Coffee: Is Government about to regulate our addiction? – Jim Duffy

If a human-sized cup of coffee seems appealling, your 'habit' may be getting out of control (Picture: Michael Gillen)
If a human-sized cup of coffee seems appealling, your 'habit' may be getting out of control (Picture: Michael Gillen)
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Jim Duffy loves his morning coffee but fears Britain has become a nation of addicts and that can’t be a good thing, right?

Here’s one to wake you up in the morning... Did you know that by 2023 the UK is predicted to have ten times more baristas then barristers? Nearly 200,000 baristas will be employed in the UK dishing up coffee for a nation that is now well and truly hooked.

When I open my eyes in the morning, my thoughts immediately turn to my favourite breakfast. It is a simple affair, but a routine and ritual that fuels me for the first part of the day. That breakfast is coffee via a cafetière and brown bread with pumpkin and chai seeds toasted in the electric toaster. First, I boil the kettle and empty the hot water into, what I now know to be my perfect amount of coffee in a two-cup cafetière. I let it brew for about three minutes then pour it into a decent sized mug. The toast is smeared with salty butter and breakfast is served.

The coffee certainly tastes good. Without it in the morning, I do not feel alive and ready to live the day. I fear I may be addicted. And this is true for millions of us in the UK and billions worldwide.

Coffee shops are growing like wildfire across the UK as we consume millions of cups of coffee a day. Four coffee shops opened each day in Britain in 2018 – up from three a day in 2017 – and 6,517 more are expected to open over the next four years. If that is not an addiction, then I do not know what is. From mom-and-pop operations to big chains flooding our streets with coffee and beige items to accompany it, we are well and truly in the grip of this wonderful, bedazzling drug.

But, it is not just a UK phenomenon. Italy, Spain and, of course, the USA are all avid coffee drinkers, guzzling mountains of it throughout the day. Coffee is a staple for breakfast but also goes with a mid-morning snack, lunch and is a typical after-dinner drink. Cafe con leche’s are served up from barista machines across Europe as we all need our caffeine hit to stay on the ball. And, of course, there is a whole menu as long as your arm of coffee variations that are available.

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This is not a trend, but now part of our culture. But, what does it mean for a nation when its people are addicted to a legal drug?

Alcohol is a particularly nasty drug when abused. But, it is only abused by a small number of us, albeit the Generation X population appear to love a bottle of wine in the evening, almost every evening. But, alcohol is regulated with strict licensing laws. After all, the barristers have to make their living somehow so they have money to employ baristas.

Alcohol is addictive to some people. Whether one has an addictive personality or simply likes a drink, alcohol serves a purpose. But, as we all know, it has a more sinister side. Accident and Emergency departments are rammed every Friday and Saturday night with the aftermath of alcohol-related incidents. It leads to violence and all sorts of crime. Having seen this first hand, I know that.

Coffee is also addictive, but it will not lead us down a slippery slope, where we lose jobs, relationships and lives.

Cigarettes, as we know, are also addictive. Nicotine seems too be one of the hardest drugs to give up, once it has gotten its claws into you. Smoking causes lung cancer and the images on cigarette packets these days should put anyone off. But, alas, new smokers evolve each year, keeping the industry alive. This addiction is expensive and while attempts have been made to curtail it, try getting a smoke-free coffee while sitting outside a coffee shop. The air reeks of smoke as the wind always seems to nudge it your way.

Both these drugs are legal and still socially acceptable. The Government makes money from them via taxes. Twenty years ago, the big headlines on Budget days were how much duty was going on a pint and a packet of fags.

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Nowadays, these increases get lost as there is so much more to be worried about. My question is this, as the new addiction of coffee consumption grips us all, at what point will Government scientists be asked to come up with just enough evidence to say that coffee consumption is actually harmful and needs to be regulated? Only at this stage will we all wake up, without the use of coffee, to see just how addicted and reliant we are on this caffeinated drink.

As I watch commuters queuing up at railway stations, bus stations and airports to buy expensive cups of coffee, I worry about where our coffee consumption will all lead. I see coffee shops busy at all times of the day offering loyalty cards, fancy cakes and high-calorie sandwiches to an unsuspecting public willing to pay the price.

Coffee is on the up and up andits “dealers” know that. We all seem to believe that it is okay to have three or four cups a day. Astonishingly, newspaper headlines are telling us that three cups a day is now “good” for our health. Apparently, the white coats before them got it all wrong.

Watching a UK industry expand should be a good thing. Jobs are created and the economy benefits. Of course Starbucks and Costa Coffee have American owners, with the latter now owned by The Coca-Cola Company. Go figure.

Let the good times roll and the baristas froth for now. But, I suspect that in years to come, the barristers will have the last laugh, as they rack up fees in lengthy court actions by those addicted to coffee.