The World’s Coffee Fixation

Regular, Decaf, Grande, Skinny, Caramel, Vanilla, Venti… any size, any flavor, coffee is all around us, epecially as college students. Whether you wait in the endless Starbucks line in the HUB or make your daily cup with your Keurig, you need your coffee, right? Is coffee that much of a necessity or has it just become routine? According to Havard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health,  54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee daily.

coffee pic

Joseph Stromberg from the Smithsonian website describes how caffeine in coffee is addictive. Caffeine, the world’s most psychoactive drug, is absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Due to its water and fat solubility, it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Thus, sending it into your brain where it causes those lovely reactions. Those reactions are from the caffeine acting like an adenosine molecule, which over time can produce tiredness. The caffeine blocks these molecules and BAM: energy and alertness. As the brain gets used to this amount of caffeine on a daily basis is begins producing more adenosine; the more adenosine the caffeine has to block, the higher the tolerance, thus answering our question as to whether or not it is a necessity. People like Stephen R. Braun, who is also mentioned in that Smithsonian article, believe caffeine isn’t a stimulant on its own, but rather “enables other stimulants to run wild” as he says here.

So how can Decaffeinated, with less caffeine as told by it’s name, be as effective in keeping people alert? University of California at Berkeley states that decaf coffee 97% less caffeine than regular coffee. With only 3% of the caffeine obviously the jitters are nearly eliminated from those who are accustomed to coffee. However, if these coffee drinkers have built a tolerance to regular coffee, decaf will surely not match that level. Like any addiction, it would be difficult for them to cut it out of their lives completely. Those with a high tolerance find that they are less attentive if they switch to decaf coffee. Does this mean decaf is merely acting as a placebo because it has such a low amount of caffeine?

Olivia D. Songster in her state science fair experiment studied the effects of placebo with different forms of coffee. She took twenty subjects, made them do various tasks before and after they drank the “coffee”, and tested them twice a day on separate days. After the first tests were given, the participants were able to discuss how they were feeling; those with more caffeine began to have flushed faces and other symptoms. Soon, those who had decaffeinated claimed they felt the same way. This leads me to wonder if they actually felt those effects or believed they were feeling them only because the people around them were. They may feel that they should be happier and alert due to their caffeinated drinks, so they convince themselves they are.

While Stephen Braun believes coffee is an enabler, Olivia believes more in the Placebo effects of coffee. I’m left here wondering whether a third variable could be the cause of greater alertness or flushed faces. Maybe some people got a greater amount of sleep, others may be stressed about being experimented on, some might have other health issues that allow for those things to happen, I’m not sure. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, just a college student who wonders about coffee.


Our names never seem to be right.


7 thoughts on “The World’s Coffee Fixation

  1. Maddie Panzeri

    This post gave me a lot to consider because the first thing I do every morning is drink coffee. I never drink decaf because to me, what’s the point? I drink coffee to wake up. Am I feeling more alert and awake after two cups because I expect to (the placebo effect) or because of the caffeine? For me, I believe it is mostly the caffeine. I have been served decaf in the morning by mistake and knew it because after an hour I was ready to go back to bed. With regular coffee this never happens. I could believe that knowing that coffee is going to help you wake up and feel more alert can add to the experience and enjoyment of drinking coffee, but I agree with the post that caffeine is highly addictive. I understand that coffee can also offer some health benefits, so for me, coffee will remain an addiction I am willing to live with.
    Health benefits of coffee
    I tried to do a link above, I am not sure if it worked

  2. Erin Ann Alessandroni

    Shannon, you did a great job relating your post to topics we spoke about in class like the placebo affect. Also, I really love the pictures that you included. Thanks for keeping me interested and making my work easier! I am most definitely in the 56% alluded to above as I sit here typing in my dorm room at 12:55 p.m enjoying my 4th and certainly not last cup of coffee for today. Being such a coffee addict as resulted in me doing some research on coffee myself over the years. One of my worst fears is being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I become older and have come across theories linking coffee consumption to decreased probability of developing Alzheimers. It had been shown to delay the onset of the disease, even in those already experiencing some form of dementia.

  3. amp6199

    Unlike the other commenters, I am a big fan of coffee. I guess you could say that I’m “addicted.” However, I do believe that the placebo most certainly exists. For example, I usually just get regular old coffee. But, if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll get a frappucinno, which has a significantly lower caffeine content. Despite this, I feel as though it has the same effect. I think I agree with Songster, that coffee has more of a placebo effect than an actual stimulant.

  4. azl173

    I like how you tied in at the end the third variable to what we have been learning in class the past two weeks with the worm scenario. I don’t drink coffee daily and I actually find that coffee makes me feel more tired. I also agree with your one source, Olivia, that sometime when you drink coffee you mentally tell yourself that you are alert and happy. But does coffee really do that to you, or is it a mental thing? I researched why people liked coffee and addiction was part of it, as well as drinking coffee may make you seem more upper-class or cosmopolitan. Coffee is an interesting topic to look at and there is so much research that comes with it.

  5. czc5448

    It’s crazy how many people drink coffee just to stay awake. I am not a fan and honestly have never felt more awake after drinking coffee while other people claim they do. I think you bring up a very good point about a third variable. I agree and think there is something else that plays a role in people’s alertness and staying awake after drinking coffee. Great post.

  6. Grace Mannix

    I enjoyed reading your post! I am among the 46% that does not drink coffee, however, I did actually write my blog about The Placebo Effect! You might be interested in watching this video about placebos, which also includes an interesting study done on women over the course of five years. Check it out!

Leave a Reply