Iced Sam or Decaf Latte?

It has been nearly twenty years since I was a barista. At the original Dunn Brothers near the Macalester campus in St. Paul. I lived in an apartment a few blocks away on Grand Avenue.

It was 2002 and I was in college at the University of Minnesota working on my master’s in secondary English education. Go Gophers.

I’d often work a closing shift on a Friday or Saturday night. Dunn Brothers stayed open late. And there was live music. And hipsters as far as the eye could see. I’d prepare myself my first Iced Sam at the beginning of my shift. My second a few hours later. And then maybe a third.

What, pray tell, is an Iced Sam? So glad you asked. Fill up half a large glass with cold-brewed, iced coffee. Serious business. Fill the rest with skim milk. Add a dollop of whole milk. Throw in some caramel and vanilla. The stuff was like liquid cocaine. I’d throw back a couple of them during my shift and make my way home at 1:00am. I’d lay in bed and shake. My heart palpitating with caffeinated goodness.

This is embarrassing, but I used to push the Iced Sam on beautiful, unsuspecting Macalester girls who came to Dunn Brothers.

“Can I make you something special?” I’d ask with a caffeinated glint in my eye.

“Sure,” they’d blush at the attention from one of the most handsome, 22-year-old baristas in the Twin Cities. Or maybe they were fishing in their purse for mace. Impossible to know.

The drink was a real hit. Man, I’d kill for one right now.


That 22-year-old barista has been replaced with a 42-year-old college professor. A 42-year-old college professor who has gone nearly a month without so much of a whiff of a cup of coffee that contains caffeine.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sometimes I look longingly at Katie as she sips her coffee in the morning. Oh, to steal but a sip.

There’s a wonderful little coffee shop down the hallway from my office on campus. I was a frequent customer in the fall. Which might explain why my blood pressure was two million over one million. This coffee shop was always my first stop when I arrived at Lindquist. That’s the building where the College of Education is housed in beautiful Iowa City. This little coffee shop always brought me such joy.

Now I sheepishly approach the counter with a frown.

“One decaf latte,” I mumble. Imagine a pouting toddler.

“Cutting back?” One of the baristas asked me when I first ordered this disappointing beverage.

“Yeah,” I said. “What a depressing order.”

Now it’s become my routine to order a decaf latte when I arrive on campus.

“Still avoiding caffeine?” the baristas ask me.

“Yeah,” I murmur. “What’s the point of even living?”

I actually said that to one of the baristas the other day. She laughed politely and then walked away. Presumably to call the Wellness Center.

It’s been a month without caffeine. And before you correct me, I know that decaf coffee still has traces of caffeine. But nothing like the good stuff. Nothing like an Iced Sam.


I think back on 22-year-old Sam fondly. Sure, he was dumb as a box of rocks. And all sorts of naive. But his waifish body could handle enough caffeine to murder a herd of cattle. This big bright eyes and that boyish face? Things of memory now. Buried in the face of a short, middle-aged man who orders decaf lattes.

Richard Wright’s Black Boy is one of my favorite books to teach. I’ve used it in a million classes over the years. Maybe a billion. He has a beautiful line about adulthood at the end of his memoir. About getting old. About growing up. Here’s what he wrote:

The days of my past, of my youth, were receding from me like a rolling tide, leaving me alone upon high, dry ground, leaving me with a quieter and deeper consciousness.

Now that’s writing. I often come back to this line when I think about the ways I’d like to be as I move further into my adult years. My youth recedes. I’m left with a consciousness that is growing quieter and, hopefully, deeper. I’ve met many adults for whom this description doesn’t fit. I hope it will for me.

My mind is certainly quieter without a trillion milligrams of caffeine coursing through my veins. And my blood pressure numbers are a little better. Maybe it’s the 5 milligrams of Lisoproarnaigdsdgdgfddlks. I don’t think I spelled that right. Or maybe it’s the radical lifestyle changes I’ve made this past month.

Blood pressure aside, I’m aware that it is time to be healthier. Both in terms of what I ingest, as well as how I related to things that cause me stress and anxiety. I’m 42 now. Sorry, Iced Sam, it is time for me let you recede into the past with other relics of my frenetic and energetic youth. Bygone stories of another age.

So now I’ll write the stories of this age which, sadly, include decaf lattes.

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