study mornings, Locust Walk
study mornings, Locust Walk

This post is inspired by this excellent paper by Natnicha Bhumiratana, Koushik Adhikari and Edgar Chamberx IV. I highly recommend that anyone interested in food, perception and emotional links to food should read this (and related papers). The paper is mainly about developing an emotional lexicon for analyzing the emotions associated with coffee drinking.

While emotional lexicons for food in general do exist, the authors point out that certain foods and consumer products are associated with deeper and more distinct emotions than others. So while they focus on the pleasures associated with drinking coffee, one can apply the same methodology for comfort foods, ice-cream or chocolate. Time permitting, I would love to replicate this study with other foods.

Which brings us back to today’s post.

I’m not a serious coffee drinker. I am more of a tea and juice person. I have an unhealthy obsession with sweet hot drinks. A recurring memory from my time at Penn is going down to the Wawa with my close friend and housemate and getting coffee. Of course, with her, coffee-getting was getting coffee. My coffee was primarily an excuse to drink sweet coffee flavored milk. It was a ritual. 2 cm of sugar, followed by 3 inches of milk, and topping it off with hazelnut coffee. I still remember my friend’s look of disapproval.

This photo has nothing to do with that memory. This path is part of UPenn’s ‘Locust Walk’. I’d walk along this to reach a Saxby’s for morning study sessions with another friend. Our morning study sessions would typically start around 6 am. During winter times, it could be just a few minutes shy of sunrise. I’d alternate between jogging and walking and try and reach there before my friend, mainly so I could thaw out before sitting down. We’d commandeer two tables (one is just barely big enough to accommodate two laptops), plug in everything and then order. She’d order coffee and a bagel. I went for hot chocolate or flavored steamers. I do believe I’ve only ordered coffee 5-6 times in my two years there.

But quite simply, my choice of beverage on those mornings were associated more with ‘must warm up, thaw out fingers and begin work’ and a sugar jolt to calm the nerves. I could in fact have drunk anything warm except hot water and my productivity levels would have stayed the same. I didn’t like to go to libraries with my laptop. I had my over-heated, loud HP then. I still have it, but now I have a different primary machine. That laptop could function as a space-heater. Saxby’s morning crowd, plus their music selection was just loud enough to drown out my laptop’s fan. Ambiance and background noise are very important.

I associate flavored steamers with those early morning study sessions. I miss my friend. I miss being able to walk to a cafe that early and just work for 3-4 hours. I haven’t found my person here for that. I have my chai latte person. I have my chai latte place. They don’t make a spectacular cup of chai, and you get unstirred chai powder at the bottom of your cup. But it’s the environment that matters. And it’s the company.

Coffee now, is associated strongly with ‘Home’. I have coffee when I’m with my parents at home. We drink it at 11 am every morning, with a snack. It’s when we all sit together and either talk, or watch ‘The Saint’ (1960 spy thriller show with Roger Moore). It’s a very milky tea, made old-school style, on a stove with turkish coffee my cousin has sent from Dubai. We ran out of the different types I had brought over from Philly. It’s piping hot coffee, in rather small cups (free cups that came with a Tetley tea promotion). They are the perfect size to enjoy tea or coffee. Just big enough to get the appropriate amount, small enough to encircle with your hands, and last long enough to enliven conversation.

When I drink coffee at home here, it’s usually instant coffee, or from a self-serve sachet. It’s to get the pick-me-up before I head over to college lunch or a pre-lunch-department-study-session. It means nothing.

I’m less likely to order coffee when ‘having a coffee with friends’. I’d add too much sugar and milk. I’d rather have a chai latte. Or a hot chocolate. The only time I’d be willing to have a coffee in a cafe, is if I was by myself and had to do some light, stress-free reading or some necessary busy-work and could savor flavor and aroma. The last time this happened was in December 2013. It was a Starbucks here. I spent a good half an hour with the coffee, just staring out at Cornmarket and thinking. It was quite lovely. That was my time.

What do you associate with your favorite hot beverage?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.