In our caffeine-obsessed Western society, coffee has become a symbol of many things. It’s a symbol of friendship – after all we sometimes ask friends who don’t even drink it whether they want to ‘catch up for a coffee’. To a coffee connoisseur, which coffee you have on your shelf (instant, beans, ground) and which brand, could be a symbol of your general good taste or poor taste.
Coffee also represents for us strength and energy: we crave our morning (noon or night) coffee and believe it gives us the power to persevere at work or study or to do what we need to do when we’re sleep deprived or lacking energy. To some it’s a symbol of allowable addiction and unhealth, whereas for others who read the positive scientific study results, it stands for health.
Coffee is a vein that runs through popular culture, but a particular instance I came across recently is in the TV show, Fringe, where there are two parallel universes. In the alternate universe, which is more technologically advanced, but was beset by many issues and environmental catastrophes due to events initiated by intrusions from the main universe, coffee has become a rare commodity. For a ravaged society it represents what has been lost, and when the character Astrid gives the other Astrid, who is the alternate universe version of herself a can of coffee it is seen by the deprived as a treasure, a symbol of friendship and perhaps hope.
In some countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea where they have formalized coffee ceremonies, coffee may stand for tradition, community, hospitality and more. For those whose lands have been overtaken by coffee cash crops it may be a symbol of injustice or oppression or simply equal work and the means to sustain life, while for others, as a forerunner product in the Fairtrade movement, it may stand for justice.
It may be only a beverage, but coffee is a potent cultural symbol and a chance to choose justice with every cup.