The Curse of Coffee Culture

Hello again everyone! Apologies for my blogging break - the end of summer holidays and back to school have been crazy busy already so unfortunately my blog post frequency is likely to be reducing slightly for the next little while.

 

You’re probably aware that exam results have been released in the UK in the last couple of weeks - I’m delighted with mine and I really hope others are too. Last year, I shared both of my English portfolio pieces: a persuasive essay on veganism and a reflective essay about my Grandad. So to keep up the tradition (and provide content for a post - I’m really struggling to plan content so if you have any ideas then please tell me!) I thought I’d share my essays from this last year.

 

So today, here are my thoughts about one of my favourite beverages, coffee…

 
 coffee
 

It’s a chilly October morning. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs. Strangers hurry past, wrapped tightly in their jackets, breath fogging in front of their faces. Tucked away in a cosy corner of your favourite coffeehouse, you’re bundled up in the blissful warmth of a thick jumper. The scent of freshly brewed coffee tickles your nostrils. Friends surround you, catching up over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. You indulge in a sip of your Pumpkin Spice Latte, revelling in the sugary liquid sliding down your throat. You are completely content, thriving on the bustling atmosphere inside the little coffee shop.

 

But have you ever taken a minute to consider the implications of your cup of coffee?

 

As a society, we tend to shun drug users who snort cocaine and smoke cannabis whilst glossing over the fact that caffeine, a substance most of us consume on a regular basis, is a drug too. A single shot of espresso contains an average of 75mg of caffeine - that’s more than double the amount found in a can of Coca-Cola. And although caffeine stimulates the brain and can temporarily improve concentration, the body rapidly acclimatises itself to caffeine until a regular coffee drinker is no more alert after their daily coffee than someone who doesn’t consume caffeine at all. Excess caffeine is particularly dangerous for women too: it results in a hormonal imbalance and has been known to result in miscarriage during pregnancy. Despite allegedly offering a short-term mood boost, long-term it has been proven to increase stress levels and worsen anxiety, commonly causing insomnia which can have a severe impact on daily life. But the stimulating effect of caffeine makes it addictive, trapping the consumer in a vicious cycle of coffee consumption from which it is impossible to break free without suffering unbearable withdrawal symptoms.

 
 coffee
 

It is far from just the caffeine that society is addicted to: it’s the experiences we associate with coffee. Seeing friends, going on dates or studying subjects: the memories of people we’ve met over a cup of coffee make it inconceivable not to love the concept of chatting over a cup or two, regardless of whether we even like the drink. The natural bitterness of coffee itself appeals to few - most choose to mute this flavour with the additions of milk, cream and sugar until they can tolerate the taste. All of these extras, however, can pile up to an extortionate expense. Our obsession with consuming “trendy” coffees has turned modern society into coffee snobs. Those who make their own coffee at home in a stove top coffee pot spend an average of £0.09 per cup compared to the outrageous average of £1.60 spent at a single coffee shop. Although £1.60 may sound like a rather insignificant setback, it can add up to a cost of tens of thousands of pounds in a lifetime - and that’s not even factoring in the effect of inflation or the pressure to customise the most magnificent order possible.

 

Alongside this desire to consume the most “luxurious” coffee, however, is a bigger issue: the obesity epidemic. Fuelling this is a popular marketing strategy, used by most franchises, known as “upselling,” where customers are offered the chance to “improve” their order by topping with whipped cream or upgrading to large for just 50p. Not only does this scheme increase the cost of a coffee, it can result in an average consumption of almost 20,000 additional calories per person per year. The fact that caffeine makes food taste less sweet further worsens the situation: people are more likely to sweeten their drink or indulge in a sweet treat too. Moreover, the drinks served by Starbucks rarely even taste of coffee - they have so much sugar, milk and cream that they’re more like flavoured milkshakes than artisanal coffees. A Venti White Chocolate Whole Milk Mocha with Whipped Cream, for example, contains an outrageous 609 calories, 65.9g of sugar and 28.6g of fat, making Coca-Cola seem healthy with just 139 calories, 35g of sugar and no fat per can. Some would claim that these extra calories are negated by the effect of chlorogenic acid found in coffee (which supposedly boosts weight loss), but any benefit of this disappears once a slab of cake is consumed alongside. The general public is oblivious to the nutritional content of these enormous servings of cake - a lemon drizzle cake sold by Pret A Manger had more than triple the recommended daily amount of sugar for a child. Go on a couple of coffee dates a week and all those calories rack up rather quickly…

 
 takeaway coffee
 

Not only does coffee consumption affect the health of the human population, it also has a detrimental impact on the environment. Takeaway coffee cups are coated in a thin layer of polythene to make them waterproof and aid with insulation, but this makes them non-biodegradable. Technically speaking they’re still recyclable - but only by highly-specialised facilities, two of which exist in Britain. In the UK we get through a staggering 10,000 takeaway coffee cups in only two minutes; on a global scale, humans discard 16 billion coffee cups per year. That equates to 6.5 million trees, 4 billion gallons of water and enough energy to power over 50,000 homes. Some stores offer a discount for people who bring their own reusable takeaway cup, but the simplest way to tackle this issue is to simply use recyclable cups - a study showed that the majority of people would happily pay a little extra for their coffee if this was the case.

 

Coffee capsules used in the increasingly popular Nespresso machines are even worse. Made from a combination of aluminium and plastic, they’re virtually impossible to recycle - a problem that is worsened by the coffee granules trapped in the bottom of the pod. And this trend doesn’t seem to be disappearing - coffee capsules currently make up a third of the entire Western European coffee market and it is believed that by 2020, sales of coffee capsules could overtake that of teabags.

 
 coffee
 

The packaging of coffee isn’t the only thing harming the environment: new farming techniques have a drastically detrimental effect too. Over 125 million people rely on growing coffee beans to survive, but the ever-increasing popularity of coffee has resulted in major changes in farming methods. Traditionally, coffee beans were grown under the shade of trees, a method which required no chemical fertilisers and encouraged greater biodiversity in the area. Now, the canopies which once sheltered the coffee plants have been obliterated so that coffee beans can grow in direct sunlight, resulting in a severe loss of biodiversity. Although the beans grow more quickly and are easier to harvest, they require large quantities of chemical fertilisers which deplete the soil.

 

We consume four hundred billion cups of coffee a year, but how often do we stop to consider the wider impact this has? Coffee is detrimental to our personal health, our finances and, most of all, our planet. And the funny thing is, most of us don’t even like its natural taste. We drink coffee to fit in with what we perceive the expectations of society to be: for many it’s more of a habit than a conscious choice. Completely cutting out coffee from our lives would be the simplest solution to these issues; but coffee culture plays too significant a role in modern society for that. Regardless of how we take our coffee, it doesn’t change our memories created over a cup of coffee, or the pleasure of indulging in the drink. Perhaps the answer is to take small steps towards a healthier relationship with coffee: next time you’re cosied up in your favourite Starbucks, maybe consider skipping the cake, going decaf or using a reusable takeaway cup.

 
 reusable coffee cup
 

I really hope you enjoyed the essay and I’d love to hear your feedback! I still have a daily cup of coffee, but I now carry a reusable cup out with me (mine is from Stojo) which has been fantastic so far. It reduces the environmental damage and many places even give you a discount if you bring your own reusable cup too!

 

Hope everyone has had (or is having - lucky you who aren’t back at school or uni yet!) a fantastic summer and I’ll do my best to keep up with blog posts - as mentioned earlier, any content ideas would be much appreciated. Thank you for reading this far too!

 

Heather xoxo

 

* FYI as this was an exam piece and it has my copyright please don’t copy or reproduce it. It was hard work with many drafts and it’d be gutting for someone else to take credit!

 

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^^ approx. 700 words ^^

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