The Romance of Paper Cups

I think there’s romance in many small, simple pleasures in life. Like warm towels right out of the dryer, fresh notebooks, the sun shining on a potted plant, and fresh cups of coffee.

Coffee is the one I’m focusing on today, because I have an embarrassing habit… I keep the paper cups I collect from coffee shop visits, bring them home, rinse and reuse them.

Let me be clear: I care deeply about environmental conservation and loathe how coffee cups contribute to loads of litter. But I am also absolutely wooed by the experience that only coffee shops can create by serving warm beverages in simple, sturdy paper cups (AKA to-go cups). After years of coffee shop visits, I’ve naturally created a dissociation between my home-brew coffee (points for my favorite coffee, deduction for the drab atmosphere) and a cafe (deduction for taste satisfaction, major bonus for the atmosphere). There is something extra special (in my opinion, even sweetly romantic) about going to a cafe and sipping a beverage in a space outside of my home.

I attribute this to my childhood fantasies of being a writer who would lounge in coffee shops, articulating inspired prose. Movies and other media have also trained me to correlate the to-go cup with that same relaxing, coffee shop vibe.

A few years ago I started collecting the paper cups because I wanted to ensure they’d be recycled. I am forever doubtful about whether restaurants, schools, businesses, etc. that have a Recyclables bin actually follow through on keeping items separate from the trash. If I bring my trash home with me, I can better control its fate. But eventually I started to not only rinse and clean the paper cups for sorting, but for practicality: sometimes I want to bring a hot beverage with me on the run, but not be forced to carry my heavy reusable mug after I’ve finished. So, I’d reuse the paper cup. (This practice has always served me well when I’m bound for the airport.)

My habit shifted some time ago to using a paper cup, if I had one, for the afternoons when I brewed a second cup of coffee. Like a charm, I’d feel transported to a different place. Sitting at my desk to write with my to-go cup of homemade coffee recreates the romance of working in a cafe, surrounded by other artists and visionaries (at least, that’s how I envision it in my dreams). I figure if I’m going to enjoy the work I’m setting forth to do, I may as well occupy a fantasy land. It’s funny how a little paper cup can achieve that for me. 

Of course, after this second use, I make sure the cup is properly recycled to round out the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle formula.

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