in the cashier line with this potentially life-changing person. She ordered a mocha; I opted for a bottle of water.
As if a good first impression isn’t hard enough to make, try adding the mocha-whipped scent of silent judgement in the air.
The vibe of the interview instantly changed from open and friendly to stiff and standoffish. She proceeded to ask me if I wanted anything else, I told her that I was simply thirsty from my walk over and am not myself a coffee-drinker. As if a good first impression isn’t hard enough to make, try adding the mocha-whipped scent of silent judgement in the air. I sensed that she felt guilty for inviting me to a coffee shop, as if the hundred other options I could’ve ordered on the menu wouldn’t suffice. But ‘Good for you,’ she said out loud, ‘pretentious a-hole,’ read her face. I knew that not drinking coffee didn’t make me unhireable, but it sparked a dangerous question about whether I would fit into her company’s office culture. And as hard as I tried to seem like someone she could bring on her daily trip to the coffee shop, it was harder to break through without a mutual love for mocha.
The next instance of anti-coffee adversity arose after I landed a job, when it came to solidifying my social status at the office. Apparently, it isn’t as easy for non-coffee drinkers—at least in my experience, which took place during my third month at my first job in New York City. I was in a then-habitual slump over my desk, consumed by something or other on my screen. I looked up from my laptop and suddenly noticed that everyone seemed to have left. It was only 3pm. Did we have the afternoon off? What? Where? Is everyone hanging out without me? Spoiler alert: They most certainly were.
Around 15 minutes later, I heard laughter and footsteps as I glanced at my colleagues in attempts to exchange a ‘Hey guys, I’m here, remember me next time’ smile. But they wouldn’t, because as I soon found out from my first coveted work friend, I wasn’t in the office ‘Coffee Time’ Slack channel, and there are only so many times you can invite yourself to something before you seem desperate. So I finally mustered up the courage to ask said friend why I wasn’t invited to coffee runs. She explained it in terms I could finally understand, which were as follows:
When out having a cocktail, many people wouldn’t choose to drink with a teetotaler. Coffee is the daytime, office-appropriate equivalent of alcohol, and the culture surrounding it is very much the same. It wasn’t that my coworkers didn’t like me as a person; it’s that they didn’t want to feel judged. And no matter how hard I tried to voice how few fucks I gave if someone drank coffee, it had nothing to do with me. To the non-coffee drinker, it just looks like a normal daily beverage. To the coffee-addict, it is something to be judged for. It seemed that every time I came on a coffee run someone would comment on ‘how healthy I was’ or ‘how good I am’ simply because I wasn’t into the taste. It felt as if they were projecting judgement of themselves onto me, and I still hadn’t found a way to connect what they saw as their vice with the many I have of my own.
Beyond being an outsider during these daily bonding moments and to countless coffee memes, what really got to me was the casual brainstorming sessions I was missing out on—which brings me to the third issue with not drinking coffee: missed opportunities. As someone who has started a career in the editorial world, creative conversing is everything. The ‘a-ha moments’ that spawn the next issue’s cover story are rare and not to be missed. I learned the hard way that a lot of these decisions are made over cups of coffee.
As I was walking through the office one day, I overheard (well, eavesdropped on) a conversation between two coworkers on the edit team. They were fleshing out the details of an incredible idea they had, a celebrity exposé for the next issue’s cover story, conceived during their recent caffeine run. I unapologetically chimed in, inquiring about the celebrity behind said great idea only to get hit with a retort of, ‘Oh, we’ve got this—don’t worry about it.’ I desperately wanted to worry about it. But I wasn’t there when the idea was born, so in their eyes, I didn’t have equal input.
It was at that moment that I decided I could either force myself to like the taste of coffee, move to Los Angeles, or put in the extra effort to bond in other ways.
And in regards to the latter, I realized that all I would need to do is find another consistent avenue of relatability. Friendships and acquaintances fall into categories of shared interests: In the morning, the caffeine enthusiasts meet for coffee; the office lushes go to happy hour; the slaves to garbage TV convene to chat about the latest episodes of their preferred reality soap opera, and so on. Bonding is just about having a mutual vice that gives you an excuse to hang out, something to talk about, and a semblance of insight into your taste in things.
Lucky for me, I watch The Bachelor.