Step One: Admit you have a problem. Okay, here goes. I have a coffee drinking habit. It’s a tendency in which I’m joined by over 60 percent of Americans, according to the National Coffee Association. And in that group, I confirm a stereotype of another one, millennials, because my coffee drinking habit is based on a penchant for buying fancy espresso drinks — lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites and their ilk — rather than having a daily cup o’ joe from the office coffee pot.
Celebrity finance gurus say I’m part of a problem, a bad example. They say that if I want to grow a nest egg, buy a house and retire at a young age, I should not pay for espresso combined with steamed milk, and I certainly shouldn’t pay 50 cents extra for ice or, gasp, a dollar for alt-milk. Screw ’em. I hate the dismissive ageism laced into a fad phrase, but when I read or hear advice like this, I immediately think: okay boomer.
The thing is, I love those espresso drinks. I didn’t start drinking coffee until late in my college years when I spent a semester studying in Madrid. In Spain, a country that’s in my thoughts now more than normal given how hard it’s been hit by coronavirus, coffee, as with everything else there, takes on a more romantic/philosophical character. Walking to the metro each morning, I noted how Madrileños took to cafes, restaurants and bars to drink café solo and café con leche while standing shoulder to shoulder at the counter. Rarely do Spaniards take their coffee to go; they enjoy their morning coffee alone yet in communion. It saddens me to think of all those bars, now vacant and lonely.
I began drinking coffee in a similar fashion. Between classes, I’d visit my school’s cafe and order a café con leche with a croissant, sliced in half and toasted face down on a griddle. I’ll admit that I took up the custom in part to combat the vestiges of another adopted Spanish cultural habit — enjoying the night deep into its early hours — but I maintained it for its own sake. In Spain, I learned to like coffee through deference, rather than dependence.
I almost exclusively drink coffee on weekends now, with the occasional late-morning cappuccino midweek. There are something like seven coffee shops within a three-block radius of my apartment — not a single one a Starbucks — but I frequently make the trek by car or bike to my favorite farther-off spaces, like Sey in Bushwick and Devoción in Williamsburg. Now, many of these shops are either closed or operating with limited services.
What’s more, I made the decision to leave New York and weather this storm at my family home in Vermont. My mom’s caffeine regimen is different from mine. The coffee here is served daily; the French press often filled and pressed before I make it down the stairs to the kitchen. The beans are unremarkable, and the grinder she uses to break them comes in a time-worn tint that suggests decades of use. At least it matches the fifties-era Formica countertops.
But like me, my mom has a taste for quality food and drink — her pantry is a well of red wine and chocolate chip cookies — and she has a secret weapon. While her coffee brews, she pours milk into what looks like a small kettle, decked out in chrome. When she presses a button on its side, the gizmo begins a low, almost imperceptible hum. Something like 20 seconds later, it stops, and she removes its lid to reveal a cloud of foam.
These days, that little milk frothing machine has its work cut out for it. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, it’s fill, froth, repeat. Combined with coffee brewed in my Aeropress, it gets me as close as I’ll come to the lattes and cappuccinos that typically fuel my weekends. My mom and I argue over what type of milk produces the best foam — I’m for oat, she votes organic 2% — but we agree a layer of silky dairy is better than none at all.
Somewhere, those financial pundits might be mollified to know that, even as the world economy is reshaping itself in response to the spreading coronavirus, I’m no longer frittering away my money at cafes. But the joke’s on them, because I did this math too, and then I spent my would-be savings ordering freshly roasted beans from my favorite purveyors. They need the support right now, and I need the coffee.
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