Whether or not I sound like a shill for Starbucks, as the Latte Macchiato is their hot new drink, I care not. Full disclosure: Starbucks corporate offices did not pay or otherwise induce me to write this. This comes from my heart.
I feel passionately about good coffee as a 24/7 stimulant, creativity enhancer, appetite suppressant and warm, fuzzy, good feeling-producer. I love coffee more, perhaps, than any food. I definitely consume it more.
This particular noteworthy cup comes along when my boyfriend and I are out on a rainy January day. Fleeing the confines of his Mount Washington home to run some errands. When we go into the Starbucks I think to myself: Oh, I might get something since I’m here. I have a Christmas Starbucks gift card burning a hole in my pocket. It’s easy to let my eyes slide over the menu before settling on their new drink: a Latte Macchiato. Why not.
When I pick up my coffee off the countertop, I feel the heat of the espresso through the paper cuff. It radiates through my palm. A resonant smell reminiscent of fresh yoga mornings permeates the shop. I can smell hints of praline and whipped cream from the frappuccinos being crafted nearby.
I love to stay up all night. Meditation is at dawn. I end each session with the tinkling of a bell and a cup of fresh Keurig-brewed coffee. It is a ritual I repeat time and time again, bracketed by sun salutations. Coffee is an intrinsic part of my nocturnal ritual. The smell of coffee always brings me back to those mornings when the first pale tendrils of dawn light creep through my white curtains. I sit at my altar with candles and incense burning. Say what I am thankful for.
Here in the Starbucks I am not feeling so spiritual. I am hungry for caffeine. I grab a green plastic straw. Rip the wrapper off. Plunge it through the plastic top. I always drink my coffee with a straw so not to mess up my lipstick. Femme priorities. My dead wife used to call me “The femm-iest femme who ever femmed.” Accurate.
I take my first sip.
“Well, this is basically espresso,” I remark to my boyfriend as we leave.
But what espresso it is! Rich, nutty, swirling with flavor in my mouth like the wine I used to taste with gusto back when I drank. Now that coffee has replaced red wine I often get lost in the multilayered tastes of coffee. I swirl the tip of my tongue in the well of my mouth as I used to when wine tasting. Caramel. Walnut. Oak. Acid tang.
I drank jar after jar of Trader Joe’s cold brew while writing this essay. I drink cups of dark Cuisinart coffeemaker Café Verona every time I’m at my boyfriend’s. Coffee is a constant in my life. This is a spectacular cup of coffee.
The rush of hot espresso flows into my mouth. I feel at once the feeling illustrated in an old punk friend’s comic in nineties zine times past: a drawing of a girl who crawled inside her cup of coffee and is huddling there as if in a jacuzzi. In the rainy winter afternoon, shivering in my cat leggings, I want to crawl inside of the paper Starbucks cup.
With the holidays over, my favorite Eggnog Lattes banished, the paper cup isn’t that controversial red anymore. The cup is far too small for me to fit into no matter how many meals I skip for cups of coffee. I grip the tiny cup as we go into Ralph’s.
The crema of the espresso comes through as I lift the straw higher to sip the foamed milk that sits atop it. The rich, savory puff of pure white foamed milk rests like a velvet blanket on top of the espresso. In front of the raw chicken display, I pull the lid off the drink to better scoop the foamed milk from the cup to my mouth with the green straw. It falls soft across my tongue, the milk fat delicious.
“I think whatever kind of chicken you buy for the dog’s chicken strips, it will be fine. I mean, they’re dogs,” I say to my boyfriend, shoveling foamed milk into my red-lipsticked mouth with the tip of the straw.
The moment where the dark brown espresso meets the foamed milk is a perfect line, unsullied by any loose and slatternly steamed milk. The Latte Macchiato is essentially a cappuccino with more espresso, but I’m totally fine with that. It’s sort of like the way Taco Bell essentially reshuffles the same five ingredients and calls it something different every few years when they want to inject some freshness into their menu. I get it. Starbucks needs to create something new every once in a while to keep it fresh. Pumpkin Spice Latte season only lasts so long. Why not extend the cappuccino into a new beverage? More espresso is always a good idea.
I dip the straw back into the coffee and taste the buttery foamed milk and rich espresso together. The milky coffee flows into my mouth bringing with it a warm sense of satisfaction.
I have acute grocery-store-based anxiety. I think from back when I used to be on food stamps and grocery shopping was so stressful. Many trips to the grocery store I am scuttling, frantic, even now, for the ever-present bottle of Xanax in my purse. My psychiatrist keeps me well-supplied because she knows without benzodiazepines twice daily, I can’t even go to the grocery store. I had a panic attack in the Hollywood Trader Joe’s in 2013. Now, I can’t go back there without being triggered.
But here, in Ralph’s, with this Latte Macchiato in my hand, I am comforted. The small paper cup acts as an anchor for me as we navigate the aisles. I do not need a Xanax. I need only to take sip after sip of warm, milky espresso. Finally, I take the lid off the top and lick up every morsel of foamed milk sticking to the side of the cup with my finger.
Hot milk is comforting. I have never had it before bed, but I feel that sentiment scooping white pouf after succulent whorl of foamed milk out of that cup. With each taste I feel sustained. Nourished. Warmed.
I didn’t buy any groceries that day in the Ralph’s. I just had the coffee. I don’t have an eating disorder, I swear. I just really love coffee. I buy groceries the following day: a Trader Joe’s sack of frozen bag risottos, kale quinoa and polenta, carrot juice, chocolate lace cookies. I do eat. I love a big bloody steak.
Rereading this essay, I realize it sounds like an ode to anorexia. I’m not anorexic. I just get super anxious in grocery stores. That and my apartment’s wi-fi network is called “carbs,” not sure what that means. Any girl growing up on Barbie in this weight-obsessed culture will have a few food issues. They’re like daddy issues. Most chicks have them. I would be lying if I didn’t own up to mine.
What is the Internet for, if not honesty? Writing food essays about not eating is so meta. I can’t decide if it’s tragic or a great idea.
We go out again into the rainy January evening. The sun is just beginning to set in swirls of radiant, neon pink. I dump the empty cup into the Ralph’s trash. A forgotten husk of a fleeting moment.
A cup of extraordinary coffee: sometimes it’s all you need to be happy.
The Aesthetics of Food is a bi-monthly series where writers respond creatively to the sights, textures, smells, and sounds of food. Please send queries and submissions to email@example.com.