My 3-step descent into coffee snobdom

never drank coffee.

Not in high school. Not during my undergrad years. The most caffeine I got was from chocolate and maybe tea. No matter how much work I had, or how tired I was, coffee was never on the menu.

And then I moved to Seattle.

I held out for a year. Coffee was never part of my daily routine, you know? About a year ago, though, I fell down the coffee rabbit hole and never came out.

It wasn’t an instant thing. I didn’t start chugging coffee from first sip. My descent into coffeedom started slowly, gradually, via this multi-step slide into caffeination…

Step 1: Grad school.

It’s the classic story. Grad students are busy, have tons of work, and get no sleep. I entered a master’s program in a subject I had never studied before. Many late-night hours were spent agonizing over my code, trying to figure out why things didn’t work.

 

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I was tempted to reach for coffee. But I didn’t. I hadn’t before, why should I now?

Well, let’s throw another factor into the mix:

Step 2: The Eternal Gloom.

For those who don’t know, Seattle is a… special kind of city.

Here were some actual news headlines about Seattle this year:

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Seattle is as gloomy as it gets. Once autumn hits, expect to not see the sun until May. There can be weeks– months– of thick overcast and constant drizzle. Even when you’re outside at noon, it looks as though the sun had just set. It’s that dark.

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I grew up in a much sunnier place. Sure, it gets cold in Philadelphia and Boston– much colder than Seattle– but at least it’d be sub-freezing and sunny. My body was not, and still isn’t, used to the constant gloom. So, during the winter, I’m constantly tired.

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One of the first things I did was buy one of those sun therapy lamps. You know, the ones that are supposed to mimic real sunlight? You’re supposed to sit in front of it for 15 minutes daily. I would leave it on all day.

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Yeah. It wasn’t happening.

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I had to wake up somehow.

 

Step 3: The City of Coffee Snobs

Now it’s time to share a few facts about Seattle.

  1. Seattle has 1,692 coffee shops in the city, averaging out to 253 shops per 100,000 residents. For reference: NYC only has 103 coffee shops per 100,000 residents.
  2. Seattle is not only the birthplace of Starbucks, but home to over 200 Starbucks stores. There’s a Starbucks on every corner, I swear.
  3. In 2014, Seattleites spent $141.33 per person on coffee, behind only San Fran and San Jose as the highest spenders on coffee.
  4. We have a coffee subscription service that will ship you fresh coffee beans from one of Seattle’s independent roasters each month.

So. Imagine that you haven’t seen the sun in months. You haven’t been sleeping much due to your looming deadlines and confusing assignments. You live in a city that is so full of coffee-obsessed people that there are coffee shops on every block. And not just ordinary cafes where coffee is served as an afterthought– I’m talking about specialty stores that will source, roast, and brew their own coffee beans.

Now imagine that every day you walk by a sidewalk espresso bar (which, by the way, I didn’t know was a thing until moving here) that always smells delicious.

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There was one particularly gloomy night where it was late and I was coding.

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This espresso bar is open until 11PM.

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I gave in, pulled on my raincoat, and walked the five minutes from my apartment to the espresso bar.

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Da fuq were all these words? I went with the only menu item I knew: the latte.

 

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Pretty as it was, I drank it, of course. I wanted my caffeine.

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Holy shit. This was a game-changer.

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Oh my god, I didn’t even know coffee could be that good.

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Still, I resolved. I’ll only get coffee when I’m really exhausted. 

In the gloomy Seattle winter, I’m always exhausted.

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Soon, I found myself enjoying coffee for the flavor rather than just for the caffeine. I would buy coffee and sit in a cafe whenever my home internet died. I got coffee with friends. I got coffee with coworkers. I bought myself a coffeemaker and a bean grinder. Coffee– good coffee– is woven into the fabric of Seattle culture, something I didn’t realize until I went back to the East Coast and got brunch with my friends…

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Bitter, burnt, watered-down. I didn’t realize the standard to which Seattle holds its coffee until I went somewhere else.

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And to this day, I’m known as the coffee snob among my East Coast friends.

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Well, the haters gonna hate, and I’m gonna caffeinate.

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In which I ditch my degree and move across the country.

I graduated.

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It’s a weird feeling. I’m done college. I’m supposed to go find work. Get my own apartment. Start a 401k. Be a grown-up and all that. That’s the general plan for college graduates, right?

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So, last February, I started looking for employment. I attended job fairs, sought advice from my career office, and sent my resume out to dozens of employers. You know the drill.

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All so I could start my exciting future as a full-fledged adult.

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With a bachelor’s degree in biology, I was likely to get some sort of lab technician job. You know, pipetting, running gels, growing cell cultures, doing someone else’s experiment for them. I more or less know the drill. I’ve done two co-ops in the pharma industry, and one internship in an academic research lab. Let me just say, I run a mean lab bench.

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So, yeah. Graduating college, getting some lab work. All very exciting stuff.

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It was amidst all my frantic job-hunting that I received this e-mail from Northeastern.

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Seriously, though, what was this? I’ve never taken a class in computer science before.

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The rest of the e-mail went on to describe why computer science was awesome, and why I should accept this spontaneous admission to some random master’s program. I know nothing about coding, but: it’s okay! This particular master’s program is designed for students with no prior programming experience. What’s more, the e-mail was signed by Northeastern’s dean of the College of Computer and Information Science. Northeastern does have a small campus in Seattle, it’s true. Was this legit?

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I guess we were about to find out.

What compelled me to even go to this informational lunch? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was my overwhelming enthusiasm for my future lab job. Or, my love for the study of biology.

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So my friend and I went to the informational lunch. We’re both in the sciences, though, and any good scientist has a healthy amount of skepticism.

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The dean had brought her second-in-command and two current grad students with her. They buttered me, and the handful of students who came, up with food and drink and handshakes and flattery.

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They then proceeded to give us the most enthusiastic pitch I’ve ever seen.

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Unfortunately for them, I wasn’t the only one who came in skeptical. One girl raised her hand and asked,

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I added my thoughts.

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And finally, another girl asked it straight:

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The dean seemed shocked that we thought it was a scam. For her, setting up this program had taken years. But, to us… let’s be real. Out of nowhere, you’re offered admission– and a scholarship– to a master’s program you hadn’t even heard of?

I wanted to cut the crap and hear the real deal. Civilly, of course.

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She went on to explain. Northeastern’s Seattle campus was built only a few years ago. It offers a number of graduate programs, including the master’s of computer science. Northeastern is hoping to grow the Seattle campus to have a couple hundred students, but they’re having trouble.

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The truth comes out: their program needs home-grown females. So, they’re offering us admission and a scholarship. That way, we could go and do the first semester for free. Try it out. If we don’t like it, we can always drop out and go home.

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My friend turned to me.

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If you haven’t seen the Sassy Gay Friend videos, you are missing out.

So, the dean and her crew seemed desperate determined to bring in some local, female students. Not everyone was as keen as they were, though. Take my friend, for instance.

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And this girl.

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They had contacted us too late. It was already April, graduation was approaching, and future plans were already finalized. Except for my own.

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I once again turned to the Sassy Gay Friend.

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Uh-oh.

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I think you can guess what I chose.

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And that’s why, right now, you can find me in Seattle, Washington, starting anew with only my suitcases and my nerves.

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I guess Sassy Gay Friend said it best.

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Let’s see how long I last.