My wife surprised me with an espresso maker for Valentine’s Day. It is not one of those $1,000 machines where you press a button and wait for the coffee to stream robotically into a demitasse. This is a manual job. You must grind your own beans. You must first warm the water to two distinct temperatures. To pull an espresso, you must use your entire arm, ensuring that you apply the proper amount of pressure.
You may be groaning, but here’s the deal: This toy makes me ridiculously happy. I’m looking forwards to using it as a result of its meticulous preparation, not in spite of it. The procedure appeals to a part of my brain that is fascinated by math, ratios, and everything mechanical. The best part is that I am rewarded for my efforts: I receive a frothy shot of espresso that is slightly sweet, slightly acidic, and slightly caffeinated.
McDonald’s did not simply shut down 850 locations in Russia. It effectively halted a 30-year investment.
My point here is not that you should go from being a coffee novice to a full-fledged coffee geek in less than 24 hours. My wish is that you reconsider your relationship with coffee, regardless of how you take it — hand-cranked espresso, pour-over, automated drip, Starbucks latte, or viscous diner mud. For as long as I can remember, coffee has been viewed as little more than a drug used to accomplish a specific task: to awaken us, to focus our thinking, and to make us more productive cogs in the capitalist machine.
My hope is that, on a lazy Sunday morning when you’re not doom-scrolling on your phone, you can consider coffee as a pleasure unrelated to its ability to “reassemble your ego” following a full night’s sleep, as author Michael Pollan poetically puts it.
Of course, coffee is a drug, the most popular on the planet, as Pollan explained (and read) in his 2020 audiobook, “Caffeine.” However, alcohol is also a drug, and we do not use it solely as a social lubricant or a stress reliever, despite the fact that these are two of the primary reasons we consume beer, wine, and spirits. Even our language around coffee and alcohol is instructive: We inject caffeine into ourselves during “coffee breaks” to ensure that we can continue working uninterruptedly throughout our workdays. We drink beer during “happy hours” to distract ourselves from our workdays. We toast with champagne. To study, we brew coffee.
According to Michael Pollan, caffeine has been a boon to civilisation. However, it has come at a price.
The dichotomy between fun and no fun with alcohol and coffee, it appears, did not occur by chance. The ruling and managerial classes have had a love/hate relationship with coffee and tea over the centuries, depending on their agendas. Coffee was feared by monarchs because it drew commoners together to discuss the day’s events. Coffee’s ability to foster community and, potentially, foment dissent was recognised by rulers.