It took me over thirty years to become a coffee drinker. My java abstinence was an inconspicuous trait for the first eighteen years, as few of my peers cared for a cup o’ joe either (although one good friend did try to pull an all-nighter by eating coffee beans). Nor did things change at college, where coffee was surely one of the least preferred beverages. Once I joined the working world, however, I grew a tad self-conscious about my aversion.

Laboring under the fluorescent lights of a windowless office environment, I was surrounded by coworkers who were preoccupied with the status of the break room coffee maker. It was tended to with great care, as an auto enthusiast might treat a prized vehicle. Occasionally someone with little competence in the areas of filter usage and serving measurement would run afoul of those who knew better and henceforth be banned from making coffee. It was serious business, second only to our actual, what-we-were-being-paid-for business. Such is the power of a communal caffeine dependency.

I watched it all from afar, like a little boy eyeing his Dad mixing a drink and wondering what it was like to be an adult. I saw them going through their daily ritual, fussing with stirrers and sugar and cream, some of the warehouse workers hoisting gargantuan mugs containing enough caffeine to resurrect Lazarus, and it made me want to be grown-up, too. Several times I tried a mug, following the advice of veteran coffee drinkers who assured me that the proper mix of sweeteners would result in a concoction I would find palatable. But no matter how much sugar or cream I poured in, an acrid bitterness always found its way through to my taste buds. I had no tolerance for coffee that tasted anything like coffee.

This left me fending off my own drowsiness and indulging my sweet tooth with the soft drinks in which I had always indulged. Sometimes, after wistfully observing the satisfied smile of a coworker ambling down the hall with a steaming coffee mug, I would walk into the kitchen and prepare a cup of instant hot cocoa. It was a hollow substitute, I knew, me sipping hot chocolate like a wanna-be smoker puffing candy cigarettes. It looked like coffee, though, and I tried to affect the attitude of my coworkers. “Ahhh,” I would sigh after downing my first slurp, “that’s good!” They smiled as a parent regards precocious play.

Graduate school turned me around. I enrolled in an accelerated, five-quarter program that would enable me to earn a master’s degree in education as well as my teaching certification. It was a full-time endeavor, and even without “working,” the pace was all-encompassing. Grad school was the first time that I had so much to do that I worked through the night and into the next day, going back to class without so much as a nap. If ever I was to become a coffee drinker, this was a time when it would be quite practical.

Nathan, a fellow student and good friend, seemed delighted by my intention to become a real adult like him and start drinking coffee. He guided me through the intimidating process of selecting a coffee maker of sufficient quality, capacity, and convenience. Then, like a recovering coma patient relearning how to perform routine tasks, I was introduced to the concept of the filter basket and its proper use. Nathan advised me on how much ground coffee is too much, and how much is too little. Slowly, the information started to gel, and before long, I was savoring my first cup of coffee.

Alright, not actually savoring. More like tolerating. I was determined to overcome my coffee aversion, and since this was all about finally growing up, I decided to take it like a man. Black. No sweeteners to mask the bitterness (nor to add unwanted calories!). If I was to become a coffee drinker, I wanted to go all the way. What’s more, I wanted to embrace a drink so foul that I would never know a bad cup of coffee, whatever the circumstances. And that’s exactly what I did.

By the time I was student teaching, I had acquired a generous travel mug. I sipped black coffee throughout the day, enjoying the caffeine surge and feeling as though I was getting away with imbibing an illicit substance. Genuine, certified teachers were also drinking the stuff, and I nodded at them knowingly. I was one of them now. I was a real adult.

I took a travel mug to school for my first six years of teaching. Then I was moved to a corner classroom that had originally been intended for kindergartners. As such, it had not only its own bathroom but also a spacious kitchenette. The counter space cried out for a coffee maker, and soon I was strolling among the desks while nursing a steaming mug of freshly brewed java. Again I experienced the thrill of getting away with a creature comfort that seemed contrary to the formality of the classroom. It was the beverage equivalent of padding around in a smoking jacket and slippers. Sometimes I would even prepare the next day’s coffee as I left, setting the timer so that the coffee maker would start to brew without interrupting my morning lesson planning.

It was fun and comforting for a few years, but then I began to notice in myself symptoms that rather took the romance out of coffee drinking. Whereas once I had enjoyed the stimulation of a morning caffeine rush, I now felt lethargic without it. Instead of picking me up, it merely restored me to normalcy. Now I understood why those warehouse guys were carrying around half-gallon jugs of coffee all those years ago. What’s more, I was still drinking a caffeinated soft drink at lunch and again with dinner. Also around this time, I witnessed a friend endure the extreme discomfort of a sudden kidney stone attack. His doctor told him to cut out caffeine. As the benefits seemed to have been overcome by detriments, I decided to take the medical advice for myself. I went cold turkey on morning coffee and switched to caffeine-free soft drinks.

I’m no zealot about it, for I still enjoy a cup of coffee now and then (especially the various specialty drinks that make operating a coffee house so profitable), but I’ve ceased making it a habit. That way, I can enjoy the old, familiar rush without becoming dependent on it. Besides, there’s more to life than drinking coffee. After forty years of avoidance, I’ve finally learned to drink tea.