I have been coffee free for years now, and yet I still, on occasion, long for a cup. I certainly drank coffee in Bolivia, back in the day, but always Nescafé. People think, oh, South America, they must have really good coffee there. But no - Bolivia doesn't really produce coffee, and what is produced elsewhere on the continent is reserved for export to foreign markets and gourmet coffee bars. People in coffee-producing countries drink crap: freeze-dried, the worst of the worst. The kind of coffee made from "flavor crystals," that upon dissolving in hot water leaves a white foam floating on the surface, like effluent. "No es café,"people call it, a play on Nescafé, which dominates the Bolivian coffee market. I used to drink the stuff every day. I even came to like it, testament to the addictive power of the drug and its seductive delivery system.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
On not drinking coffee
Of all the drugs to claim our addiction, caffeine is one of the hardest to break. It's not because the drug itself is so powerful - we tend to think, with our pharmaceutically determinist view, that the substance itself is the key factor in creating our dependency. The caffeine is certainly part of what drives our addiction to coffee, but not the whole of it. It is also the circumstantial dimension, what an anthropologist might call the context of coffee drinking, that gives it such a powerful hook. The ritual of brewing and then consuming the coffee, the rich smell and warmth of it on a cold morning, the routine of having that cup upon getting out of bed - these are the elements of addiction that seem so benign and yet hold such power over us, controlling our lives and decisions, orienting our daily routines, exerting influence on our physiology and emotions.