Few pleasures in life surpass a cup of freshly ground, roasted coffee, whether in the form of a Turkish coffee found in the bazaars of Istanbul or an Americano served at one of the more established international coffee chains in the capital cities of Western Europe. It almost doesn’t surprise me that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. What makes it such a popular, mildly hallucinogenic, psychoactive drug that directly affects the central nervous system, encouraging hundreds of millions to prepare their morning fix without hesitation? My impression is that without coffee many individuals sitting at their office desks would freeze into a state of paralysis due to the absence of this hypnotic, elusive, high. With research indicating that coffee is addictive, leading to recognisable withdrawal systems when individuals abstain, surely therein lies the explanation for its tremendous popularity beyond the idea of a stimulating concoction that dramatically impacts the body. Is there a coffee culture that focuses on coffee drinking as a collective exercise to the extent that it is pivotal to national consciousness? How has coffee become such an essential element of any meeting involving two or more people engaged in banter that necessarily utilises the frontal cortex of the brain, enhancing short-term concentration, memory and thinking?
Having evolved from the rather bland and inferior instant range, like so many of us growing up in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, coffee houses were a rarity among eateries in the high streets of towns and cities across the country. With the establishment of global brands such as Starbucks, Caffè Nero and Costa, drinking coffee became more than just a lubricant for exchange or a stimulant for office workers. It was now widely accessible to all, permitting an individual, or more, to enjoy the effects of partaking in a brew, not only as a social glue but to enhance ties and friendships. Coffee was more than a device to encourage individuals to start their day on an artisanal, hand-roasted, smooth, skinny high. It was now returning to its historical roots of bringing people together and engaging in thought-provoking, provocative and broad-ranging conversation, pushing forward the boundaries of thinking, intellectual development and social argument. Coffee was suddenly cool and convenient. Coffee drinkers sprung into action as social agents engaged in the process of sharing and enhancing a collective, forming an entirely new language and culture that has become firmly rooted in our day-to-day reality. It was against this backdrop in the 1990s that I too began to appreciate the nuances of the Ethiopian versus the Colombian versus the Kenyan. Each coffee brand reflected certain colour composition, bitterness or otherwise, and a preference for a fast kick-butt versus a slow high. This journey led me to eventually live in Istanbul where I learnt how to make Turkish coffee at home using the simplest of utensils, but without the refined technique, cultivated by homemakers and coffee lovers over the generations. Getting the process right was not as easy as it seemed.