food we miss

In Praise of the Walking Coffee

Photo: Virgina Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

One thing I used to like to do was walk outside while drinking coffee. I would not have put this on any list of my favorite activities, because I had not, until recently, considered it an “activity.” It was more like blinking: I would not consider that an “activity,” either, but I’d miss it if it were gone.

Here is what I’d do: I would drink coffee, and the twist is, I would also walk outside. That was the whole thing. Sometimes, I’d buy the coffee from a coffee shop, and so it would have oat milk, and sometimes I’d make the coffee at home, in which case, it would not have oat milk (suffering builds character). I got a Zojirushi travel mug for this purpose. It is so good I burn myself all the time.

Sometimes this was a leisure activity, a nice strolling coffee with a friend, but usually it wasn’t. Usually, it was just walking, made slightly nicer by adding coffee.

I like walking. You can stop and look at menus in restaurant windows and make eye contact with dogs. If you stay vigilant, you can pick up a surprising number of stray quarters. But most walks are not adventures. Most walks are to the grocery store to pick up diced tomatoes. I would like to say I am perpetually enchanted anyway, because I think that would be a testament to my character — She just finds magic everywhere she goes! — but I’m not. That is why I need the coffee.

Coffee takes what is dull and elevates it just a little, enough to turn basic adult functioning into an attainable indulgence. I used to drink coffee on my way to work, because commuting is an obligation, but commuting while drinking coffee is a small luxury. Now, I only walk with the dog. I don’t take any coffee with me, obviously, because you can’t drink coffee with a mask on.

Of course it is still possible to drink coffee responsibly: You can push your mask aside briefly, and take socially distanced little gulps, and still be a good and conscientious person who believes in public health. But this is not what I want. I don’t want to steal illicit sips. I want to drink my coffee excruciatingly slowly, nursing it over the course of many, many hours. I want to drink it so slowly that it gets cold if it was hot, and it gets hot if it was cold. Walking coffee was mundane, and I don’t want it to be thrilling.

It is, all things considered, a tiny sacrifice. But I still miss it. Objectively, I am even drinking better coffee now, because there’s no time like a pandemic to get serious about your brewing. I grind it fresh every morning. I order sampler packs from small midwestern roasters hoping that I will develop preferences. I have not started measuring the water temperature, but I worry there’s still time.

Walking doesn’t improve the taste of coffee, but coffee improves the experience of being in the world. It blunts the harsher edges. Without coffee, there is “public space” and “private space.” With coffee, the whole city is your living room.

Usually, I think only rich people and babies get to blur these sorts of boundaries. Babies get security blankets; rich people get status sweatpants. The rest of us are supposed to generally contain ourselves.

Walking coffee is the exception. Walking coffee is its own kind of security blanket. You don’t even have to drink it, really; just holding the coffee is enough. What matters is not the coffee but the possibility of coffee. With walking coffee in your hand, you are the master of your destiny. You could, if you wanted, drink at any time!

And now you can’t. Now, the line between “home” and “out” is sharp and terrifying: Home is safe, and out is fraught. The city is not your living room, and your living room is full of boxes from When you drink coffee these days, you do it in your apartment, cloistered from the world. It’s fine. It’s a great time to use all your assorted ceramic mugs. This is not real suffering. But it was nicer when you could walk.

In Praise of the Walking Coffee