There Ain’t No Such Thing as Free Coffee?

Coffee Canister, by EraPhernalia

Over the past couple years, I’ve spent a lot of time finding ways to obtain coffee on the cheap. And what I have scientifically determined is: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I know, I know — I should be an economist! But seriously, here are the results of my economist skills:

HOME
Of course I can make coffee cheaply at home. When I visit my family, they’ll make me a cup, which is especially ideal. But as an independent young adult, the costs still add up. And, I like gourmet creamers. And socialization. And the nice music and polite invisibility of a coffee shop. Which all add up to…

STARBUCKS (etc.)
It’s $2-$4 for a cup of coffee, which is monetarily expensive, but relationally cheap. The barista and I don’t have to talk. I can do what I want and she’ll ignore me. And there’s probably a hidden camera making sure she don’t give me a tablespoon too much of whipped cream, and thereby cheat the company of their profits.

WORK/CHURCH
These options aren’t great, so what about getting something for free? Many workplaces and community organizations offer coffee, but it’s often of low quality, and only available situationally. Not really a place to hang out, visit, write, or study. And dry non-dairy creamer? Eww…

RELATIONSHIP FREEBIES
This seemed great at first, but ended in the “let’s be friends” talk. In college, I visited the campus café a couple of times, and started spending more and more time with Julie, the bored barista. After a few visits, she gave me a free drink. Which of course means that I returned the next day. I bought a few, she gave me one. Over time, she gave me more and more… but then she expected me in her shop every day! As I started feeling trapped, I realized that I’d been trading my time for coffee, which gets rather expensive. When I put limits on our instrumental friendship, she found other customers to chat with, and my freebies disappeared.

STUDENT FREEBIES
For the past few years, I’ve been an underemployed grad student. So when I heard of a nearby church café offering free gourmet coffees, of course I stopped in. And it was for real. Sunday-Wednesday evening, all the free frappuccinos, shakes, smoothies, tea, and lattes you could want. And, because it was Episcopal, no preaching. So I started studying there more and more… and slowly got a bit plumper. Oops! Maybe free isn’t always without a cost.

…Have you ever had situations like these? How do you get your coffee fix?

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