My characters drink too much coffee. It’s noticeable. They make it, buy cups of it, discuss plot points over it. They consume it in mass quantities, to the point where one might think the author does the same. One would be correct.

When I was a kid, I hated even the smell of coffee. The worst part of shopping at A&P with my dad was lining up to pay, because there was a coffee grinder at the end of each check-out line. Most shoppers considered it a perk (sorry) to bring home freshly ground beans. I just wanted to hold my nose and bolt for the door as quickly as possible.

My coffee aversion lasted until sometime during college, when I started drinking instant with sugar and fake creamer. I’m not sure this even counts as real coffee. Thankfully, that phase was over in a hot minute, and I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. I’m not exactly an addict, but I can see it from here.

I used to attribute the change to taste buds, because I totally believed the line that taste buds change every seven years. It turns out this isn’t true. We’re born with approximately ten thousand taste buds which are replaced every two weeks or so — approximately 10% of the cells inside them actually turn over each day. Over time, the number of taste buds we have starts to decrease. This means that many of the flavors that seem too strong when we’re kids become easier to tolerate as we age, leading to an acceptance of more sophisticated flavors as we reach our twenties.

This supports my college-era coffee-awakening but does not explain how I drank the sweet California swill that got passed off as Chablis in the late 1970s. Science says my taste buds were old enough to know better.

Of course, liking certain foods/drink is attached to more than science. My love for coffee dovetailed with the new experiences and camaraderie that came after I left home and began to navigate the world on my own. Even a poor student could afford the bottomless pot of fresh coffee that appeared magically on the table through late-night exam cram sessions at HoJo’s. The boring survival job where staying awake was hard even if sleep happened the night before was fun when accompanied by coffee and co-workers who quickly became friends. Long conversations with new acquaintances ran deeper when bolstered by caffeine.

This is the subtext I pass on to my characters when they’re doing that drinking-making-buying thing. Coffee in my books is more than a prop. It helps set a mood, provides insight into a character’s state of mind and comfort level. Even non-coffee-drinkers recognize the social significance of coffee-fueled gatherings in our culture (I’m looking at you, Central Perk). When my characters share a cup of coffee, they’re usually lowering their defenses and letting someone in.

And if coffee doesn’t do the trick, there’s always wine.