It’s just one cup of coffee

That smell of coffee in the morning; what a way to get started simply by pouring hot water over the ground coffee beans, grown in those sun-drenched, tropical highlands. That innocent cup of coffee, however, involves you and I in a highly lucrative international commodity.

By volume, coffee is second only to oil as a commodity in international trade. Three-quarters of all coffee produced moves from one country to another. With a Tim Horton’s virtually on every corner and an addict in every home, Canada is among the top destinations of the coffee beans produced in the world.  

Nine-tenths of the price we pay for our coffee goes to the powerful companies: General Foods, Kraft and Nestle, which ship, roast and retail the product. A mere 1/20th of the price reaches the people whose labouring lives are spent growing and harvesting coffee.

For most of us, coffee is a staple breakfast item. Theoretically, breakfast means “breaking our fast” — through the night of sleep — but fasting, a deliberate and often religious abstention from food, is certainly not traditional among most families.

Some social critics, looking at our compulsive caffeine need expressed at breakfast, argue that perhaps it means with our caffeine fix we “break our fast” out of the starting blocks and unto the hurried, frenetic treadmill of life. Coffee is that needed stimulant and when the starting gun goes off we sprint for the finish.

A cup of “brew” contains a solid dollop of caffeine – anywhere from 50-180 milligrams – which dilates blood vessels supplying the brain with oxygen, stimulates neurons in the cortex, fires up the gastric glands, speeds intestinal movement and increases cardiovascular output. All that in one cup of “java”. No wonder Tim’s drive-thrus have become traffic problems as cars pile up around the take-out window.

With the many generous side-effects of caffeine, it is easy to see why a cup of coffee has become a critical component of Canadian drug culture.

Coffee is a performance drug with wide social approval. And as with any performance drug, it fits well with our obsessive need to achieve our goals as we attempt to out-achieve all others.

So coffee conditions us for the “rat-race” which lies ahead each work day.  It truly is a “rat-race” for most of us, because our second or third cup of coffee comes during our morning “coffee breaks.

And such coffee breaks allow us time to meet our co-workers as human beings, not as cogs in a gigantic assembly-line or corporate gear-box; here we can discuss and reveal the human dimensions of our often tedious jobs.
So stimulated, we can become a community if even for a few minutes, just the way we used to chat around the water cooler, now replaced by bottles of water, for people even more on the go.

Coffee has also been associated (often wrongly) with cerebral activities, thought and thinking, the intellectual life and even, heaven forbid, university professors.  I am sure you remember the intellectual roots of the great smoke-filled coffee houses of Europe, Paris, Berlin and Prague, where revolution was formed and anarchy reigned.

All the intellectual, subversive sub-cultures of the world came together in those coffee houses. Such café societies worried those committed to the status quo. French philosopher Montesquieu complained: “Were I the King, I would close the cafes, for the people who frequent those places heat their brains in a very tiresome manner.”

So hail the coffee hour wherever it may reign. Our lives are scattered in as many directions as there are compass points and the coffee hour brings us all together again. Coffee creates a feeling of community, which can counter the loneliness and isolation characterizing our lives.

So “all that brews well ends well” and if you will excuse me, I just need a cup of “fair-trade” coffee.