What are the Real Reasons People Drink Coffee?

Dec 13, 2022
Woman wearing stocking cap and mittens standing out in the snow drinking a cup of coffee

I pulled my coffee mug from under the single-cup brewing station I set up behind my desk. It’s a must-have addition to my classroom teacher essentials. Before taking my first sip, I lifted the fresh brew to my nose and took a deep whiff.


Ahhh, yes. This will get me through the first period.

From the back of the room, one of my early-arrival high school students broke the reverie.
“I don’t really like the taste of coffee,” Gabby said as she sat at her desk slowly spinning a double-shot caramel vanilla latte.
Her comment not only came out of the blue, but it also seemed illogical.
“Whoa, that’s a shocker,” I replied. “since you show up to class almost every morning with a coffee in your hand.”
“Yea, well, it sort of warms me up and coffee's supposed to help with my ADHD.”
“ I love coffee. I can’t imagine starting my day without one or two or three cups of coffee.”
“Why? Like why do you drink so much?” Out of the mouths of babes, or in this case a teenager.
Good question, I thought.
Why do I, and millions of people worldwide, love our caffeine so much? Why can’t we say no to “joe?” Is there a real purpose for drinking coffee or has it just become a habit of indulgence?
I decided to take a closer look at when I drink coffee to see if I could come up with a reasonable answer for my curious student.

The functional purpose of drinking coffee

My instinctual response to Gabby’s question was that I drink coffee to help me get moving in the morning and keep me going throughout the day.
Oh, that sounds so wrong. But it’s the truth. Somewhere along my life path, I went from not drinking coffee at all to the point where I purchased a machine that promised me a fresh cup of java right in my classroom any time of day.
I started drinking coffee when I was about thirty. During early morning hunting trips with my husband, I would down a cup of hot coffee to keep me warm and alert.
There was a functional purpose to my coffee consumption at that point. It was warm, and the caffeine kept me awake during those cold, dark, early morning drives to the woods.
Growing up, my parents drank a hot cup of coffee in the morning as they prepared for work. Dad, a logger, would fill his thermos with the remaining coffee, dilute it with cream and sugar, and head off into the woods. He wasn’t a fan of the taste, but the coffee served its functional purpose of keeping him warm and alert.
Did I learn to use coffee to boost my energy level from my husband or my parents? Does it actually serve a functional purpose in my crazy, busy life or has it become a mindless habit or a true addiction?

Coffee drinking rituals and habits

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is put on a pot of coffee. It is part of my daily routine. True. But in reality, it is more of a ritual.
While it is brewing, I drink a glass of water, let the dogs out, check their food and water, wash my face.
Then, I pick out my special cup of the day, pour, sniff, send out a positive message to the universe, and sip.
Now my day begins. My real day which requires thought and effort.
Other aspects of my coffee drinking seem more habitual. I make another cup of coffee when I arrive at school in the morning. When I go out for breakfast or lunch, I order a cup of coffee.
Reading a great book. Sitting down to write a blog post. Correcting papers. Paying bills. I can’t seem to do any of these tasks without a cup of joe within reach.
The odd thing is I usually have to heat the cup about three times before I actually drink it. I get busy working on the task at hand and forget about the mug of motivation sitting next to me.
However, when I get stuck or bored, or restless, coffee can be my greatest distraction. I can down that brew like water.
Which happens frequently when I attend meetings. Nothing is more irritating to me than heading into a workshop and discovering there is no coffee available.
I developed the habit of bringing my hot mug, to the envy of the people around me. This I know by the multitude of times someone has asked, “Where did you find the coffee?”
I should bring my little coffee station to those gatherings. I could probably supplement my income substantially.

Coffee as a social drink

Speaking of gatherings. Coffee does serve as a beverage for bringing people together. Like the days of getting together for a drink, friends now suggest “grabbing a coffee.”
Whether it’s a formal or informal meetup, coffee shops are a popular hangout. Even in small cafes and restaurants, people gather and sit and visit over several cups of steaming joe.
I confess. I’m not a coffee shop person. It could be that there are few to be found in the rural area where I live. But I do love a good coffee chat with a friend or neighbor at their home or mine.
I just can’t say no to a steaming cup of coffee when I stop in at my neighbor’s house, even if I have consumed three cups already that morning. There is something special about sharing the latest ups and downs in life while sitting at the table sipping a fresh brew. It’s so private and personal. People feel more relaxed.
My grandmother was the epitome of a social coffee drinker. If a friend stopped by her house the first words out of her mouth were, “How about a cup of coffee? I’ll put on a fresh pot.”
It was an insult to turn down a cup of coffee at Grandma’s house. Of course, she usually had a homemade sweet to go along with it. Who could say no? Oh, those were the days.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the time (or energy, ironically) for that kind of social coffee drinking anymore. Too bad. I think the world would benefit from time at the table together.

Coffee as a status symbol

Coffee shops and cafes lack the comfort and coziness of my grandmother’s house or my neighbor’s kitchen table. But in a world that has become more complicated and hurried, catching up with a friend or exchanging ideas with a colleague continues to be enhanced over a mug of coffee.
However, it can’t be just any coffee shop. We all have our favorites. Take Starbucks here in Washington state, for example. I have never been a fan, but many people are. Hence their enormous success.
In my small community of about 2,000 people, we have three coffee stands/shops. Three. And we proudly provide free advertisement as we pack around our labeled go-mugs, buy gift certificates, and brandish t-shirts we impulsively purchased while waiting in line.
It’s true. Those in the know, know where to go.
Yes, where you slurp your mud is just as important as what you put into it. Heaven forbid you should order a simple serving of black coffee. You’re likely to draw stares.
My daughter worked as a barista during her college years. She learned a repertoire of recipes for coffee drinks, some she could barely pronounce. No one came into the shop and ordered black coffee. Majority of people she served preferred flavored drinks.
Except for me. Yes, I like my coffee without milk, sugar, or flavorings. Okay, on rare occasions I will accept a vanilla latte or raspberry mocha. Nothing too fancy.
Why is that?
More than once I stood in line at a coffee shop and listened to the patrons rattle off their orders. A stranger in the land of coffee snobs.
It was my insecurity. I had no idea what a macchiato was and couldn’t fathom why someone would order a cup of coffee that tasted more like a Snickers bar than java.
Thank goodness, I’m getting over that.

Coffee’s health benefits

Gabby mentioned her daily coffee helped manage her ADHD. There are studies indicating the caffeine in coffee may help with concentration and on-task behavior. The reviews are mixed.
Not surprising. The health effects of coffee, both good and bad, swing back and forth from year to year, month to month, day to day. Perhaps the researchers should do trials on themselves and see if they can’t improve their focus.
The good news is most of the recent research is a boon for coffee lovers like me. Caffeine has been found to reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The coffee bean is a berry. And like many berries, coffee contains many antioxidants. You know, those superhero vitamins and minerals that fight off the bad molecules in your body. Magnesium, potassium, and many B vitamins, for example.
I’m going to hang on to this research. The next time my daughter berates me for drinking five cups of coffee per day, I can tell her I’m just getting in my daily dose of supplements.

The emotional side of coffee

I do believe there is an emotional factor to why people drink so much coffee. Just the smell of a freshly brewed pot can certainly bring a sense of comfort.
The aroma reminds me of my grandmother. It reminds me of cold winter mornings and good books. The pleasant nostalgia puts a smile on my face and warmth in my heart.
The flavor of strong black coffee brings brisk fall mornings and the stillness of the woods so vividly to my mind. I can almost imagine my breath mingling with the steam coming from my mug.
Oh yes. A cup of coffee can be relaxing or invigorating. It’s a complex beverage.

Call me a practical coffee drinker.

As I reflect on all the different reasons people drink coffee, I admit they all apply to me to some degree. I guess that would make me a practical coffee drinker.
I have enough reasons for drinking my joe to fit any occasion.
I reach for it when I need an energy boost, but coffee can make me relax as well.
I drink coffee every day as part of my morning routine and when I visit with a friend.
The coffee is good.
Maybe the real purpose of coffee drinking is whatever you need it to be. Yeah, that works for me. I hope Gabby understands.
Are you a coffee lover? What’s your “why?”



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