Seth Lachman

Coffee and Milk

This morning I mixed milk into my coffee. There is nothing special about blending the two liquids, but my grandmother taught me to separate them. “If you’re going to drink coffee, you must drink it black,” she told me as an adolescent. And so, from the moment I started drinking coffee up to the present day, I’ve dutifully avoided mixing the two. Occasionally, I’ve mixed milk or cream into the dark substance that sustains me, but I would estimate that out of hundred cups of coffee, ninety-nine are black. This rule applies to places outside of the home as well. A trip to the coffee shop means a cup of black coffee. If I'm visiting a renowned shop in a cosmopolitan city, I might order an espresso; I can count the number of times I’ve purchased a latte or anything containing milk. Knowing my order in advance expands my perception of the cafe. Instead of considering the forty options listed on the blackboard behind the counter, I can observe my surroundings as I wait in line. I notice a man sitting in the corner by the exit sipping a travel bottle of vodka, and a girl with gold-rimmed glasses and white earbuds watching a video on her laptop. Two women, one middle-aged and the other in her twenties chat about the difficulty of forming a vibrant church community during a time of enforced social isolation. I imagine the young woman sitting in her bed, a laptop resting on her thighs, responding to messages from her friends and scrolling through Instagram as the lecturer’s voice drones on in the background. The blue-haired barista's voice invites me to place an order.

Refusing to mix milk with coffee appears insignificant because it’s so ordinary. But like most banal choices in life, it reveals a facet of a person’s underlying orientation to the world. By drinking black coffee, one tastes each brew without attempting to conceal its deformities. If I brew a poor cup of coffee, I will judge it by earlier attempts and learn from my mistakes. Whereas if I add milk to the liquid, I may not perceive any discrepancy between different batches. Although this may not mean much to the person, it makes a difference when one prepares a cup for someone else. When a friend or family member, who enjoys drinking black coffee, arrives for a visit, he will be disappointed by his options. Either he drinks a terrible cup of coffee, or he dumps it out when the host isn’t looking, or he adds milk to make it palatable. Inconsequential as it may seem to serve a subpar cup of joe to a guest, this act hinders one's experience of life as much as the other person. Drinking plain coffee is a subtle way to inject a bit of self-examination into our thoughtless routines. For we should evaluate our life like we judge a cup of coffee, without wiping away the parts we don’t fancy by dumping in excuses that shroud our shortcomings. So the next time you reach for a carton of milk, taste the coffee first. Meditate upon its flavor, then extend this meditation to the rest of your life. Your friends and family, as well as your future self, will thank you.