Coffee is now ubiquitous in modern society, with global coffee shop chains visible on the high streets and in the shopping malls of most major cities across the globe. Almost all of us have seen television shows or movies in which the characters either carry branded cardboard coffee cups or chat with friends in trendy boutique cafes. But how has this come about, and what is it that makes coffee so popular today?
To answer this question, let’s think about where coffee came from, and when we started to consume it in the super-human quantities that we do today. Why is it that so many people start off their day with a cup of coffee, whether instant, freshly-ground at home, or from one of the huge number of coffee shops which have become so prevalent? Well, the obvious answers would include that it tastes great, and starts your day off with a boost of energy, but is there more to it than that?
Well, coffee has been drunk by the peoples of the Arabian peninsula and surrounding areas for hundreds of years. Over a millennium, actually. In early times, several centuries ago, Arabian physicians were using coffee for its medicinal properties. Even today, several chemicals present in coffee (known as methylxanthines) are still used in the treatment of severe asthma, so they probably knew what they were doing all those years ago.
But does coffee have health benefits for the average drinker today? Could that be another reason that so many people drink it? Well, coffee may reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes, type 2 diabetes, liver cancers, gout, depression and cognitive dysfunction. The key word being “may”as these benefits have so far been difficult to prove.
In the 17th century, Pope Clement VIII decreed that coffee drinking was acceptable for the masses, and this paved the way for the surging popularity in the drink which we see today. Popularity increased, which gave way to greater production and lower prices, allowing much of the populace to be able to afford what was once a luxury.
The events of the infamous “Boston Tea Party”further pushed the Americans to prefer the new beverage, as tea was associated with the English, who they very much wanted to dissociate themselves from (for obvious reasons). As we can see today, the Americans have become one of the largest consumers of coffee on the planet.
All of these factors, combined with the invention of low-cost freeze-dried coffee, and globalization (allowing huge chain companies to take over supply), lead us to the situation we find ourselves in today. The large coffee shop chains bought in bulk, further reducing the cost of the simple coffee bean. It’s debatable whether or not any discount was passed onto the consumer, but the effects of increasing the supply are very evident today.
So not only was coffee incredibly tasty, it had also become cheap, readily available, and an acceptable drink in the eyes of people around the world. Far more acceptable than alcohol within the Middle-East, and more preferable than tea for the Americans.
But what about its energy giving properties, you are all thinking? Well, yes, in the fast-paced modern society in which we all live today, many of us cannot get through the morning without a cup of our favorite coffee. Some people claim to not be able to function without it. It is undeniable that the chemical constituents of coffee have the ability to reduce fatigue, although their ability to actually enhance cognition and concentration remains controversial.
So, the socially acceptable, energy giving, cheap drink became incredibly widespread. Demand continued to increase, therefore so did the number of countries producing the coffee beans used to create the drink.
What happened next? Well in the last few decades, consumption of coffee actually became extremely trendy and fashionable. Famous celebrities being snapped holding their favorite cup inexpensive New-York neighborhoods, or being seen in popular American sitcoms, only served to drive this growing trend. Multinational coffee shop chains appeared, provided people with high-quality variations and flavors of coffee-based beverages. Coffee shops provided people with a safe, friendly place to meet and chat over a better quality drink than they could produce at home. Not to mention the free Wi-Fi which many offered to lure even more customers in.
Thus, coffee shop culture took over many Western European countries, becoming dignified and fashionable, and a much more healthy alternative to alcoholic beverages. Reduced cost, massively increased availability, a diverse selection of flavors and styles and the widespread adoption of coffee-drinking by celebrities and pseudo-celebrities around the world has resulted in the huge demand for what was (once upon a time) an unheard of beverage.