A recent trip to South America opened me up to a whole new outlook on life, the culture was in many ways remarkably different to my own and the traditions engendered within this excitingly new culture were displaced from the norms I have grown to call normal. One major cultural connection between both disparate worlds surrounds the journey of the humble coffee bean. South America exports an extraordinary amount of coffee beans yearly, in fact, in excess of 90% of coffee production takes place in developing countries. This is a stark comparison to consumption, which happens mainly within countries with industrialized economies. With over 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed every day, I got to thinking recently about what coffee means to us and our first world culture.
In many ways, certainly within London, coffee acts as the fuel of the overworked. As a cheap and legal source of instant energy, especially when pepped up with copious amounts of sugar, coffee is a pleasurable pick-me-up that makes that unwanted 8am meeting ever so slightly more bearable. Coffee is also an excuse to take a breather from one’s desk, a chance to temporarily escape and a sense of freedom within monotony.
Additionally, coffee also plays protagonist during many of our personal interactions:
- Want a relationship with someone you fancy? – Take them for a coffee!
- Want to end a relationship with someone you no longer fancy? – Coffee!
- Want to meet up with someone you haven’t seen in a long time? – Coffee for reminiscing!
- Want a new job? – Coffee with your prospective boss!
The list goes on.
To note, coffee now comes in a plethora of different styles. All drinks show humility to the bean, but are developed into new and exciting beverages. Between the ‘salted caramel-skinny-soy-latte’ and the ‘Long Black/Americano’ is found a new brew. Iced coffee, birthed from the bowels of America, is now found in many, and most, trendy coffee establishments in London.
The cold brew often packs a mighty caffeine punch. This cold brew held the caffeine equivalent of 4 espressos. It made me jittery.
We must also at this point pay respect to the coffee inspired alcoholic beverages that are found at our better cocktail bars. In particular the espresso martini.
Would it ever cross the bean pickers mind that a handful of the beans that they are picking could be blended to make an alcoholic drink? Perhaps.
All in all, there is no doubt that coffee plays a central role in our culture.
In fact, my Americano has gone cold as I’ve typed this.
(Eli Woodbine, London, 2015)