The first time I ever heard the word java it was as a slang for coffee. Probably on a cartoon or something. I avoided coffee until I was about 18 because I thought I didn’t like the taste, but it turned out to be my favorite tasting thing I’ve found in this life, nearly 29 years deep now. The real reason why I avoided it probably had to do with a fear of growing up, I having associated coffee with grownups at a young age.
Later, as the internet pervaded public life and eventually seeped into my personal one around the year 2000, thanks to my mother finally buying a computer, I saw that java was also the name of a programming language, one that would remain forever in my ignorance.
Between the ages of 20 and 22 I probably drank close to four cups of black coffee every day, usually randomly choosing blends that came from Colombia, Italy, Sumatra, etc. I started drinking it more to pick me up from my frequent hangovers. I’d heard that drinking a couple of cups of coffee after a night of heavy drinking also healed your liver from the effects of the night before. I took this hearsay pseudoscience as legitimate and it backfired big time. Eventually the excess of depressants from the night before and the excess of stimulants the next morning wrecked my nervous system for a couple of years and caused very severe panic attacks multiple times a day. I had to quit drinking alcohol altogether and had to quit drinking coffee regularly for a while in order to maintain any semblance of sanity. I felt I could only drink it when I was at home and alone without plans to leave, otherwise I would experience something akin to sensory overload, which would tighten my nerves very uncomfortably. Life was a living hell for a good while.
After a year of sobriety in the United States I moved to Thailand, which I thought was a tea drinking country. Turns out it’s got more of an instant coffee character going on nationwide. The first year I was there I didn’t drink any coffee really. Their instant coffee was premixed with sugar and cream, and I’m not really into liquid candy. I actually like the taste of coffee, and cigarettes, and IPAs, bold and bitter stuff. Toward the end of my second year there I started getting back into regular coffee drinking, because I knew where to find it black (usually, unfortunately, Starbucks), and because my nerves calmed down significantly. Each cup followed a cigarette back then. Get the mechanics of the heart to pump faster, then thin the blood for a good and legal effect. Then I told a girl that I’d run a half marathon, so I quit smoking as much while I trained, and continued a running regimen after the race, which interfered with the smoking habit to the point of eradicating it. By this time I’d consciously decided that I wanted to be a caffeine addict again.
On my way back to the US I stopped in France and Italy for a month where I drank amazing tasting double espressos every morning and occasionally in the afternoon. Sitting and reading in European cafes, and walking around the streets fully caffeinated was everything I’d hoped it would be.
I moved to Chicago and started visiting local roasters like Intelligentsia and Dark Matter before heading to the Harold Washington Library where I’d do writing and editing projects that supported my meek livelihood. Around this time I became a coffee snob because I noticed a significant enough difference in taste when the beans had been roasted more recently, and when they were prepared with expertise, as opposed to just buying any old bag on the supermarket shelves, or buying any cup from a minimum wage slave who learned how to pull a few levers. I also abandoned my French press for an Aeropress, noticing another significant difference in taste, and resolved to never buy beans that had been roasted any more than two weeks prior if at all possible. Most coffee packages have expiration dates (which mean absolutely nothing). The good ones have roast dates printed or written instead.
Now I live on an island called Java. In a country that grows and exports a lot of coffee. Despite this luxury, most people still choose to drink premixed sugar, cream, and coffee packets from Nescafe. This country is also home to the controversial Kopi Luwak, an expensive beverage that can cost upwards of $100 a cup. This animal, Luwak, a feral cat, eats the fruit off a coffee plant, poops out the beans, a guy roasts the beans, and somehow it makes the exchange value skyrocket. I haven’t tried this Indonesian delicacy, but I’ve had the Vietnamese variety—Robusta beans swallowed, digested, and crapped out by a weasel—a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t too bad. One of these days, though, I will probably slam down some serious dough for the primo catshit coffee made in a syphon. And yes, they do have an instant Kopi Luwak version here as well (premixed with cream and sugar if you like) for a considerably cheaper price. A coworker of mine drinks it every day.
Because of my addictive personality I have no doubt that my increasing obsession and spending habits on coffee have to do primarily with the caffeine kick I get at the beginning of each cup. For me it’s a drug without many negative side effects. But even with that as the basis, the act of honing in on this concoction and actively trying to create a better experience for those few minutes each day, in which I indulge in and appreciate it, controls a formerly aberrant energy within me that I previously didn’t know how to stop from destroying my body and character. Drinking coffee in the morning is the only part of my life that I treat with a ritualistic kind of love. The endless amounts of historical, theoretical, and philosophical books, articles, and blogposts you can read with regard to all areas of coffee preparation and enjoyment fascinate the scholar, scientist, and general obsessive in me. And the fact that my new home for the next few years is the island where the slang word for coffee derives from gives me a sort of metaphysical sensation—as if I’ve just landed somewhere where I’m supposed to be.