Americans consume 491 million cups of coffee every day, and a disproportionate amount of that is due to me.
Had the National Coffee Association, who conducted the survey, called me, I might’ve helped get that number to a cool half billion. I’m one of the 65% of Americans who drink coffee every day, not because I want to, but because I need to, thanks to its active ingredient becoming an integral part of my neurochemistry. For Big Pharma, caffeine is “the one that got away.” It’s an exquisite drug, and I am an addict.
Unlike other legal drugs, caffeine remains socially acceptable—at least for the moment. Cigarettes? Gone. Same goes for their heirs apparent—vapes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (known in the tobacco industry by the suspicious acronym “ENDS”). Liquor is out, unless it’s artisanal; then it’s in but pricey. Ditto brews preceded by the word “craft.” Wine endures since we winos pretend that the resveratrol in red wine staves off death, and the French paradox is sacred (briefly known in aughties America as the “freedom paradox”) as the only “alternative fact” one should believe.
Of course, there would be no America without coffee. A direct line can be drawn from the Enlightenment to both the American and French revolutions, and that same line hearkens back to coffee houses arriving in Europe after Sultan Murad IV decreed death to coffee drinkers in the Ottoman Empire where they originated.
Coffee, like beer, was safer to drink than the water. But unlike beer, it didn’t leave the population in a collective stupor. Instead, it inspired radical ideas and conversation, and eventually Beat poetry, for better or worse.
Coffee houses were known as “penny universities” for their intellectual climates (it’s important to note that so-called “second wave” coffee chains that metastasized throughout the ’90s and beyond are not technically “coffee houses” but “franchise garbage water outlets”).
With intellectuals, of course, come manifestos, and those written by coffee drinkers are consistently revolutionary. From the Declaration of Independence and The Communist Manifesto to the Dada Manifesto and Dogme 95, they’re all winners. By contrast, manifestos drafted by beer drinkers usually consist of demands for “more beer!” and then used to sop up a spill.
Revolutions are likewise fueled by coffee (thinking of the American and French, in particular, since the former was fresh out of tea—looking at you Boston Harbor—) and only a caffeinated executioner could dream up the ruthless efficiency of the guillotine for the latter.
One would think that with half a billion cups a day something more interesting would happen here. Until then, let’s celebrate National Coffee Day this Friday, Sept. 29. Free refills for everyone.
Daedalus Howell takes his coffee black at dhowell.com.