A coffee break during our trip to Mombassa, Kenya.

The coffee break seems to have become a regular part of my workday – something I look forward to. It forces me to take a mid-morning break (at least, on days when I don’t have deadlines) and it’s a great opportunity to bond with my coworkers.

My preferred coffee destination is Starbucks, and while there has always been plenty there for me to enjoy, my lifelong distaste for coffee proper limited me to teas, refreshers, lemonades and of course chai (along the occasional calorie-intensive Frappuccino, because I DO like coffee in my desserts).

For a long time, that was enough.

During our visit to Rochester, however, I hit a turning point. One of the wedding guests, upon learning that I loved chai but not coffee, suggested I try chai with a shot of espresso. She called it a dirty chai and she made it sound like it would add just a hint of coffee flavour to the rich creaminess of the tea’s blend of spices. She made it sound wonderful.

She lied.

I tried it that very day. The coffee taste was overwhelming. I didn’t like it. But not wanting to waste, I slowly finished the drink and by the end of the cup I had decided that it wasn’t as terrible as I had thought. It stuck with me and I kept thinking that, maybe with a little less coffee, a dirty chai might be okay.

So over the next few weeks, I started to pepper that option into my mid-morning breaks. And gradually I grew to prefer my chai dirty. Weird how tastes change.

A few weeks later, Junkii and I met for a coffee at lunch and as I was enjoying my dirty chai, he sauntered up with his own favourite drink: a caramel latte. Curious to know just how much my tastes had changed, I grabbed his cup and took a swig. Hmmm… NOT BAD!

This is a drink I had tasted numerous times in the past, and each time I had been disgusted by the bitterness. It seemed as though the espresso shots in my chai were building up my immunity – like an allergy shot – acclimatizing my taste buds to coffee flavour.

That lunch break opened up a whole new menu for me, and over the next few weeks, I spent my mornings exploring Starbucks lattes. I had varying degrees of success with that, and ultimately I did still prefer the caramel latte, but now it was becoming a favourite.

Morning coffee in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Plain coffee still seemed out of reach, though.

And then I went for a weekend coffee with my friend Stephen. While I ordered my latte, he grabbed a dark blend with cream.

Another experiment.

Stephen let me try his drink and, while I still found it bitter, it wasn’t nearly as foul and revolting as it used to be. So, with some advice from Stephen, I resolved to try straight coffee at my next mid-morning break: a small light roast with plenty of cream and sugar.

I didn’t like it.

But I didn’t hate it either. I did notice that it tasted better the cooler it got. So I tried it again the next day. And the next. And as I’ve come to learn how much sweetener works for me and how much dairy, I’m now finding there are days when I’m actually craving that cup of coffee.

All my life I’ve thought coffee was gross. This is a really big mental shift for me, but I welcome the change. It has always seemed like a very adult activity that I was missing out on; a blind spot. As someone who prides himself on his appreciation of food and drink, my distaste for such a beloved beverage always felt like a shameful little secret.

Gradually I’m hoping to drink coffee without sweetener, and maybe even without cream. Not sure if I’ll ever get there, but I have no reason to doubt it. No rush though. For now I’m enjoying my new found appreciation.

Still, if I ever do master black coffee, I’m gonna want to head back to Ethiopia. If I find out I actually like coffee and missed out enjoying it in its place of origin, I’m gonna feel cheated.

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