As a homegrown New Englander from rural Connecticut, I can’t remember a time I didn’t feel the need to have a warm beverage in my hands at all times. My fondest childhood memories include sitting by the woodstove on chilly mornings, warming my hands around a mug of sweet chamomile tea.
By the time high school rolled around, I had traded in my bad hair and JNCO jeans for boys who broke my heart and girls who asked me to prom even before I knew the extent of my queerness. My life was moving at breakneck speed and I needed a beverage that could fuel my impassioned diary scribbling and burgeoning queer-girl feelings! I switched to black tea: easy to make, strong but not overwhelming, and dependable — more dependable than relationships, and certainly more dependable than my complicated feelings.
Black tea saw me through the rest of high school and through many cold winters and shitty relationships in college, too. Graduation crept up on me, and I found myself 22, single, and ready to move on to something that required more investment than a cheap auto-drip or a tea bag, something that cultivated a little more passion and commitment and love. I was ready for a longer-term commitment. I broke up with the dining-hall dishwater and shitty espressos of my past, moved to New York, and embraced my new relationship with the single-cup Aeropress brewing method.
Today, black coffee is but one of many receptacles of my love and adoration. Still, I can’t deny that coffee and cafes have played a clutch role in getting me to where I am today in one piece:
Coffee was there for me when I was navigating life as a queer girl trying to masquerade as a sort-of-straight girl in a relationship with a dude who never wanted to acknowledge my sexuality.
Coffee was there for me throughout my hot mess of an experience living in NYC, waiting patiently for me at my many go-to Manhattan coffee shops, where I’d document my many feelings in my journal and pick up new ideas for Alternative Lifestyle Haircuts (if you’re looking for dykey hairspiration, NYC’s pretty solid).
Coffee was my daily constant, my liquid courage for when I got more comfortable saying the word ‘bisexual’, and then graduating to ‘queer,’ and then actually being able to say it out loud. In conversation. Even to my parents. So there.
Coffee was there for me when I ended a two-year relationship, left New York City, and funneled all my savings into a quarter-life-crisis cross-country road trip. Treating myself to one solid cup of coffee out in the town was the one creature comfort I promised myself each day, and it helped me start to get over a decades-long habit of not allowing myself to do things just for fun.
Coffee was my go-to in each new city I hit up on my epic journey toward radical self-love and oh-shit-where-did-my-money-go: Café Du Monde in New Orleans, Intelligentsia in L.A., Blue Bottle in San Francisco… Over cups of coffee with strangers or old acquaintances, I got to benefit from the happy feels of coffee as well as the stronger relationships and friendships that came out of it.
Though it might seem that way from my own love story, coffee’s glory is not just about touchy-feely relationship-building. Coffee is actually a magical wonder-drug that produces chemicals to make us feel stimulated and connected! Consuming coffee stimulates the production of dopamine, the same brain chemical that’s released when you orgasm. (This might help explain why you feel so ecstatic after your first cup of coffee in the morning.) Caffeine also increases the firing of neurons in your brain, which prompts your body to produce adrenaline — the hormone that makes your heart beat faster and your pupils dilate, recreating how you might feel from flirting. Or sexytimes. Nice.
These days, as I’m settling into my new home in the Boston area (my town’s a veritable queer-girl haven), coffee serves new crucial purposes. My neighborhood coffee shop, 3 Little Figs, is where I go for a quiet cup of kickass Gimme Coffee. Nearby Diesel Cafe is where I go when I’m feeling cool enough to get my heart broken by the ever-sexy genderqueer baristas (seriously, let Autostraddle’s Queer Girl City Guide be your bible). Caffeine gets me through long days as a youth worker, and is THE BEST accompaniment to chocolate ever.
Coffee and related merch have become my go-to for relationship-building and gift-giving. (Check out my recommendations on the next page!) Basically, coffee’s one of my favorite things, and I hope maybe it’ll be your thing too, and we can enjoy all the things TOGETHER!
Coffee Queeries: Holigay Gift Guide 2013 on Page 2
I can get a little cranky around the holidays. Maybe because the compulsory consumerism both irks the social justice-y nerd in me and compels me to weep over my bank account. Maybe because there is not enough booze in the world to get me through another holiday (any day?) with my family. Maybe because I CANNOT DEAL with another rendition of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” (But no offense to you, Mariah, or your bountiful curves.)
Still, I do enjoy having a socially acceptable excuse to share my favorite things with people I like. And then maybe they’ll share them with me. Cue COFFEE LOVE. Coffee, tea, and related products are awesome, affordable, shareable things that I love to give and receive. Here’s why:
They’re thoughtful. Reinforce your awesomeness as a gift-giver by showing you know your lover/friend/coworker well enough to buy them a medium roast instead of extra-dark, or 70% dark chocolate rather than milk. (But make sure you know what your gift recipients actually like… there is no greater buzzkill than having the love of your life buy you a tricked-out Keurig with a steaming wand when all you drink is espresso-strength black Aeropress coffee. Awk.)
They’re inexpensive (or can be). Of course there are always super fancy expensive coffeemakers and authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee that you should feel free to buy if you can swing it. For those of us who might be a bit thin of wallet around this time of year (or, um, always… youth workers and nonprofit professionals, holler), sharing a cheaper but well-chosen gift can make the holidays way less stressful and way more appetizing. (No, seriously — who can get through all that coffee/chocolate on their own anyway? Sharing is caring.)
They last. With coffee makers, beans, and clutch accessories like chocolate, the gift keeps on givin’ with each new brew or bar. Yay, happy holiday feelings!
They’re fabulous LAST-MINUTE GIFTS. The items I’ve listed here are some of my favorites, but def check out your city’s coffee shops, bookstores, and farmers’ markets to see what goodies are to be had on the local level. A lot of coffee and tea products can be had (quickly and easily) through Amazon or other big-box stores, but you’ll get major brownie points with your partner, family, and your own holigay soul if you start within your own community. Buy local and buy queer if you can!
Anyway. Here are some coffee-related things I hope can find a home in your or your girlfriend’s hearts and cupboards. Nom!
There are about 500 methods for brewing solid coffee: the automatic drip coffee maker, French press, percolator, pour-over, vacuum, cold-brew, Keurig… and you should feel free to spend hours doing obsessive online research into the pros and cons of each method to figure out what you like or might like or might like to give someone. In the meantime, I’m gonna link you up to two solid options for the gift-giving coffee lover who believes in tasteful but budget-friendly gifts.
I am the ultimate AeroPress fangirl. Here’s why: The AeroPress brews coffee with less than one-fifth of the acidity of regular drip coffee, so they’re great for those whose stomachs can’t handle the bitterness or acidity of conventional coffee. You can make coffee or espresso of whatever strength you’d like.
AeroPresses are relatively cheap and very portable, so you can have one at work, one at home, one for traveling… They’re also made by the same people who make boomerangs. Yup. I swear it’s real.
What to say about Melitta? This single-cup pour-over method predated the auto-drip coffeemaker of today, and works quite decently if you’re using good, freshly ground coffee. I’ve seen this shit at coffee shops and festivals right next to expensive machines.
Key points: It’s ridiculously cheap. It’s freakishly light and portable. You can fit it with reusable filters to avoid waste. And it’s called a BREWING CONE. Sounds delicious.
To complement their brewing method of choice, the object of your gifting affections may also need…
Coffee beans. Buy whole beans! And make sure your lucky gift-recipient has or can get access to a grinder. Check the roasting dates on the bag before buying, and grind the beans shortly before using them for max flavor. Give the gift of fresh local beans! Some of my favorite roasters: Gimme! Coffee from upstate NY (I have savored goods at each of their locations in Ithaca and NYC) and Counter Culture Coffee, based in NC but now with a regional training center in Boston! Woo!
A basic blade grinder. I’ve seen these for sale at my local coffee shops. Buy the hand-crank grinders if you’re mega hardcore… OR buy the electric burr grinder if you often find yourself trying to brew coffee when you are tired/hung over/not fully awake because duh, you haven’t had your coffee yet.
A water heater or electric kettle. Available basically anywhere for not too much money. Electric kettles are great if you want temperature controls for those of us who are hardcore about our brewing. Then again, you can always buy an old-school tea kettle, you know, the kind you can find at any store or yard sale and just pop on the stove and wait for the whistle. SPACE AGE, I KNOW.
A solid thermos, sized appropriately to your gift recipient’s caffeine needs. Good thermoses will keep your beverages hot all day (which is especially convenient when you kind of forget to clean out your thermos and woke up late and it’s too early to make coffee so you’re stuck with the remnants of yesterday’s brew… good thing it’s still hot!). They also come in hilariously massive sizes and cute patterns and colors. Choose carefully.
And for anyone feeling overwhelmed by all the options and where the hell do I even START with all this shit should definitely check out this fabulous article by Lifehacker. It makes the art of coffee seem much more affordable and much less terrifying.
Delicious Places and Things
What goes well with coffee? (What goes well with everything?) CHOCOLATE!
I am forever in love with Taza Chocolate, a chocolate factory local to Somerville, Mass. Taza makes organic, stone-ground Mexican-style chocolate through sustainable means and fair trade. (And by grossly obsessed, I mean to say I may have done literally all of my holiday shopping at their store. Buy $75 worth of product, get extra chocolate for free! DONE AND DONE.)
All of Taza’s chocolates are gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. And who wouldn’t appreciate knowing that their holigay gift is also ethically sourced?! Their round Chocolate Mexicano disks and bars are also available in flavors as unique and varied like Spiked Eggnog, Coco Besos, and, of course, Coffee. My heart just beat a little faster.
For those of you local to eastern Massachusetts: Taza also offers factory tours for just $5! You get to poke their vintage chocolate-making machines, enjoy obscene amounts of free samples, and hear the word “cacao” even more than in a Portlandia episode. Great place for a holiday date.
And to those of you who are down for traveling to get your fix, I seriously recommend buying tickets for the 2014 Coffee & Tea Festival in NYC and Philly, which will feature more coffee, tea, chocolate, and Alternative Lifestyle Haircuts than you’ve ever seen or heard or imagined in your wildest, queerest dreams. Go with an open mind and empty stomach.
Eat, drink, be merry and gay! Any other recommendations, my fellow Straddlers?
featured image from shutterstock.com