Coffee: The Cool Addiction

Zoe Fagan

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Coffee is social, fashionable and addictive - photo credit Sharon Wesilds (Flickr)
Coffee is social, fashionable and addictive – photo credit Sharon Wesilds (Flickr)

The way we view, and drink, coffee is constantly transforming. In Ireland coffee was a once-off beverage with most people favouring the famous builders tea over coffee. Then coffee became accessible with the arrival of instant coffee which was cheap, easy to make and had less caffeine than brewed making it easier to drink in greater quantities. This relationship with coffee once again changed as Ireland experienced a coffee revolution. The thirst for coffee transformed into a thirst for quality. The Irish wanted bigger and better which as coffee chains sprang up in the United States and broadened their business into Ireland.

Now the media is saturated by the coffee industry. Film characters drink from their coffee cups, mugs and flasks as they walk to college, sit at their desk and meet friends for lunch and it looks pretty damn cool. As a modern culture we have become obsessed by the media and feeling a strong connection to TV and film characters we work to be like them. So apart from needing our caffeine fix, we grab our coffee flask to be like that girl or guy living the dream on screen. It’s all about wanting to fit in and look cool and so we drink more and more coffee. Now it’s become a habit as well as a comfort to have a cup in hand. Realistically, we have become addicted to the fashion and accessibility of coffee. Where did this addiction really come from and why is it so acceptable, if drugs, smoking and alcohol are not?

The Beginnings

Coffee made available to everyone - photo credit Jelltex (Flickr)
Coffee made available – photo credit Jelltex (Flickr)

As a child in Ireland in the 90’s, coffee was always a mystery to me. The dark liquid always smelt so good but one sip and I was spitting the contents down the sink. My dad used to drink what I thought was ‘liquid chicken’; it was this tall glass bottle filled with a dark syrup called ‘chicory‘ and it tasted worse than coffee.

My mom always had her instant coffee straight, without any milk, and she would sit for hours with her friends drinking endless cups of coffee. At weekends I would watch my grandparents’ neighbours, who were farmers in County Wexford,drink their coffee as a dessert. The cup filled a third with instant coffee, a third milk and a third whipped cream.

I still never liked coffee until I became an American-soap-opera-obsessed teenager. I would watch girls my age meeting friends at the “mall” and drinking their Starbucks coffee. They were pretty and insanely cool and in my mind they were just that because of the cup of coffee in their hand. Around the same time that these programmes came to Ireland, a high-end shopping centre opened in Dundrum and low and behold, it boasted Ireland’s first Starbucks.

The Fashion

Coffee is now seen as an accessory - photo credit stelliinousstelliinous (Tumblr)
Coffee the accessory – photo credit stelliinousstelliinous (Tumblr)

From hit movies and TV series like The Devil Wears Prada, Miss Congeniality, Sex and the City, Pretty Little Liars and Friends, coffee shops play the backdrop to many scenes. Coffee cups are dragged along through a sequence of events, from home, to work, to the shop and back home again. Coffee cups are the “fashion accessories” that complement the whole idea and concept of the characters and the atmosphere of the show. It’s not just on the screen; flip through any magazine and it would be hard not to find a photo of a celebrity with a coffee cup in hand. Instinctively we associate the coffee scene with New York but coffee is culture is everywhere.

Where there is creativity, style, work, and innovation, there’s coffee shops, stalls and stands – from independent types to big name brand franchises. Coffee is the fuel, and as a result, has become a sort of omnipresent companion. These days, coffee has become so intertwined with our lives, that art and fashion are now actively incorporating the drink into their products.

The Addiction

Queuing for morning coffee - photo credit Garry Knight (Flickr)
Queuing for morning coffee – photo credit Garry Knight (Flickr)

But is this trendy side to coffee masking the real issue of caffeine addiction? An article by The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse states that the term addiction is regular consumption that is irresistible and creates problems. It says that caffeine does not fit into this definition of addiction as “its intake does no harm to the individual or to society and its users are not compelled to consume it.” Bizarrely, the study also states that although ceasing regular use may result in withdrawal symptoms,  these symptoms can be reversed by ingesting more caffeine. Surely that’s the same with other substances which are classified as addictive, such as tobacco and drugs?

Elsewhere, a study on the symptoms and signs of caffeine withdrawals found that  headache, fatigue, decreased energy/activeness, decreased alertness, drowsiness, decreased contentedness, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and foggy/not clear-headed are all valid symptoms. What’s more the study states that “avoidance of withdrawal symptoms plays a central role in habitual caffeine consumption.” And so, we’re caught in a vicious cycle.

Like alcohol, we do not drink coffee just because we love the taste. Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day. In the UK alone, 2014 saw a £6.2 billion turnover in the coffee market. It would be easy to conclude that people are buying coffee because of the taste but it seems there is much more to it than that. People are spending money on coffee because it is a fashionable addiction, fulfilling that strong “need” for something both physiological and psychological.

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Zoe Fagan