I pulled my coffee mug from under the single-cup brewing station I set up behind my desk. It’s a must-have addition to my classroom teacher essentials.
Before taking my first sip, I lifted the fresh brew to my nose and took a deep whiff. Ahhh, yes. This will get me through first period.
From the back of the room, one of my early arrival high school students broke the reverie.
“I don’t really like coffee,” Gabby said as she sat at her desk slowly spinning a double shot caramel vanilla latte.
Her comment not only came out of the blue, but it also seemed totally illogical.
“Whoa, that’s a shocker,” I replied. “since you show up to class almost every morning with a coffee in your hand.”
“Yea, well, it sort of warms me up and it’s supposed to help with my ADHD.”
“ I love coffee. I can’t imagine starting my day without a cup or two or three.”
“Why? Like why do you drink so much?” Out of the mouths of babes, or in this case a teenager. Good question, I thought.
Why do I, and millions of people worldwide, love our coffee so much? Why can’t we say no to “joe?” Is there a real purpose for drinking coffee or has it just become a habit of indulgence?
I decided to take a closer look at my coffee routines to see if I could come up with a reasonable answer for my curious student.
The functional purpose of coffee
My instinctual response to Gabby’s question was that I drink coffee to help me get moving in the morning and keep me going throughout the day.
Oh, that sounds so wrong. But it’s the truth. Somewhere along my life path, I went from not drinking coffee at all to the point where I purchased a machine that promised me a fresh cup of java right in my classroom any time of day.
I started drinking coffee when I was about thirty. During early morning hunting trips with my husband, I would down a cup of hot coffee to keep me warm and alert.
There was a functional purpose to my coffee drinking at that point. Warmth and staying awake during those cold, dark, early morning drives to the woods.
Growing up, my parents drank coffee in the morning as they prepared for work. Dad, a logger, would fill his thermos with the remaining coffee, dilute it with milk and sugar, and head off into the woods. He wasn’t a fan of the taste, but the coffee served its functional purpose of keeping him warm and alert.
Did I learn to use coffee as a pick me up from my husband or my parents? Does it actually serve a functional purpose in my crazy, busy life or has it become a mindless habit?
Coffee rituals and habits
The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is put on a pot of coffee. It is part of my daily routine. True. But in reality, it is more of a ritual.
While it is brewing, I drink a glass of water, let the dogs out, check their food and water, wash my face.
THEN, I pick out my special cup of the day, pour, sniff, send out a positive message to the universe, and sip. Now my day begins. My real day which requires thought and effort.
Other aspects of my coffee drinking seem more habitual. When I arrive at school in the morning, I make another cup of coffee. When I go out for breakfast or lunch, I order a cup of coffee.
Reading a great book. Sitting down to write a blog post. Correcting papers. Paying bills. I can’t seem to do any of these tasks without a cup of joe within reach.
The odd thing is I usually have to heat the cup up about three times before I actually drink it. I get busy working with the task at hand and forget about the mug of motivation sitting next to me.
However, when I get stuck or bored or restless, coffee can be my greatest distraction. I can down that brew like water.
Which happens frequently when I attend meetings. Nothing is more irritating to me than heading into a workshop and discovering there is no coffee available.
I developed the habit of bringing my own hot mug, to the envy of the people around me. This I know by the multitude of times someone has asked, “Where did you find the coffee?”
I should bring my little coffee station to those gatherings. I could probably supplement my income substantially.
The social purpose of coffee
Speaking of gatherings. Coffee does serve as a beverage for bringing people together. Like the days of getting together for a drink, friends now suggest “grabbing a coffee.”
Whether it’s a formal or informal meetup, coffee shops are a popular hangout spot. Even in small cafes and restaurants, people gather and sit and visit over several cups of steaming joe.
I’m from Washington state, but I confess, I’m not a coffee shop person. It could be that there are few to be found in the rural area where I live. But I do love a good coffee chat with a friend or neighbor at their home or mine.
I just can’t say no to a steaming cup of coffee when I stop in at my neighbor’s house, even if I have downed three cups already that morning. There is something special about sharing the latest ups and downs in life while sitting at the table sipping a fresh brew. It’s so private and personal.
My grandmother was the epitome of a social coffee drinker. If a friend stopped by her house the first words out of her mouth were, “How about a cup of coffee? I’ll put on a fresh pot.”
It was an insult to turn down a cup of coffee at Grandma’s house. Of course, she usually had a homemade sweet to go along with it. Who could say no? Oh, those were the days.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the time (or energy, ironically) for that kind of social coffee drinking anymore. Too bad. I think the world would benefit from time at the table together.
Coffee as a status symbol
Coffee shops and cafes lack the comfort and coziness of my grandmother’s house or my neighbor’s kitchen table. But in a world that has become more complicated and hurried, catching up with a friend or exchanging ideas with a colleague continues to be enhanced over a mug of coffee.
However, it can’t be just any coffee shop. We all have our favorites. Take Starbucks here in Washington state, for example. I have never been a fan, but obviously many, many people are. Hence their enormous success.
In my small community of about 2,000 people, we have three coffee stands/shops. Three. And we proudly provide free advertisement as we pack around our labeled go-mugs, buy gift certificates, and brandish t-shirts we impulsively purchased while waiting in line.
It’s true. Those in the know, know where to go.
Yes, where you slurp your mud is just as important as what you put into it. Heaven forbid you should order a simple serving of black coffee. You’re likely to draw stares.
My daughter worked as a barista during her college years. She learned a repertoire of recipes for coffee drinks, some she could barely pronounce. No one came into the shop and ordered black coffee.
Except for me. Yes, I like my coffee without milk, sugar, or flavorings. Okay, on rare occasions I will accept a vanilla latte or raspberry mocha. Nothing too fancy.
Why is that?
More than once have I stood in line at a coffee shop and listened to the patrons rattle off their orders. A stranger in the land of coffee snobs.
It was my own insecurity. I had no idea what a macchiato was and couldn’t fathom why someone would order a cup of coffee that tasted more like a Snickers bar than java.
Thank goodness, I’m getting over that.
Coffee’s medicinal purposes
Gabby mentioned drinking coffee to help manage her ADHD. There are studies indicating caffeine may help with concentration and on-task behavior. The reviews are mixed.
Not surprising. The health effects of coffee, both good and bad, swing back and forth from year to year, month to month, day to day. Perhaps the researchers should do trials on themselves and see if they can’t improve their own focus.
The good news is most of the recent research is a boon for coffee lovers like me. Caffeine has been found to reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Coffee is made from the pit of a fruit, a berry actually. And like many berries, coffee contains many antioxidants. You know, those superhero vitamins and minerals that fight off the bad molecules in your body. Magnesium, potassium, and many B vitamins, for example.
I’m going to hang on to this research. The next time my daughter berates me for drinking my third cup in the morning, I can tell her I’m just getting in my daily dose of supplements.
The emotional side of coffee
As a little side note, I do think there is an emotional factor to why people drink so much coffee. The smell of a freshly brewed pot can certainly bring a sense of comfort.
The aroma reminds me of my grandmother. It reminds me of cold winter mornings and good books. The pleasant nostalgia that puts a smile on my face and warmth in my heart.
The flavor of strong black coffee brings brisk fall mornings and the stillness of the woods so vividly to my mind. I can almost imagine my breath mingling with the steam coming from my mug.
Oh yes. A cup of coffee can be relaxing or invigorating. It’s a complex beverage.
Call me a practical coffee drinker.
As I reflect on all the different reasons for drinking coffee, I admit they all apply to me to some degree. I guess that would make me a practical coffee drinker.
I have enough reasons for drinking my joe to fit any and all occasions.
Maybe the real purpose of coffee drinking is whatever you need it to be. Yeah, that works for me. I hope Gabby understands.
Are you a coffee lover? What’s your “why?”
Mikey is a high school teacher in north central Washington. She has lived her life in small communities across Washington and Montana (her favorite place). An aspiring fisherwoman and avid gardener, she enjoys writing about life through the lens of rural living.