The Drink Dilemma: Coffee Culture and Consumerism
Darya Farah Foroohar
December 5th, 2019
I used to despise the taste of coffee. I felt betrayed whenever I would smell it wafting from my mom’s cup, but taste nothing but bitterness when I was offered a sip. As I grew older, I slowly turned on to the taste of coffee (albeit with a lot of sugar), though, I still refused to drink it for fear of stunting my growth, as I had been warned about by more than one adult. Even on the rare occasions when I had decaf, I still worried about its ill effects, especially because the coffee I had back then was packed with sugar, artificial flavors, and all sorts of chemicals (I’m trying to describe a Frappuccino without embarrassing myself). I swore I would never drink coffee, even when I got older—partly to spite the adults (like my mom) who assured me I would need the stuff to survive in college or even high school, but also because I did not want to be reliant on a stimulant to survive.
Flash forward to high school, junior year. I drink coffee, not regularly, but caffeinated all the same. The only reason I don’t drink it more, honestly, is because I still have the fear of getting addicted and not being able to function without it. Yes, I could always get decaf, but then there’s no point in getting coffee at all. I pride myself on my ability to get up in the early morning with only one alarm (a god-tier flex, I know), and I pity those who need two lattes in the morning to be sane. Yet I often find myself drifting to the counter of a cafe and ordering an iced latte, almost as if I am not in control of my own facilities. What is making me do this? I can’t waste my money on coffee! I hardly feel its effects on me, it becomes gross if you leave it for too long, and it’s ridiculously overpriced (especially if you’re lured in by the fancy drinks such as turmeric lattes and matcha frappuccinos). But there is something about it that keeps me coming back.
One could say it is the taste, and for me, that is certainly a major factor. There’s nothing quite like the creamy, not-too-bitter taste of iced coffee (the appeal is only magnified by shaking the ice in your empty cup even after those around you have asked you to stop). In addition, it is helpful for me so that I don’t buy something more unhealthy instead, like a baked good. Perhaps, though, it is the caffeine boost. But I am tired all the time. Even if I drink coffee at 4 in the afternoon, by 9 I am getting drowsy all the same. This leaves the last, unconsidered factor: the social aspect of coffee. Many times the reason why I buy coffee is because I am with friends who are also buying something to eat or drink, and I feel the need to buy something as well, so they are not eating alone as I watch (interestingly, if I refrain from buying anything when my friends do, they almost always offer me their food, one friend even telling me explicitly she felt guilty to be eating when I wasn’t). Eating and drinking are enormous aspects of our social culture, and coffee is a good solution for someone who doesn’t actually want to buy anything but doesn’t want to be judged by the barista (or even kicked out) for not buying anything but still staying there. And so this social pressure creates a coffee addiction that will result in even more needless purchases.
It’s the definition of a first-world problem, but the issue of social pressure to buy things is an issue that should be further explored. A lot of socializing is disguised as a purchase: getting food, going shopping, going to a fair or concert. These rituals are often means to an end, in that the food or clothes bought are not as important as the time spent buying them. But because there is so little that is free in our society, we must set up socialization through the commercial industry. It can be as simple as buying coffee simply because your friends are at a cafe. But if everyone is doing it, the dollars you spend on that latte are no longer insignificant, but serve to contribute to coffee culture and consumerism.