Real Talk: Coffee is a puppy-kicking, kitten-drowning, universe-destroying drug that 199% of North America is hopelessly addicted to. Sure, coffee pushers (aka baristas) add stuff like vanilla syrup, cinnamon, or chicory (so you can pretend you know what that is) to make it taste better, but this mostly just takes up room in the cup. Nothing can hide coffee’s perfect, evil nature. Why, then, would you even bother trying to brew a better cup? It’s like wanting to get your heroin in decorator colors.
We honestly don’t know. When you’re a dedicated addict like we are, you stop caring about all the bells and whistles, things like cream, or sugar, or taste. You focus on the essentials, like instant gratification. People try to hide this, the way rich alcoholics insist on drinking nothing but $500 bottles of scotch. If push came to shove, millionaire alkies would be lining up at Willie’s Fine Spirits to get Rosie In A Skirt like the rest of us. It’s the same with coffee junkies. And yet coffee hounds constantly talk about brewing a better cup of the stuff, trash talking brewing techniques, grinding methods, temperature, ph levels, and on and on. It’s like a cult with different sects. There are French Pressists, Chemexians, Cold Brewsters, and the patriarchal Mr. Coffee worshipers, whose god is a humongous coffee bean with a long white beard, with Joe Dimaggio as its prophet.
But there is a big difference between coffee and the other highly addictive substances we love to abuse. It’s this: coffee addiction is not only legal and socially acceptable, it’s practically mandatory. “Hey, help yourself to a cup of coffee.” “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” “Let’s have coffee together sometime.” “My mother never loved me, but maybe coffee will…someday.”
What’s behind these social niceties are legions of rabid coffee zombies desperate to recruit you into their unholy ranks. Alcohol used to be this way. If you didn’t drink, you were ostracized. Back in the 1950’s there was nothing socially unacceptable about Life-Of-The-Party Timmy, who’d put a lampshade on his head and sing all of Deborah Kerr’s songs from the King and I before wandering off to soil himself after making love to a bowling ball. Or whatever. We don’t know what people in the 1950’s did because humans were actually a different species back then; we have no clue as to their behavior (See: Kischner and Carnap et al “Bifurcation of the Suburban Brain” Brain Health Review (32–47, 53). Anyway, whatever alien lifeform they were, they got a free pass on inebriation, no matter how wasted. Let’s say you got pulled over because you were driving in reverse on the wrong side of the highway. What happens? The cops chuckle and let you off with a warning and recipe for a whiskey sour so you could, ‘tone it down a little till you get home.’ (We’re referring to rich white men here, of course. Everybody else was beaten mercilessly.)
And that’s how coffee is today. It’s not uncommon to see some poor addict, even at work, trembling beneath their desk from coffee withdrawal, unable to face the harsh overhead lights or their coworkers’ demands, such as saying hello as they walk past.
Yes, what was once seen as a treat has become so commonplace that the rare soul who DOESN’T drink coffee is exiled, ridiculed, and generally considered some kind of weirdo candypants. But how has coffee come to be ubiquitous?
To answer this question, we’ll have to go back to the beginning.
Coffee beans were first discovered by an Ethiopian goatherd in the 9th Century. He noticed that when his goats ate the beans of the coffee plant, they became very excited and aggressive. He began to cultivate the plants, and his fighting goats became famous in East Africa and eventually even Europe, which is notorious for not giving a shit what happens anywhere else. So clearly this was a big deal. The goatherd — and his goats — conquered several nations with hard to pronounce or spell names before the goats ultimately turned on him and devoured him. But by then the coffee plant was being cultivated in what is now present day Yemen. It was used by a sect of Sufi mystics to enhance stamina when performing their whirling dances, or binge watching Sabado Gigante.
Skip ahead a few years and it’s America in 1775. The British own the colonies the way the 1% owns our government, and it’s really chapping our nips. There’s something called the Stamp Tax, which meant that every colonist has to have her/his hand stamped by a redcoat bouncer, even for happy hour. But worst of all, Britain has banned every kind of drink except Postum, forcing us Americans to drink buckwheat water, or whatever the hell it is. In response, we broke away and became our own country, and started drinking coffee because it was patriotic (i.e. Screw You, Brits, You Posh Crumpet-Gibbons!).
Lots of other stuff happened that we can’t think of jokes for, then came the Great Depression. Millions were out of work, and the rich couldn’t find any place to hide them and keep them out of sight. As a result, these unemployed men and women would form miles-long lines, hoping to get a job as a billboard or spare tire. To keep them from collapsing from hanger and holding up the line, the Red Cross would hand out tin cups of coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee was mistaken for water, because the 1920’s and 1930’s were in black and white (except for the emerald city of Oz), and taste buds hadn’t been invented yet (which is also why there was no Taco Bell back then) so everyone drank too much and invented the jitterbug. Because of this dance craze, coffee consumption began increasing.
Today, our modern world has become incredibly hectic and complex. It’s nearly impossible to keep up, and many of us are operating with sleep deficits much of the time because of binge watching Stargate spin-offs. (Or Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, which we refer to as “Battlestar Hercules.”) Caffeine wakes us up in the morning and helps our poor, tired, monkey brains focus. It even gets our bowels going, which helps our metabolism. Without it, we would drop dead and immediately crumble into dust. Society would collapse, and only weirdos would remain. We should be addicted to coffee. But how has one chemical managed to become so embedded in our society, rather than, say, crank? We’re going to let you in on a secret that may shock you: Caffeine is sentient.
Yeah, we know. Crazy, right? No WAY that’s right. We must be smoking some serious phone books (one of us — we won’t say who — thinks phone books are drugs)(It’s not me). Let’s backtrack a minute, okay? Where does caffeine come from? If you said Starbucks, congratulations! You’re an idiot. Wikipedia will tell you that caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in several plants that grow in temperate climates, especially South America and East Asia.
Wait, you’re saying, so, it’s natural. That must be good, right?
Well, these plants use caffeine as a pesticide. That means it kills bugs that try to eat the plants.
Huh. But surely caffeine isn’t trying to kill us, right, haha? I mean, even if it’s a pesticide — and we’re totally gonna look that up on Wikipedia — that doesn’t mean it’s sentient. Or, you know, evil.
No, it doesn’t. But let’s keep going. The thing about coffee is it’s bitter and dark. In other words, it’s much like the cursed soul of America itself. So, it’s only natural that coffee is now huge in America, its popularity growing exponentially since the 50s. If you look back at our foreign policies in the first half of the 20th Century, the US was much more isolationist. Caffeine was just beginning to insinuate itself into our everyday lives in sodas and teas. But that wasn’t enough. Coffee was the thing, and from the middle part of the century on, we’ve grown much more outwardly focused and much more aggressive. In fact, the US has been at war continuously for most of your lives. During that same time, caffeine consumption — specifically in coffee — has increased dramatically (see “How We Enslaved The World,” from the Coffee Brewers Benevolent Association newsletter, vol. 112, issue 7).
Weird, huh? Seems like a lot of violence is associated with caffeine. It’s almost like caffeine is infecting people somehow and then pushing them to try to conquer the world, like 28 Days Later, but without Cillian Murphy. Or Sandra Bullock, if you were thinking of that movie (Miss Congeniality).
Also, a cup of coffee once told us it was sentient and could grant us three wishes if we let it go back into the river. Wait, no, that was a talking fish. Sorry. Forget we said anything.
But why would coffee push people to commit acts of violence? Because it’s losing the War Against Sugar.
Wait, wait, wait, wasn’t this whole blog post supposed to be about how to make a better cup of coffee?
Yeah, it was. But that doesn’t matter. Add some sugar, maybe a little milk if you hate freedom. There you go. Tastes better.
Whereas coffee is an angry god, sugar is much more mellow. Sugar is that cool, laid back English teacher you had in high school, who wore corduroys and turtlenecks and probably smoked weed. Coffee on the other hand is the unstable gym teacher/assistant football coach whose wife just left him for a security guard. They both demand total fealty and ownership over our sad little bodies and paltry immortal souls, but sugar wants us to feel good about it, whereas coffee couldn’t care less.
In the War of Coffee Against Sugar (called by sugar The War Of Coffee Aggression), we are mere pawns, but we are going to have to choose sides, eventually. There was the possibility of detente for a while, when the Frappuccino first came out. Then it was revealed that, although the Frapp had a shit-ton of sugar in it, along with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, instead of being made from coffee beans, it was made with fire ants, which are a lot cheaper and haven’t unionized. It was back to the trenches after that. Butter has been able to remain neutral so far, like Switzerland, but for the rest of us time is running out. It’s as simple a choice as “Do you want to be awake, or do you want to be happy?” We pray we can choose wisely.