Unsurprisingly, one does not endure arduous semesters of study at Columbia and emerge believing Joe Coffee is the defining piece of one’s college life. Looming between the Journalism School and Furnald Hall, Joe awaits its latest victim: a parched college student with some change to spare, apt to make a terrible financial decision.
I have fallen victim to this trap many times. The blue cups and Bauhausian curtain wall are all too alluring—but really, what Joe does for me that nobody else can do on campus is special: Joe offers matcha. I, when given the choice between matcha and no matcha, scarcely utilize logical reasoning and deduction to decide between these options. My primal instincts take hold, and before I am able to pause and deliberate the menu presented above the cashier, I utter, “Small matcha, please!” Rational, fiscally-aware Paul disapproves, yet the monkey-brain is satisfied.
Between classes and clubs, taking a few minutes’ respite to walk into the glass cube and order matcha incites the sometimes necessary change in mindset I need. More than just a dark green beverage, matcha harkens back to Japanese tea ceremonies, where careful craft and delicate attention is dedicated to brewing a single cup of tea.
I cannot often justify paying $5 for a small, inauthentic cup of matcha, but when I do, it is a subtle reminder that there are joyous consistencies in life—even if I feel as if I’ve lost control of everything, matcha remains delicious and aromatic, wholly unaware of the crises I find myself enduring.
Drinking matcha from Joe Coffee was an experience I treasured, much like visiting my favorite scenic spots on campus or spending a sunny day reading outdoors. To my dismay, the last cup of matcha I had at Joe was unexpectedly my last of the semester, and it came alongside many other unexpected, indefinite “lasts.” The last night I would spend in Carman 703, the last stupid late-night conversation I would have with my roommate as roommates, the last time I would run from Carman to Elementary French II in Hamilton Hall yet somehow still arrive two minutes late, the last rehearsal of my first Shakespeare production, and the list goes on.
Without even wishing the glorious glass cube a proper farewell, I was on a $21 flight back to Detroit with all of my earthly possessions packed into three boxes on their way back to my house, grieving over lost spring break plans. Had I anticipated that everything would change so quickly—with a hastily-booked Spirit flight—I would have attempted to make what seemed like lasts truly feel like lasts.
After enduring only four hours in Michigan, I had already begun to mope. I stared at various culinary utensils on Amazon, planning to impulse buy something to provide temporary relief. Several clicks and scrolls later, I stumbled across a matcha whisk like the one used at Joe Coffee. I ordered that along with a small bag of ceremonial matcha powder, thus commencing the arduous anticipation of my package—quarantine makes all events, regardless of actual impact, feel like the most monumental ordeal in one’s life.
Meanwhile, I continued to recover from the abrupt and absurd circumstance I found myself in. I was hundreds of miles away from my significant other and thousands of miles away from my friends. I attended my classes online. It was illegal for me to leave my home unnecessarily.
My tea arrived. I hurriedly opened my front door, pulled my package inside, and ran upstairs. To simulate Carman 703, I stationed an electric kettle at my desk with a copious amount of tea present at all times. I unpacked the tea—it was fragrant and looked a radioactive green. The bamboo whisk impressed me—delicate and simple.
I poured the less-than boiling water over a teaspoon of matcha I had gently scooped into a bowl. I proceeded to whisk it vigorously for 30 seconds—the scent of the tea filled my room, as if I had just lit a matcha candle. I took a sip of the matcha I had made; I was back on campus, admiring the statue of Thomas Jefferson triumphantly guarding the Journalism School, except this time, without the regret of spending $5 on a hot tea.
It was that sip that drastically altered my perception of my quarantine.
I was so concerned with what I had lost—my dorm room, stupid shenanigans with my friends, and Joe matcha—that I hadn’t taken the time to notice that there were still commonalities in all the same aspects of my life.
The Zoom classes might not be the same, yet I’m reading the same books I would have read, and having the same discussions with my peers which I would have had in the classroom (and they’re still all very stressful). The Columbia community may no longer reside on campus, but we’ve created something else on Facebook—all of us remaining connected, even in isolation. I might not be able to enjoy a subpar Ferris salad with my friends after class now, but I can still have the conversations and interactions that I treasure with them all, even if through Zoom. And, though I am not drinking Joe Coffee matcha, I am still drinking matcha, bringing me the serenity I always found with it on campus.
Enjoy leafing through our fifth issue!
Filming, Editing, Directing: Paul Hanna
Music: Fantaisie Valse by Erik Satie
Performed by Constantin Stephan on Piano