Long Feature

To All the Beans I've Loved Before

Words by
Georgette Eva
Artwork by
Olenka Malarecka
To All the Beans I've Loved Before

I used to be someone who could drink coffee ’round the clock—not that I needed the caffeine. I’m a morning person, and instantly alive, awake, and alert from the moment I open my eyes. (I’m also annoyingly enthusiastic to those who, like my husband, are slower to roll out of bed—or so I’ve been told.)

For me, the point of coffee is not its function but its taste (and sometimes its appearance—yes, I’m that insufferable Millennial who photographs her lattes). And so I couldn’t resist the bottomless artisanal coffee at the startup where I worked shortly after college. I might not have had a 401(k) match, but I made up for it with single-origin organic beans from the roaster across the street, which my company stocked up on. Discovering the light roasts—they tasted as bright and fruity as fresh cherries—was delightful. Grabbing coffee became my getaway move whenever I felt awkward. Which was often.

It was only when I stopped sleeping entirely that Houston spotted the problem. I was drinking to soothe my self-consciousness, which, according to WebMD, only resulted in overstimulating my senses and triggering even more anxiety. Also insomnia. But why should I quit? After all, when food writer Michael Pollan quit coffee for three months, he reported feeling less focused and less confident as he dealt with the caffeine withdrawal. 

I continued to debate and deny, but eventually my choice was made for me. The startup I worked for was acquired, which removed my coffee supplier, as well as my job. Both withdrawals resulted in an entire week of sleep. By then it was clear: I had to cut back. Now, I can’t drink coffee past noon, and definitely not every day. 

I resolved then that on the rare occasions when I did drink coffee, it had to be “Twin-Peaks”-damn-fine-cup-of-coffee good. No Keurig. No French-vanilla mutants. And only occasional exceptions for bodega coffee or Café Bustelo.


My separation from coffee might sound sad, but not as sad as catching myself scrolling through my camera roll, longing for all the coffees I had loved before my body rejected them and before everything else went wrong. Before lockdown, before “unprecedented,” and before the country felt un-Presidented.

Admittedly, The Before Times weren’t perfect. Even my coffee photos were a symptom of caffeine recovery and procrastination. But in the year-that-should-not-be-named, there were no more coffee shops. We retreated to our homes and nestled within stacks of two-ply toilet paper we’d bulk-purchased at Costco. We clawed for understanding and control, and indulged a slightly deranged optimism that shouted, “Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ during a plague!” 

As we absorbed that fact, we proceeded to make sourdough, start TikTok accounts, and whip up Dalgona coffees. (I couldn’t indulge in the latter because of my refusal to buy instant coffee, despite my parents’ soft spot for Folgers.)

The early days of lockdown saw many small businesses close down suddenly and many others scramble to stay open. Wanting to offer some sort of support, I frantically ordered seven bags of coffee beans. Buying things became a national pastime in quarantine, and I justified it as a necessary novelty in a world that was becoming repetitive and mundane at best and heart-wrenching at worst. This impulse seemed pretty extra when my order arrived and I was confronted with the fact that my favorite Sumatra blend came to $25 a bag before tax. 

As the pandemic wore on, and blogs and columns preached the importance of daily rituals—making your bed, taking a lunch break, putting on jeans—my routine became making coffee, even if it wasn’t for me. You’d think I would have used the time to really master my caffeine issues, but instead, I circled them, honing my skills, purchasing a frother and a French press.

My morning meditation wasn’t done sitting on a yoga mat—it was grinding whole beans, measuring scoops of water, and pressing the “on” button on my Mr. Coffee. As I commuted from kitchen to desk, my husband’s coffee in hand, I inhaled the air, permeated with the now-nostalgic fragrance of coffee shops out in the world. 


Twenty-five dollars for a Sumatra blend might sound extravagant (as my husband informed me) but it pales in comparison to other coffees (as I helpfully pointed out). Take Ospina Coffee, one of Colombia’s most influential coffee roasters, which produces a blend that goes up to $950 for 8oz of beans. Meanwhile, Black Ivory Coffee—a.k.a. coffee that was previously eaten, and then excreted, by elephants—can cost up to $3,000 for 2lbs.

It sounds astounding (some might say unnecessary) but consider the process. Coffee cherries are grown along the globe’s “Bean Belt,” often in high-altitude areas. (The fact that this belt falls on the Equator, right at the Earth’s waist, delights me to no end.) Most plants only fruit once a year, and the best are generally harvested by hand, not machines. The berries are processed in various ways, including drying in the sun or soaking in water, during which time the discarded fruit is separated from the bean itself. 

If this were elephant-dung coffee, the berries would instead be processed in the large mammal’s gut. Doing so removes a lot of the bitterness, and results in coffee with a chocolate and coconut flavor and velvety mouthfeel—or so I’ve heard. I haven’t exactly dug through elephant excrement to test that out (and the more I think about it, the more I want to know who was brave enough to do so).

In the non-elephant process, the newly exposed beans go through drying, milling, and polishing steps to ensure uniformity. The result is green beans, but not like the ones you eat during Thanksgiving.

And all of that is just the beginning. Those green beans are then packed up and shipped off before being roasted in machines with rotating drums, typically at 550°F. As they roast, the beans turn brown and their caffeol—the fragrant oil locked inside, the one that tugs at my olfactory heartstrings—is released.

While all of these steps contribute to a coffee’s character, roast is crucial for flavor. Light roasts tend to be unsurprisingly light in body, with more acidic, fruity, and complex flavors, and with more caffeine. Darker roasts, like my favored Sumatra blend, tend to come with flavor descriptions like “caramel” or “chocolate.” And then there’s Starbucks’ typical roast: burnt beans that maintain a uniformly charred taste across all 16,397 U.S. locations. (I joke, but I can’t really fault Starbucks; it was my gateway espresso.)

Roasting can be done in producing or importing countries. My preferred Sumatra blend starts in Indonesia, and my local roasters at Chocolate Coffee perfectly transform the beans, bringing out notes of butterscotch and spice that make me feel like I’m enjoying dessert for breakfast. It’s well worth the $25 for the occasional cup. 

The fanciest coffee I’ve ever had was Hawaiian Kona, which can range from $20–$80 a bag. My friends and I once brewed a batch of gifted beans, and we treated the resulting coffee like liquid gold. We couldn’t help but sing “Smooth” as we sat on the couch taking wide-eyed sips. 

But despite resorting to snobbery to capitalize on rare coffee treats, I eventually had to admit that buying bougie beans seemed pretty silly if, for the most part, I wasn’t even getting to enjoy them.


Eventually, I gave into grocery-store-purchased Peet’s Coffee for daily brewing—but not before my ultimate lockdown experiment. Boredom and anxiety led me to set up a DIY cafe in my kitchen. Shakespeare had “King Lear,” remember?

Scrambling around our one-bedroom apartment, I grabbed what I needed: a cake stand to hold artfully arranged fruit, an iPad for my cash register. I even made a menu where I jokingly added prices to our meager offerings, mostly non-perishable pantry food. As a final touch, I donned a beanie and a flannel shirt to indicate my barista role. 

Then I waited three hours for my husband to wake up.

During the first hour, I chuckled at my cleverness as I stood behind the iPad.

By hour two, my anticipation waned. I ate breakfast and took off my beanie.

By hour three, I had a second wind and put on a coffee-house-themed playlist to set the right ambience.

When my husband finally woke up half an hour later, he groggily stumbled towards the bathroom before catching a glimpse of me practically quivering with anticipation. He backtracked and took in my efforts with a laugh. Sleepily, he asked if he could get ready first. 

I said yes, turned to the Mr. Coffee, and pressed “on.”

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