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The tale of a tea rookie

A white mug filled with orange liquid and a teabag.
Jessica Wang / The Daily Princetonian

At 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 29, I walked through the tall glass doors of Addy Hall to the New College West Coffee Club. It was one of those frigid, blustery East Coast days, the kind that chills the tips of noses and ears and turns students into hunched, shuffling puffer-jacket soldiers. The trek to New College West alone turned my hair into a tangled mess, stealing breath from my lungs as I pulled my thin Whitman jacket close. But I would not be deterred. I was on a mission for a free London Fog.

I had seen the notice in my inbox the day prior: “Celebrate Leap Day with a Coffee on Whitman!” All I had to do was wear my Whitman merch — a collection now three semesters deep — and I would get a free beverage of my choice.


To most Princeton students, this would seem like a great deal. For me, it would be no small exaggeration to say that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It might seem silly to describe how the doors swung open and the warmth of Addy Common Room enveloped me, and how I walked up to the register in a whale T-shirt and a blue Whitman jacket to order that free beverage, but that was a significant moment for me. That was the first time I ordered a caffeinated drink.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life entirely caffeine-free. In group settings, I would always look for the decaffeinated option on the menu. If I was going out for coffee with someone, I’d opt for a hot chocolate. “I don’t drink coffee,” I would say, or “I don’t drink tea.” I didn’t necessarily have anything against caffeine — my opposition to caffeine was more of a vestige from my childhood.

Growing up, my parents always kept me away from caffeine, saying that it would stunt my growth. I’m still not sure if that’s an old wives’ tale, but there was a third grader at my elementary school who drank coffee every day and was very short, which I took as irrefutable proof. By the time I was old enough to question it — and when I stopped growing — I figured, why start now if I’ve never needed caffeine? After all, it is technically a drug. It can mess with brain chemistry and lead to an addiction. Not to mention, a dependence on the daily Starbucks latte seemed like a financial drain.

Thus, the world of espressos, americanos, matcha lattes, and mochas remained an utter mystery to me. Not even when I was dead tired in the mornings, waking up at 6:45 a.m. to drag myself to school early, did I dare touch caffeine. It was a forbidden fruit.

Nonetheless, I came to Princeton with a few tea bags in my luggage and a much more flexible outlook on caffeine. The tea bags were only for emergencies, but they might, on a bad day, become a necessity. For weeks I tiptoed around them, convincing myself each morning that I didn’t really need tea. Even though it was there, within reach, and no longer forbidden by an edict from my parents, I couldn’t bring myself to try caffeine.

But finally, after a series of rough nights and tough mornings, I decided that it was time. I chose the weakest of the tea bags, googled its caffeine content, and triple checked that it was okay to try, and steeped a mug of green tea.


I had heard all sorts of tales about the effects of caffeine: jitters, insane energy, bouncing off the walls, pulling all-nighters. I had never drunk it before, so I expected the worst: that I would have no tolerance and a high sensitivity, the Hulk would come bursting out of my chest, or I would start flying around like Superman. I truly had no idea how I would respond. More than anything, I was worried that my physical reaction would become something I couldn’t control.

I drank the tea, went to my first lecture, and carefully monitored my physical state: every twitch, every jitter. Was I more energetic? More productive? More focused? But much to my surprise, I felt no different. Not more tired, not less tired, just … nothing.

To this day, my best theory is that caffeine doesn’t make me more energetic than normal — rather, it makes me less tired than I would have been. I’ve cautiously tried some of the other, stronger teas steeped in hot water, which all yielded the same result. Since I can’t repeat the same day twice, with or without caffeine, I’ll never know just how much it really affects me. But if one mug of green tea makes the difference between zoning out in my morning lecture and effectively absorbing the material, then it’s worth it.

What amuses me the most about that memory, though, is the excessive apprehension I felt about crossing that line and experiencing the forbidden fruit that was caffeine for the first time. Undoubtedly, everyone’s journey and sensitivity to caffeine is different, and my story might have ended very differently had I been hypersensitive to caffeine. But I’ve begun to realize that I can choose to bend my old rules and try new things. It’s not just tea; before college, I didn’t keep a Google Calendar, chew gum in class, use dryer sheets, or have an Instagram account. A lot has changed — and that’s okay.

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That windy Thursday, walking up to the register at Coffee Club to order a London Fog was just one more milestone in my journey — but instead of feeling nervous, I was excited. As I took my first sip of the London Fog, my first thought was that it was hot, the perfect temperature for a windy day, slightly spiced, and a little bit sweet — not the dangerous substance that I was warned about.

Jessica Wang is a member of the Class of 2026 and a staff writer for the Prospect at the 'Prince.' She can be reached at[at]