Friday, April 19, 2024

Coffee culture continues to carry colossal clout

Coffee is as much a part of our society as television, music, and automobiles. Its provision of the stimulant caffeine is a functional answer to sleep deprivation, a low-key first-date proposal, a hangover cure, and it is a socially acceptable beverage to offer and consume any time of day. Beyond coffee’s engrained social status are significant health implications and a potent economic punch.

The history of coffee[1][2][3]

850 B.C. – Coffee makes its appearance in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, made from berries of the bunna plant

1000 A.D – Coffee becomes popular in Muslim culture as an alternative to alcohol

1511 – Consumption of coffee outlawed in Mecca and in Cairo in 1532

1554 – First coffee house is opened in Istanbul

1670 – First coffee house opened in North America (Boston)

1763 – The Pope asked to forbid coffee as “the Devil’s beverage”. After trying it, he instead blessed it.

1773 – Following the Boston Tea Party, supporters of the cause began drinking coffee as a sign of resistance to the British

1901 – Instant coffee invented

March 31, 1971 – Starbucks opens its doors at the Pike Place market in Seattle, Washington [4]

Health impact

Beneficial effects

As is the case with most food or beverage products, coffee comes with benefits and adverse effects. Prevailing sentiment in the diet and nutrition community is that coffee offers more health benefits than detriments, including in generous quantities. A meta-analysis of data suggests that 300-400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine (three to four cups of coffee) consumed per day leads to improved health in many areas, including:[5]

  • Lower risk of cardiovascular mortality
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • 18% lower risk of incident cancer
  • Lower risk in neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions
  • Lower overall risk of all-cause mortality
  • Reduced risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease[6]
  • Lower risk of osteoporosis in men and premenopausal women[7]
  • Potential positive impact on muscular power[8]

It is important to note that this is a non-linear association, which roughly means that the benefit does not incrementally increase with consumption. Rather, the benefit sees a dramatic increase at certain thresholds.

Adverse effects

No object intended for consumption is without its adverse effects, of course (even consuming too much water can kill you).[9] Here are a few potential effects to be aware of when consuming copious amounts of coffee:

  • Spontaneous abortion and impaired fetal growth in expecting mothers (caffeine passes through the placental wall)[10]
  • Nervousness, anxiety, and sleep disturbances in children.[11] 2.5 mg per day is considered the upper limit for children’s caffeine consumption[12]
  • Exacerbation of sleep disorders[13]
  • Potential negative impact on muscular endurance[14]

Not all adverse effects are due to the coffee itself. It was found in Southern Europe that up to 20% of consumers’ sugar intake came from what they added to the drink. [15]

Economic impact

The world coffee industry was valued at $465.9 billion USD in 2020. The U.S. coffee industry accounted for a value of $225.2 billion USD alone (and 1.6% of its GDP),[16][17] bolstered by a demand for more premium Fair Trade Certification, Rainforest Alliance Certification, and UTZ Certification, products that offer guarantees surrounding sustainability, eco-friendly processes, and fair trade.[18]

In 2015, the coffee industry contributed 1,694,710 jobs and $28 billion in taxes to the U.S. economy. Consumers in the U.S. spent $74.2 billion on coffee in the same year.[19]  A recent poll of 1,008 respondents showed that the average consumer spends $355.42 per year on coffee at coffee shops, with those in the 25-34 age range leading the pack at $2,008 per person, per year spent on the dark liquid. [20]

In 1977, coffee as a commodity future traded at an all-time high of 339.86 U.S. cents. Today, it trades at 123.95 U.S. cents (as of March 17, 2021).[21] Regarding retail cost to the consumer, a pound of coffee peaked at $3.01 in May 1977, while today it costs USD$1.34[22] (as of March 17, 2021). The spike in prices in 1977 was attributed to a ‘killing frost’ that struck Brazil in 1975, creating a major supply issue in the world market.[23]  An average cup of coffee in a restaurant went for $0.30 in 1977 while today, according to which provides information on restaurant menu prices, a medium dark roast at Tim Hortons costs $1.79.[24] For reference, the consumer price index (CPI) in Canada has increased by 4.31 times its rate in 1977.[25] If the increase in cost of a cup of coffee matched inflation, that cup of coffee would cost $1.29 today.

Producers and distributers

The four largest coffee berry producing exporters, by market share, are Brazil (29%), Vietnam (15%), Colombia (11%), and Indonesia (7%).[26] Five corporations control 75%-80% of the U.S. coffee market: Nestlé, Jacobs/Kraft General Foods, Sara Lee/Douwe Egberts, Procter and Gamble, and Starbucks.[27]  Super markets and retailers distribute about 70% of the coffee consumed by market customers, while restaurants, hotels, and specialty coffee shops (including Starbucks) provide about 30%.[28]

Three out of every four cups of coffee sold in Canada are courtesy of Tim Hortons.[29]


The European Union represents 42% of the world’s coffee consumption, followed by the U.S. (largest consuming country) at 24%, and Japan at 9%. The world’s greatest importers of coffee, by total market share: U.S. (25%), Germany (19%), Japan (8%), and France (6%).[30] In the 2000s, the yearly average “per head” consumption in the western market was at 4.6 kilograms, while the average consumption “per head” for producing counties was 0.7 kilograms per year. [31]

Social impact

Eighty per cent of adults in the U.S. drink coffee,[32] [33]a statistic that is a clear indicator of its importance in modern society. What is it about coffee that is so magnetic? How did the coffee shop become so popular? Is it as simple as feeding an addiction, or is there more to it?

A study performed in 2013[34] examined coffee culture and its appeal. Is the coffee-shop culture about wanting to be alone with others? Individuals in coffee shops often appear to have no interest in public interaction. They may be wearing headphones, may be focused on their phone, reading a newspaper or typing away on a computer. In theory, the same personal experience could be had in a library or at home, so how did the coffee shop become a meeting spot for the reclusive? What’s the draw? The same paper suggested that coffee is a cultural experience. Indeed, Starbucks and other coffee shops are selling an experience and an image, not just a cup of flavoured water. But could another attraction be the addictive quality of coffee?

Just another drug?

Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world. As is the case with most drugs, it can become addictive. There are negative side effects associated with withdrawal; symptoms include headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and dysphoric mood.[35] While caffeine can affect mood, it does not contain hallucinogenic or dangerous psychoactive properties that are associated with illicit drugs. Public attitudes toward illicit drugs and coffee are contrasted starkly.

Caffeine is also found in many prescription drugs. Its pain-management effects are well understood in relation to headaches and associated pain. When it is paired with another pain-management drug such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, it acts as a booster, increasing the effects of the primary drug.[36] Its booster-like effect is believed to be a result of its vasodilating property, which enhances blood flow to areas of low saturation.[37]

In adults, caffeine’s elimination half-life (how long it takes to leave our system) is about three to five hours, with only 2% being excreted in urine. Caffeine’s half-life is roughly doubled in smokers and those who do not drink coffee regularly (six to 10 hours), and is about 100 hours in newborns.[38]

Despite the mostly positive health attributes of coffee for adults, and generally high consumption rate, the public’s health-related views of coffee are mixed at best.[39][40] We like coffee, but we don’t seem to know if it is good or bad for us. The value of coffee as a commodity is cyclic and ranges from being one of the most valued commodities in the world, to being run of the mill. Its impact on the global economy is historically significant and continues to be so today.[41] The trend of developing countries being the dominant producers and developed countries being the main consumers continues to be the case. Ultimately, consumers buy into the image and culture of coffee as much as the product itself. And for anyone who denies that it is a highly influential global phenomenon, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.



[3] The History of Coffee and its Concurrent Marketing Strategies (


[5] Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes (










[15] The Impact of Caffeine and Coffee on Human Health (



























Brendan Rolfe
Brendan Rolfe
Brendan Rolfe is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources and business consultant for firms across Canada. He holds a degree in human psychology from UBC and a diploma from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Brendan is a firm believer in credible data sources and spin-free news.

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