Without any scientific studies or surveys to back me up, I can still say with authority what Missoula’s favorite drug is. It’s commonly black, you can take shots of it and it gives you a huge buzz. It’s caffeine, fools, and we are the inland capital of its greatest vessel: coffee. Seriously, the Washington Post once called us “an oasis in a coffee-addict’s desert,” which makes sense, considering the golden H’s of our town: homework, hangovers and hipsters. And hippies, although they generally stick to tea and/or THC.

Anyway, you can’t really argue with that whole coffee-oasis thing. You can count on one hand the number of locally owned cafes between Seattle and Minneapolis, or Edmonton to SLC. There are probably more espresso machines in Missoula than doctors. Try to take stock of every roadside coffee hut, cozy coffee house and roaster next time you drive up or down … well any street, really. We even have a one-better than Barnes & Noble: The Book Exchange, on Brooks and South. A locally owned bookstore with a locally owned coffee shop inside?  Delicious!

It’s the classic college job of the 21st century, slinging lattes. But the life of a barista is not as enviable as you think. “Fighting an intense hangover funded by last night’s tips at 7:30 a.m. to start another hangover fundraiser” is actually a better job description than “making coffee.” After seven years in the biz (temporarily retired), I can tell you it’s way more than just making coffee. You have to smile sometimes, and that’s just unacceptable behavior before noon. Occasionally, you even have to put your surliness on hold to deal with a non-regular (atrocious, I know). Okay it’s not all bad. It’s a position in high demand, and the supply of jobs seems to keep growing because if there’s one thing the Great Recession taught us it’s that appetite suppressants are cheaper than food. 

Btw, local roasting is totally the new local brewery. This column is currently being brought to you by a big cuppa local bean juice. Just like breweries and home brewers, there are plenty of people that RYO (Roast Your Own, duh). It’s easy, sort of. Just carefully study which regions have been producing consistently tasty beans, groom area farmers and agree on a fair price. Then, idk, roast. It’s on the internet somewhere.

Whoa, I made it through a whole column on coffee without mentioning the S-word? Here’s something to give up for lent: that corporate garbage pail of over-roasted uniformity. Keep drinking coffee, but keep it local, please. It keeps your friends employed and the rest of us caffeinated and, as a result, weird as hell.