Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coffee As Drug

Hello, dear readers. I'm breaking the silence again on a lazy off-day to post one of my final papers I wrote for my composition class last year. I won't say much about it, other than I'm interested in your thoughts, as always. Enjoy!

Peter Vanderhorst
Profile Paper
Composition I

Coffee as Drug

    There’s a doubt in my mind that anyone would want to admit that his/her life is controlled even somewhat by a little black bean. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t want to admit such an embarrassing thing about myself. How humbled would people be if they came to the realization that this is true? And yet…it is.
    As a college student, I must confess that I have, like many of my fellow students, often put my entertainment before my studying. And, like them, I have had to make up for that mistake with late nights and fewer hours of sleep. When I arrive on campus, though, a solution to a day full of yawns and sleepy eyes is available and appetizing: coffee, from either of my college’s two shops. I am saved.
    Coffee shops are traditionally a soothing environment where good drinks flow, happy memories are made, and homework can be finished without all the distractions that assail students elsewhere. I walked into Java Jazz, the main coffee shop on my campus, to ascertain whether those things were actually true. I spread out my schoolwork (miscellaneous unordered papers, laptop) on the table encircling a concrete pillar and surreptitiously took notes.  Soothing environment? Artwork on the wall, soft lighting…Check. Music in keeping with the store? Yes (jazz, naturally). Tasteful  decorations? Of course. I bought a non-bean beverage, having already drunk a large cup of dark roast Roasterie coffee that morning. I love coffee, but I didn’t feel like making the many trips to the men’s room that accompany downing a hot coffee. Having put all my paraphernalia in order, I sat and watched people flow in and out, listened to the voices of the cashiers and customers, and heard the irrelevant chit-chat the employees casually engaged in when not busy (“What are you doing tonight?).  A coffee shop atmosphere is appealing in that it is comfortable and laid back. But amid that aura, I also glimpsed people who hurried in, got their coffee, and rushed out, clutching their newly-acquired caffeinated elixir. What drove them?
    I haven’t been drinking coffee for long compared to many people. The rules in my house said no coffee till age sixteen. Of course, I encountered coffee before then (contraband sips from a sibling’s cup, hurried gulps at a friend’s house, at weddings), but now that I have freedom to drink it in my own manner, I’m still not addicted to coffee. I don’t get headaches when I don’t have it, or jitters. But I know those who do, including family members: my grandmother drinks coffee daily, and admits to having headaches without it. My dad has had to wean himself off of coffee on some days to keep from being too dependent on it. My oldest brother rarely goes a day without at least one cup (usually more) of the drinkable “black gold.”
    Abigail Hofman, a self-professed coffee addict and former investment banker, explained how she felt about coffee: “To me, life was simply not worth living without coffee, but increasingly, I was feeling tired most of the time.” Many are addicted to coffee, knowingly or not. I interviewed Sarah, an employee at Java Jazz, who told me that there are some customers she sees who are “definitely” addicted.
    Sarah has been working at coffee shops for four years now, on and off. She loves her job most of the time, citing the atmosphere and pay as part of what makes a great place to work. We sat on a bench outside, pollen drifting lazily through the air to land on our heads, the sun shining through the trees in brilliant shafts of light. Coffee was on my mind, though; I asked her what she thought students would do if coffee was no longer offered on campus.
    “If there wasn’t coffee on campus, people would go elsewhere for coffee and food, taking business away from campus,” she postulated. Her perspective on people has changed from working in a coffee shop, seeing how self-centered people are and how much money they are willing to spend in their fixation to get their drink: “Even though the economy is in the hole, nobody is sacrificing their caffeine.” Trying to guess how much an average coffee “user” spent in one week, she guessed around $25 (one specialty coffee a day, at $4.50 + tax), coming up to $600 a semester, enough to send another student to school at JCCC for almost 9 credit hours in that same time period.
    Needless to say, coffee has become a controlling cog of our society. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when a person is spending enough money on coffee yearly to start a small investment (between $250 and $1000 is enough to open a mutual fund), something is wrong. Much has been made of drug addictions; while coffee is not nearly as serious or harmful as most drugs, being addicted to coffee is not a healthy state to be in. College students are stereotyped as dependent on caffeine-based drinks, and I found in my online research that at least 50% of students use coffee to stay awake during all-nighters, by far the most often used eyelid-lifter. 
    It is telling that our country is the most responsible for making coffee into a multi-billion dollar industry. In a consumer-driven, instant-gratification society, coffee has made itself into a giant with corporate power not many realize the extent of. Students, professors, businessmen, and ordinary citizens alike do not see coffee as the huge money-making success that it is. For several centuries coffee was regarded as a “cheap” drink, overshadowed by tea in the homes of the genteel and rich. Today, it is the drink of choice and necessity for millions and millions of ordinary people, both wealthy and poor.
    “Coffee is like fine wine, and those of us who have time and money are the best connoisseurs,” Sarah told me. Too often for their own health, people use coffee like a drug, drinking it to stay awake or get their next caffeine high. Coffee should be treated better than that, as something to savor and appreciate. Perhaps if people had that mindset instead of an energy-pill one, they could enjoy coffee like I do: rejoicing in its different flavors, letting the warmth flood over my tongue and down my throat, its aroma filling my nostrils. 


  1. nice moments of waxing poetic there. ;)

    i drink coffee most, but not all, mornings. 12-24 ounces, depending on whether i left myself time for a cup at home before schlepping my little thermos flask to work. i drink it black --- you know this because we've argued about it before.

    if i don't drink it, i don't drink it. there's no headache or anxiety. i can't drink caffeinated in the evenings anymore, though, because it keeps me awake all night. and i don't think it really wakes me up in the morning, either. i drink it because i like it.

    i probably drink more coffee now than when i was in college, but then i often had the mindset you describe of "i need this caffeine boost to pull me through the day." again, i'm pretty sure any effect was more psychological (thinking i was more alert because i'd had coffee) than literal.

    now i drink it solely because i like the way it tastes --- i learned how to use our coffee pot, and i grind the beans before brewing. i think the comparison to wine is a very good analogy ... if the only reason you drink something is because of its supposed desired properties (or actual stupor-inducement, in the case of wine), and not because you enjoy the thing itself --- its taste, aroma, etc. --- then it is easy to become addicted to it because of how it makes you feel.

    good paper. what did your parents say about it?

  2. Very interesting. I enjoy coffee, but am certainly not addicted.
    I do not have to have it every day, like some. Oh, the freedom.