Coffee - The Reykjavik Grapevine



Published July 25, 2003

Like so many of my fellow countrymen I hold coffee dear, it is the source of my powers and without it I’m useless. For the last few years coffee has been the constant that the rest of my world revolves around. A cup of coffee in a quiet place is my haven in a world of restlessness. Idling, as is my want, in a downtown coffee shop, it suddenly occurred to me that I had little knowledge of this magic liquid. A state of affairs I determined to put right without delay. Coffee has its origins in Ethiopia and in fact it has probably been used by Ethiopians for as long as they’ve been around. The Ethiopians ate coffee beans with butter as an energy shot for long journeys, and spiced coffee beans are still sold as candy in many African countries. The most widely accepted legend of how coffee was discovered is that a shepherd named Kaldi noticed that his goats behaved in a strange and lively manner after eating the cherries of a coffee tree, so he tried it himself and also felt alert and full of energy. Today, coffee is the world’s most popular stimulant with more than 400 million cups consumed per day in the USA alone and 400 billions cups downed worldwide every day. Scandinavians consume most coffee per capita, more than 12kg annually (for once, Icelanders are not at the top per capita, and only in 17th place among Europeans, with the Finns in the lead). Coffee represents the world’s second most important trading commodity (after oil) and 25 million people are employed in the industry. It is one of a few addictives that are legal in Iceland, along with cigarettes, alcohol and various prescription drugs ranging from painkillers to pure amphetamine. Much like alcohol, the best way to enjoy coffee is in extreme quantities. In fact I feel that moderation is hugely overrated. The desired effects of a magnificent consumption of coffee are: Periods of inexhaustibility, a rambling flow of thought and speech, general excitement, the impossibility of staying still, a twisted clarity of mind and evenlight hallucinations. Most of those symptoms are actually the early signs of “Caffeine-induced organic mental disorder 305.90: Caffeine intoxication” (as described in the Desk reference to the diagnostic criteria from DSM-3-R, American Psychiatric Association, 1987). I like to obtain some of these symptoms and then go for a walk or just ramble on about nothing much at all to my friends while I have another cup. It’s a good feeling that allows you to slip out of reality for a brief period and pass a few pleasant hours, usually at lesser financial cost than to going to the movies. This state can be achieved through various approaches but for now I will just concentrate on two personal favourites:
Twin Peaks:
The most effortless way to achieve caffeine greatness is to drink with a reasonably intelligent or interesting friend and just drink and talk until he/she or you give up. Music is recommended but not necessary, whereas the choice of partner is the essence of the exercise. Choose one who is willing to argue and discuss all matters great and small, and preferably has the same caffeine tolerance level as yourself. This is a fairly simple and easy technique and one which I experimented with for three years with good results,
Lone Ranger:
Solo drinking is currently my preferred method but this technique depends upon the individual’s ability to be alone for substantial periods of time and the ability to remain silent for more than 10 minutes, a trait rarely found among caffeine addicts. But for those who think they can handle it, preparation is necessary. Before you begin it´s important to eat something, for we must not let hunger interfere with our higher state of caffeine fuelled consciousness. You’ll also need reading material and music. Start with something simple to read, like Grapevine, and then work your way up to more serious publications or books, but remember to always keep one hand on the coffee cup. For the solo drinker, music is mandatory. A wide variety of music is recommended, as are wild musical changes such as switching from Kraftwerks “Tour de France” to Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime” and back to Vangelis´ “End Titles” (Blade Runner) and then suddenly to Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna”. Such eclectic choice of music will increase the chance of a successful session. For those too far gone to constantly change the disc, I recommend Blood On The Tracks by Dylan on repeat. Be careful, though, of opting for the radio, for a lot of pop music these days might do more harm than good. Music is the fuel of the mind and your mind will not run smoothly on the crude oil such performances produce. Television won’t work either, although TV and coffee mixes fairly well if you are consuming coffee for recreational or sporting purposes. To become intoxicated by coffee, however, is a full time job and in my experience television will distract you from your ultimate goal. Serious drinking means serious commitment. Those are my two most basic techniques but essentially their goal is the same, to drink as much coffee as you can and thus, consume the greatest amount of caffeine possible. So go ahead and give it a try. Before embarking on your pursuit, though (and to forestall possible litigation) a few words of warning: there is such a thing as a lethal dose of caffeine. The LD-50 of caffeine (the lethal dosage that would kill around 50% of the population) is estimated at 10 grams for oral administration. However, as is usually the case, lethal dosage varies from individual to Individual according to weight. For people weighing 50 kilos, 7,5 grams is a lethal dose. For people in my weight group at around 90 kilos it takes 14 grams and so on. According to my calculations that equals about 65 cups for a person weighing 50 kilos and about 121 for people weighing 90 kilos, so try to stay within those limits. Voltaire the French author and philosopher reportedly drank 50 cups of coffee a day. I do not know what he weighed but apparently he was a very interesting person to talk to after taking his daily dosage.
So where does my rambling ode to the joys of coffee leave us? Is coffee and caffeine the key to the gates of paradise and endless happiness? Or is it merely a simple pleasure for simple minds? I do not know and do not care as long as they have it wherever it is I go when I die.

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