I was born and raised a Frappuccino girl. I entered adolescence at a time when the middle school cultural scene was dominated by poorly plucked eyebrows (often badly drawn back on with muddy eyeshadow), all-purpose outfits consisting of soccer shorts and an inevitably clashing Aeropostale blouse, and egregious overuse of the Clarendon Instagram filter. As it turns out, all of these cornerstones of my middle school experience paired quite nicely with vanilla bean Frappuccinos (pictures of which were always promptly posted on Instagram after being utterly desecrated by — you guessed it — the Clarendon Instagram filter).
While I occasionally branched out to try the mocha or caramel renditions of the icy, sugar-loaded blended drink, I maintained a sworn opposition to any and all beverages that resembled actual coffee in any manner. By the time I entered my final years of high school, my go-to Starbucks order had developed slightly to the cloyingly sweet Skinny Mocha, but the principle remained.
When I embarked on my first college summer internship and entered the corporate world, however, I knew that it was high time to force my taste buds to evolve. The lack of vegan options in my hometown had already required me to order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the standard intern-courting lunch outing on my first day of work. I imagined that to follow that incident up by ordering a ten-syllable coffee at a Starbucks meeting would be something of a professional faux pas, so I settled on a conventional almond milk latte.
My dedication to inconspicuous lattes stuck for weeks — mid-morning coffee runs and quick lunches with coworkers were made much less nerve-inducing without the fear of judgement. But on more formal outings, when ordering meant announcing my drink preference in front of a supervisor or senior colleague who would then pay for me, it remained disconcerting to be the only individual deviating from a classic Pike Place or a black cold brew. Knowing that my middle school self would be distraught to discover that I had taken up recreational coffee consumption, I started slowly by mixing an excessive dose of soy milk into a house brew.
As my work projects grew more substantial and my days in the office proportionately more chaotic, my need for caffeine took precedence over my skepticism toward pure coffee. On each successive coffee run I seemed to spend less and less time doctoring up my coffee. I eventually mastered the art of adding a splash of soy milk to my venti Pike Place with one hand while juggling my purse, phone and office badge in the other, completing the pre-work caffeine pit stop in record time before hustling down the street to make it to work by 8:30.
Insignificant as it may seem, the way I’ve approached coffee shop orders over the last eight years seems to me to reflect — or at least to hint at — my professional and social development. I fully understand that assigning metrics of sophistication or professionality to coffee-based drinks is somewhat absurd. Impracticality aside, I couldn’t help but wonder what it meant for my transition to adulthood when, on my last day at my summer internship, I relayed my new coffee order to a colleague who was making a Starbucks run for the office: “Grande dark roast, please. Black.”
Contact Jackie O’Neil at jroneil ‘at’ stanford.edu.