Although it is another one of those addictive substances you have to learn to enjoy. I think it’s indicative of the capabilities of social mystique to sell something to us that people end up drinking booze and caffeine despite the fact that they taste like shit until you get used to them.
But it can happen with anything. Olives are the same, and as far as I know, they have no addictive, stimulating, depressing or mythical properties.
I did manage to teach myself to love them though.
Caffeine, in all its most popular forms, is as much an act of ritual as anything else. Much like dope smoking, it seems to be as much about making it, hunting down the good stuff, talking about it, and relishing it. You can pride yourself on your rituals. The process of processing the chemical is the whole point.
It harks back to older versions of our culture. Gathering around the kettle, ritual sequence of ingredients, the stirs and clatters of spoons. Perhaps you’re dedicated enough to use a teapot or cafetiere, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter; its your own ritual, you can treat it as sacredly as you like.
But I do believe it is in our lives as a remnant of something sacred. Some innate desire for ritual magick, left behind in the form of a reassuring cup of tea, or the first cup of coffee.
Yes, there is a chemical in these drinks that helps us wake up. But I don’t think its the chemical we care about (though we have to talk about it, legitimising our addictions and rituals). We need processes in our lives that give us structure.
In an emergency, nothing helps reassure a panicky heart more than a cup of tea. Is it the caffeine, or the ritual? The shoulders drop at the mention. The sound of the words is enough, and it is only reinforced by the thrum of the kettle, the rattle of the cutlery drawer, the rush of the water and the clang of the spoon.
Take this cup, and drink from it. Know that the world is in order.
But why caffeine? Why such a huge ritual and spectacle about caffeine? Surely anything would’ve done. It could’ve been literally anything?
I think we’re aware that there’s something oddly holy about taking things into our bodies. Smoking and drinking are the only ways of doing that we can always do. You’re never too full for a drink, in theory.
It’s cheap and easy to do together as well. From vats to teapots, the ritual can scale up or down. It’s less noisome than smoking, so it suits a wider range of people.
And you need that chemical element, that alchemical reaction. Something real at the heart of it. Some practical magic.
It’s popular because of tradition. Because of ritual. And because it is ingrained.
We learn, teach and construct these things constantly.
Go on, pop the kettle on.
Illustration by Helen