Two billion cups of coffee.
That’s how much coffee is consumed everyday worldwide. It has become so much more than just a beverage, it’s a lifestyle now. Caffeine has infiltrated our lives in more ways than you can imagine. It has become so intertwined with our productivity that many claim not to even be able to function without it.
A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.Alfréd Rényi and Paul Erdösvv
It has powered innovation, creativity, and thought for centuries and is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world.
A World Without Coffee
But what if one day it all just vanished.
No more espressos, no more lattes, not even a venti decaf iced caramel frappuccino! Truly, something pulled straight from a horror movie. But let’s look a little deeper. What if coffee did just disappear? What effect would this have on the world and it’s now very tired inhabitants? Probably more than you think…
A sudden disappearance of coffee and all its related products would spell utter disaster for entire economies. Over 50 countries worldwide export coffee. Straight away, these nations have now lost a significant source of national income. In particular, countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, and Indonesia would be devastated. Combined, these four nations produce over 40% of the world’s coffee. Some of the world’s most disadvantaged countries would also suffer hugely. Poorer countries such as Burundi and Uganda rely on coffee to contribute massively to foreign exchange earnings. Coffee sales also provide much needed tax income and gross domestic product to these less well-off nations.
Coffee also happens to be the second most traded commodity in the world. The only item traded more is crude oil! To have such a vital cog in the global trade economy removed would cause havoc throughout international markets. Stakeholders all across the supply chain would be left reeling. Farmers, roasters, retailers, cafes – all would suffer if coffee were to just disappear.
Coffee beans are also not just used to make the sweet nectar we all need to get us through the working day. They also provide caffeine for a whole host of products. Soft drinks, supplements, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics all rely on caffeine in some way or another. Without the precious brown bean, formulas would have to be changed overnight in an attempt to keep these companies trading! A new “arms-race” would begin with companies and laboratories across the world all looking to synthesise a replacement that could live up to the coffee bean.
To put it simply, jobs would inevitably be lost. Between 600 and 800 million people around the world have coffee in some way directly linked to at least part of their income. That’s roughly 10% of the entire planet’s population. 25 million who are directly employed as part of the industry would immediately be rendered unemployed. Over 10 million small-scale farmers who rely on coffee sales for survival would be utterly devastated. Most of these farmers grow and cultivate their crop on less than 25 acres of land, yet they’re responsible for almost 70% of the world’s coffee. Millions of families would be suddenly thrust into the position of having absolutely zero income.
Businesses who have made their fortune in coffee would be left with some very difficult choices to make. Starbucks, arguably the most famous of these companies, currently has over 32,000 stores across the world. It would be very hard for them to intentionally spell names wrong on people’s orders if there’s no coffee to sell. Could they pivot and become a tea and hot chocolate company? Maybe. But the odds definitely don’t favour them. That’s just one, albeit very large, company. Dunkin’, Tim Hortons, Costa, Nestlé, and so many more would all be left dumbfounded as to what to do next.
There’s over 35,000 coffee shops in the US alone, adding up to a market value of over $45 billion. Imagine if tomorrow their primary source of income was just gone. Stock prices would plummet, markets would be crashing at will, and the entire world would have to deal with all of this without even being able to have their morning coffee!
Speaking of the personal impact of all this…
Over one billion people drink coffee every day. If it was just to disappear, every single one of those people could be subjected to the awful effects of caffeine withdrawal. That’s one hell of a worldwide headache…literally!
When caffeine is introduced to the bloodstream, the blood vessels in the brain constrict and slow down the flow of blood. With so many of us remaining in an almost permanent state of caffeination, any sudden stop in coffee intake would result in these blood vessels opening back up. A sudden increase in blood flow to the brain would occur and cause significant headaches as the brain struggles to adapt to this increased blood flow. Now…multiply this headache by over a billion people and try to tell me the world won’t be in serious trouble!
As if the global headache crisis wasn’t enough, caffeine withdrawal can also lead to inevitable fatigue. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that works by blocking adenosine receptors. Adenosine is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel tired as it builds up in our systems throughout the day. Studies have shown that eliminating coffee from your diet entirely can lead to huge increases in fatigue. And to make it worse, the effects seem to be worse for those who drink coffee daily. It’s almost as if using coffee for its psychoactive properties in order to keep us awake creates a dependence on it to stop feeling tired…who would’ve guessed.
So now you, along with a billion other people, are tired and dealing with a splitting headache. What could possibly make this worse?
Caffeine acts as a stimulant; increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and various stress hormone production. By drinking coffee regularly we become dependent on it, both mentally and physiologically. If coffee were to then suddenly be wiped from the face of the earth, this would lead to huge withdrawals and trigger mass anxiety worldwide!
We couldn’t have anxiety having all the coffee-withdrawal fun, so here comes it’s partner in crime – depression.
Caffeine is known to have quite significant mood-boosting properties. By blocking the adenosine receptors that make us feel tired, it also helps us feel happier. It can lower the risk for depression significantly when consumed regularly too.
If coffee were to disappear, all these effects would disappear too. The result would be increases in risk of depression for any of the people who had been benefiting from the effects of coffee previously. All the good work coffee does when consumed would be reversed. Couple this with all the other physical withdrawal effects we’ve discussed, and it’s clear to see how low-mood and depression could kick in.
We’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg with our description of symptoms so far. Quite frankly, we’re just getting a little bit upset at the thought of coffee not being a part of our lives. But, to quickly sum up some of the other terrible consequences of caffeine withdrawal:
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Muscle Pain
- Muscle Stiffness
- Flu-like Symptoms
- Low Energy
- Heart Arrhythmia
Do we need to continue? If even half of the world’s coffee drinkers suffered one of these symptoms (which is an extremely low estimate), that would be over half a billion people dealing with these effects simultaneously. This would inevitably lead to a worker crisis almost unseen in our history! People from every walk of life, from every class, and at every employment level would be suffering. Global productivity would drop, an abundance of mistakes would be made across all industries, and people in general would just be much worse to deal with.
Had Enough Yet?
The fallout from the sudden disappearance of coffee would be catastrophic to the world. Entire industries and economies would be destroyed overnight, sickness would engulf the masses, and the planet as a whole would be in untold peril.
Surely it would be better if it just never existed at all…
What if Coffee Just Never Existed?
So far we’ve examined the hypothetical situation where coffee just disappeared overnight. We’ve looked at the economical and personal impact this would have and how it could drastically upset the entire planet. But what if instead of coffee disappearing overnight, it had never existed in the first place. Surely it couldn’t have worse effects than if it was to just vanish? Well, the answers might surprise you…
History of Coffee – Social Enlightenment on Steroids
Our Alcoholic Past
Coffee was first introduced to Europe in the late 16th century (we have the Dutch to thank for that). Before making it’s grand entry into our lives, the most common beverage for the average person was alcohol! Water was filthy, laced with disease, and quite simply undrinkable! The fermentation process alcohol went through killed most of the microbes and bacteria. As a result, children were given hard cider in the morning, beer-breaks were common amongst farm staff, and a large percentage of the general population spent their days in a boozy haze.
As I’m sure none of you fine people would ever drink alcohol, let me give you a brief scientific explanation as to what effect it has on you. It f*#@s you up! You become groggy, less rational, less precise, and your decision-making suffers massively.
Coffee – The World’s Saviour
Imagine then, what replacing alcohol with coffee could do for the masses. Instead of starting off the day in a haze and it only getting worse; people began to sharpen up as the day went on. Productivity boomed, creative thought prospered, and radical new ideas were birthed all thanks to coffee.
In fact, coffee’s influence was so great amongst the general population that King Charles II of England declared coffee houses illegal in 1675. He saw this new brain-enhancing stimulant as a great threat to the status quo. Instead of his subjects being drunk on mead for most of the day, they were now alert and thinking straighter than ever. He sensed a dangerous shift in power and acted quickly to try and curb the influence of coffee. Safe to say, it didn’t work.
Wiped From Existence
Now, imagine that coffee quite simply never existed. People would have continued to drink alcohol on a daily basis until water was drinkable. And the drinkability of water would most likely have been slowed down because the minds who eventually figured out how to do it were too drunk to develop their ideas (are you sensing a pattern here yet?). The Age of Reason would never have happened, the middle class (which arguably grew out of the enlightenment provided by coffee) would never have developed, and the industrial revolution would have been massively hindered.
Coffee, combined with electricity, enabled the first night-shift workers to prosper. People could forgo tiredness and work through the night on important projects that would benefit the masses. Without coffee’s existence, we would be set back decades (if not centuries). Coffee was arguably one of the silent, but most vital components, in the rise of modern-day capitalism.
The London Stock Exchange was born out of a coffee house in 1698, the Guardian Newspaper had its first offices in a coffee house in 1713, great minds met all throughout the 1700s in these coffee houses to exchange ideas and to lecture in areas such as science and maths. These great years of enlightenment would be lost to us without the centralising power of coffee.
Newton, Voltaire, Diderot, Halley – some of history’s greatest minds are all linked by their love of, and perhaps dependency on, coffee. Voltaire was even rumoured to drink 72 cups a day!
How Coffee Shaped Modern Work
Move further forward though history, and it’s not hard to see how coffee helped to establish office culture. A “coffee-break” (popularised in the 1950s) wasn’t an attempt to do less work; it was a means to refocus yourself and stimulate your mind in order to do the best work possible. The roots of this are easy to see from a time when coffee was first introduced to the masses. People would take short breaks to recaffeinate in an attempt to keep up with the pace of newly developed factory machines and assembly lines.
In many ways, coffee has silently shaped the world of work as we know it today.
The Wider Influence of Coffee
Moving away from the world of industry, what else would be impacted by the removal of coffee from our planet’s history?
Well, there’s significant research supporting the use of caffeine as a natural athletic performance enhancer. Some of the great sporting feats of our time could very well have caffeine to thank for getting that little bit extra out of the human body. Many athletes are known to take caffeine before events in the forms of tablets, gels, or just plain old espresso. Without it, some of these extraordinary feats of human endeavour might never have happened.
Focus and Decision Making
We’ve already looked at just how much coffee enhances focus and decision making in the industrial world, but take that concept and apply it to almost any other field. Students trying to cram before a test, new parents trying to energise after long nights and early mornings with a new baby, doctors and nurses fighting through a night shift. Coffee has become the staple way to combat tiredness and increase focus across the globe. If it had never existed, our entire idea of what it means to function would be skewed.
Coffee also plays a vital role in prevention of certain diseases. Coffee drinkers have a significantly reduced risk of developing type-2 diabetes. It can also boost your metabolic rate, helping protect against obesity. There’s even evidence to show that it could protect you from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. If coffee had never existed, there’s a chance that these diseases could be much more widespread. The extra strain this would put on global healthcare would be enormous, and healthcare professionals wouldn’t have the use of coffee to power through their shifts. Quite simply a recipe for disaster.
Coffee in Crisis – The World Needs Help
By now, we’ve looked at what would happen if coffee disappeared from our lives overnight, and we’ve examined a world in which coffee never existed. But what if I told you that one of these scenarios is dangerously close to occurring?
The Real Coffee Crisis
A report from the Climate Institute of Australia has told us that over half of the world’s area currently suitable for growing coffee will be lost to us by 2050 due to the climate crisis currently faced by the planet. It estimates that as soon as 2080, wild coffee could be extinct. Torrential downpours and devastating droughts have wreaked havoc on the very specific conditions needed to grow most types of coffee beans. These climate changes have also helped various fungi and pests which destroy Arabica plants spread to areas they never previously inhabited.
Unless the global community acts soon, we could very well lose coffee – just like we described in our first scenario. The farmers and their families would be devastated, economies would be broken, and businesses would go bust.
An organisation called World Coffee Research is doing tremendous work in trying to prepare for this devastating outcome. They focus on coffee genetics and breeding, climate change, dealing with pests, and numerous other extremely helpful areas to make coffee growing continually sustainable. Go check out the work that they do and see what changes we can all make to help stop a future without coffee.
So There You Have It…
Coffee is indeed a drug, and a damn good one at that. Despite being relatively new as a beverage in historical terms, it’s very hard to imagine a world without it. We’ve developed a global dependency on its effects and built a world economy around what it can offer us. A world without coffee would be a sad and cold one indeed.
Hopefully this article hasn’t scared you as much as writing it scared us! Imagining an existence without coffee is a difficult thing to do, but hopefully now you can see just how impactful the global climate crisis could be to one of our most sacred daily rituals. Even if you’re one of the exalted few who don’t need caffeine to survive and don’t drink it daily, imagine just how difficult it would be to deal with the rest of us if coffee didn’t exist. Irritable, exhausted, anxious, and with headaches that could kill – I certainly wouldn’t want to have to work with us!
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Now, go make yourself a nice cup of joe. After reading all of that, you deserve it!