When I woke up this morning, and near-on fell out of bed to hit the alarm, my first thought was ‘how do I rid myself of this slit-eyed tiredness that doesn’t want to budge?’. (Obviously, being in a state of slit-eyed tiredness, the thought wasn’t quite so articulate, more: ‘eurgh. How to wake up?’) And you know the answer? You KNOW the answer. It’s the same one most people reach for of a morning, whether through want, need or habit. Ah yes, coffee. Pure(ish) rich beans filled with caffeiney goodness.
Thing is, I heard – as you always do with everything you enjoy in life – that really your morning caffeine intake, your mid-morning energy raiser, afternoon wake-up brew, actually doesn’t do what we all think it does. It’s a placebo effect. Testing suggests that if you actually just believe you’ve had caffeine, your body will respond in a similar to way to if you actually have had it. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but coffee is more than just a wake-up call. It’s social, it’s cultural, it’s historical… Obviously that’s why I drink it. Partially. Possibly.
While travelling the coffee continent, South America, earlier this year, it became a bit of a running joke that two of us were constantly ‘off for a coffee’. Whatever we did during the day, whether getting to know the latest town, trekking up mountains, crouching our way through mines, cycling out through deserts to see ancient ruins, whenever my legendary travelling friend Liz and I got back to whatever hostel/ hotel/ dump/ tent we were staying in, someone would always have ‘spotted’ us during the day enjoying the local beans. It was almost suggested we didn’t do anything else!
But yes, those coffee breaks were fairly frequent, so it’s not entirely unfounded. Besides, you’ve got to test the local produce when you’re travelling, don’t you? Even if the majority of the good coffee is imported out, and sometimes we were running (or placebo effect running) on what was practically motor oil. Is it wrong that a lot of fond memories I have from that trip involve the dark and aromatic drink? Hysterical/ painful hungover conversations over breakfast; coming in from the snow-laden Atacama salt flats to dive upon a hot, steaming drink; sitting absorbing the sun in Cusco laughing hysterically at a ridiculously dirty conversation as a pensioner eyes us with mistrust; trying to stretch the traveler budget (wherever we were) by curbing the lunchtime appetite with caffeine (health-wise, not ideal, but otherwise delicious); plotting the day’s adventures in Quito in front of a stunning city backdrop, over guide books and a cuppa; watching the world go by in Santiago and Potosi and ‘stealth’ photographing locals who didn’t want their photos taking… there’s an espresso pot nearby at every turn.
So yes, maybe I have just proven that coffee-drinking is merely habit, not necessity, but I think I’ve also just shown how its social properties cannot be underestimated. The South Americans know it, the Italians live it, the North Americans chain-run it (horrible, crap, overpriced, syruped-up, drudgy water…mostly). Continental café culture has become global coffee culture. And there’s nowt wrong with that. Now, who’s feeling thirsty…?