The United States’ Obsession with Coffee


A cup of coffee has become a staple beverage for most Americans as early as their teenage years or early adulthood. The popularity of drinking coffee can date back to as early as the Boston Tea Party when the United States was still a colony of England. After breaking away from England and becoming its own country, coffee continued to still be a popular beverage as industries started to make coffee more accessible to the working class. The creation of coffee machines, instant coffee, specialty coffees, and coffee shops have driven coffee consumerism even further.  Although coffee can have amazing health benefits if consumed alone, today many Americans drink coffee with added sugar, flavored syrups, and milk destroying the benefits. Another problem Americans face is becoming too reliant on drinking coffee because of its caffeinated effects. This “addiction” to coffee starts as early as high school or college and continues as they enter the workforce fueling coffee reliance even further. The United States’ reliance or obsession with coffee stems from its historical roots, the coffee industry, and current coffee culture starting as early as high school or college.

Drinking coffee first started to become more common in the United States after the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Tea Party was on November 17, 1773, when the United States was still a colony of England (Unger 1). In response to the Tea, Act passed in 1773 by the British Parliament, American colonists dressed up as Native Americans and ransacked British tea ships (“Boston Tea Party Facts: Boston History.”). Approximately 343 chests filled with tea were dumped into the Boston Harbor (Unger 6-7). The Boston Tea Party sparked mobs in other cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, to dump chests filled with tea and burn British tea ships (Unger 1). The Boston Tea Party and its aftereffects caused a shortage of tea leading Americans to look for an alternative beverage (Unger 4). Americans began to drink coffee as an alternative to tea and slowly began to become more common in households across the United States. Drinking coffee was a symbol of American Patriotism, especially during the Revolutionary War as the United States began to break away from British colonization (Contois, "American Coffee Culture in 1872: So Different from Today?").

Coffee continued to be a staple beverage for Americans after the Revolutionary war due to the Coffee Industry. Inside the Coffee Industry, new inventions such as coffee machines, different variety of coffee products, and coffee shops have made drinking coffee more easily accessible. In 1865, James Mason created the Coffee Percolator, “the foundation of the modern coffee maker” (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”) The Coffee Percolator inspired coffee makers used today, such as the drip brewer, and were most commonly found in most middle-class homes (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”).  In 1901, instant coffee was first invented in the United States in Chicago by Satori Kato, a Japanese-American Chemist (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”). Instant coffee made making a coffee faster, easier, and more accessible to working-class Americans due to the inexpensive price. Instant coffee rose in popularity in 1914 when World War I started (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”). In World War I, instant coffee packets were put in military rations to warm up soldiers and give them a boost of energy (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”). Between 1995 to 2000, coffee consumption rose to 700% when Starbucks became a pop culture reference (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”). After 2000, the popularity of Starbucks continued to increase and more stores began to open across the United States (Booream, K. S. and A. Lee, "How Would You Like Your Coffee?”). They weren’t limited to opening their chain stores, they were also located inside stores, such as Target and Safeway, and malls as well.

As consumers of coffee began to become aware of where coffee beans are being sourced, there has been a rise of specialty coffee from around the world. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), specialty coffee increased 64% between 1999 to 2005, which included cause-related coffees, such as being organic, fair-trade, rainforest, and bird-friendly (Alamo-Gonzalez 13). The creation of cause-related coffees has to do with consumers becoming more aware of where the coffee beans are being sourced. Consumers wanted to know if the coffee beans they were buying were negatively impacting the environment and if the workers picking and extracting the coffee beans were getting decent wages. Extracting coffee is a long and tedious process and is mostly done in third world countries, such as Brazil, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. During the process of extracting coffee, the area where the green coffee beans are being grown and extracted may affect the environment and the organisms surrounding negatively. Additionally, some coffee farmers are being underpaid. Many people do not support these actions and will choose coffee brands that have the least environmental impact and that coffee farmers are being paid fairly.

Coffee consumption has continued to increase in the United States until the present day as different types of coffee has been introduced into the market. In the United States, sweetened and flavored coffee has risen to popularity, specifically among the teenage demographic. One of the biggest factors is the popularity of Starbucks, where drinks such as the Frappuccino, have coffee containing many flavored syrups. Although flavored coffee can mask the bitter flavor of pure coffee, this eliminates the health benefits coffee contains and can negatively impact the health of the consumer if consumed too often, especially among teens. According to the Food and Drug Administration, adults can safely consume up to four to five coffees per day, which is approximately 400 mg of caffeine (Joy, “Parents, Perk Up to the Dangers of Caffeine for Teens.”). Teens should only consume one cup of coffee, which is approximately 100 mg of caffeine per day (Joy, “Parents, Perk Up to the Dangers of Caffeine for Teens.”). Anything over 100 mg of caffeine per day can cause negative effects, such as a disrupted sleep schedule. To maximize the health benefits of drinking coffee, coffee must be consumed by itself. Drinking black coffee helps process blood sugar better and are less likely to suffer from colon cancer, develop heart failure, develop Parkinson’s disease, and develop Alzheimer’s (“9 Reasons Why (the Right Amount of) Coffee Is Good for You.”).

College students in the United States are among the biggest consumers of coffee because of its energized effects, such as increased alertness and being able to stay awake for longer periods. Out of all the caffeinated beverages college students consumed, coffee was the highest (Mahoney, Caroline 671). Many college students use coffee as a way to improve focus and get through the day as they have to complete assignments and study for classes. A problem that can occur for college students is drinking too much coffee which can cause them to become addicted to the caffeinated effects. Avid coffee drinkers will build a tolerance to the caffeine level resulting in the caffeinated effects becoming less effective. To combat this, many will choose to drink more coffee, which can negatively impact their health if taken to the extreme. As college students enter the workforce, many will continue to drink coffee continuing to fuel the upward trend of coffee consumption in the United States. College culture is one of the biggest reasons why coffee consumption becomes common and may continue to rise in the future.

Overall, the longevity of the popularity of coffee in the United States has to do with its historical significance, new creations within the coffee industry, and current coffee culture among teenagers and college students. Coffee was originally seen as a symbol of “American Patriotism” and an act of rebellion against England during the Revolutionary War. Today, coffee is a huge part of American’s daily lives and will continue to grow in popularity over time as new creations are made within the coffee industry and as popular coffee shop chains, such as Starbucks and Pete’s Coffee and Tea, continue to advertise and promote their products which appeal to the younger generation. Coffee connoisseurs who choose to roast their green coffee beans and brew their coffee at home will be mindful of what type of coffee they choose to consume to make sure the environment and the coffee farmers are not negatively impacted. I believe that what continues this upgoing trend of coffee drinkers throughout time is those who work full-time jobs and college students, as the energizing effects of coffee improve their ability throughout the day.

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