Annie Vainshtein is a Mustang News coffee columnist who writes about her adventures (and misadventures) with her favorite caffeinated beverage. | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Annie Vainshtein

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I’m the kind of person who remembers when I get free stuff — every car wash coupon, every scratchy old sweater, every week-old bagel. I revel in the joy of a good deal. So of course I would jump on a free cup of coffee. I don’t abide by the 1-to-2 coffee to hands ratio.

I’ve been to a lot of places in my life — mostly dark places. Dark roast places. A lot of them serve complimentary coffee. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would take a moment to gratefully acknowledge my most memorable experiences at these free-coffee-giving places and how they’ve shaped me to be the woman I am today.

1. Jiffy Lube

It was a Tuesday afternoon and I was 17 years old. I was one of those 17-year-olds who still bought Flaming Hot Cheetos and rationalized it. I struggled a lot with normal-person things, like opening the hood of a car. I did know, however, that my oil needed to be changed.

That day, I went to Jiffy Lube — not expecting anything caffeinated, of course — and came across the complimentary coffee.

The coffee rested in an automatic dispenser, sandwiched between someone’s forgotten Monster and half-eaten Carl’s Jr. hand-breaded chicken tenders. The ambiance, I felt, could’ve been better. The drink itself was probably a three on the strong scale, which was nice because the aftertaste was kind of watery and I was really dehydrated that day. The powdered creamer, which sort of reminded me of Soylent, changed the flavor a little bit, but in a good way.

The baristas were attentive for the most part, but when I asked about the bean origins, I got a few confused looks. I guess they were busier with other, more pressing duties. The mechanic shop was pretty empty, which was great for me because my least favorite part of complimentary coffee is elbowing all the other patrons.

Mid-sip, I realized the java staffers weren’t wearing gloves and their hands were really dirty with what could have been coffee grinds, but didn’t quite smell like them. I mulled over the possible health implications, but ultimately forgot about them.

Jiffy Lube gets a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

2. Tenaya Hall

I expected a more strategic business model from the so-called entrepreneurial space that is Cal Poly’s business residence hall. Even though I love free things, the common room’s drip fell disappointingly short. There was barely any complexity to the flavor, aside from the fact that it was alarmingly acidic. As much as I hoped to think otherwise, the pour over was clearly not crafted with care. Compared to the coffee in Trinity’s lobby, it was cold and stale. They didn’t even have Stevia.

This was a first for me, and I’m sorry to say it, but I couldn’t even finish the cup. I couldn’t bear to endorse Smart Pick: Allegro Organic Continental Blend, and I didn’t want to invalidate my experience at Trinity Hall.

I give Tenaya 1 out of 5 stars for being anti-climactic and hurting my feelings.

3. New York curb-side coffee

I’ve often said the hustle and bustle of urbanized America stimulates an anonymous sense of generosity among citizens. This is how I ended up drinking out of an unmarked plastic coffee cup I found outside of Cosmos Diner in New York City last summer. (“Steaks, Chops, Seafood.”)

I assumed the coffee on the street was not neglected by its previous owner, but rather placed there with care. I can only imagine the person who gifted it meant it as a pay-it-forward type thing, and who was I to break the system? The action was well-intended and, in my mind, sacred.

Eye-level with the faded lipstick on the lid, I took in the smell (which was annoyingly overpowered by the intense kebab-making to my right). The notes were tricky to place because the drink was on the stale side, but I could have sworn it was an Ethiopian Reserve blend, with hints of black currant and citrus. As Drake once said, “Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.”

I thought about the coffee and its voyage. Had it been happy? Had its owner done a good job of keeping it warm? For its short time on Planet Earth, I hope it had been treated well. It was less than a cup-full and tasted kind of like meatballs by the end — but in that moment, nothing else mattered.

I completed the drink and laid it to rest, saying a prayer and pondering if anything could ever really be infinite. While I want to give it 5 stars, I allot it 4.8, only because the cup was upsettingly sticky and moist.

We only live once, so it’s important to take advantage of everything handed to you. Carpe diem, especially liberium.

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