Why Americans Love Coffee So Much

The beverage is capitalism’s favorite drug.

Coffee beans
primo-piano / Getty

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Coffee is one of the great loves of my life, and I’m not alone. The majority of my fellow Americans love coffee too, so much so that they refuse most alternatives—including yerba mate, an energizing option that happens to be South America’s most consumed beverage. “True, yerba mate is bitter and tastes like freshly cut grass,” Lauren Silverman wrote this week. “But coffee tastes like burnt rubber the first time you try it, and Americans can’t get enough.”

Americans’ obsession with coffee is partly due to the way we live. As Silverman notes, sitting down for an hour or two and sharing a beverage—the traditional way to consume yerba mate—is not something Americans are used to.

Coffee, on the other hand, is the perfect drink for America’s on-the-go, work-obsessed culture. In 2020, Michael Pollan wrote that coffee “freed us from the circadian rhythms of our body, helping to stem the natural tides of exhaustion so that we might work longer and later hours. Coffee, he writes, “has helped create exactly the kind of world that coffee needs to thrive: a world driven by consumer capitalism, ringed by global trade, and dominated by a species that can now barely get out of bed without its help.”

It’s a bit disturbing to think of a beloved morning ritual this way. But, of course, we’ll keep on drinking it. Once you get used to that burnt-rubber taste (I prefer to call it “mud-like”), there’s no going back.

On Coffee

Illustration of a bald eagle clutching a canned yerba mate drink in its talons
Getty; The Atlantic

The Coffee Alternative Americans Just Can’t Get Behind

By Lauren Silverman

The yerba mate in U.S. grocery stores is nothing like the real brew.

A young woman with dyed hair and tattoos sips a cup of coffee.
Richard Drury / Getty

The Rise of Coffee Shaming

By Amanda Mull

Personal-finance gurus really hate coffee.

8 coffee mugs in a pill pack
Rodrigo Corral

Capitalism’s Favorite Drug

By Michael Pollan

The dark history of how coffee took over the world

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The relationship that coffee and capitalism have shared for centuries might be coming to an end, Pollan noted in his essay: “Coffea arabica is a picky plant, willing to grow only in the narrowest range of conditions,” and climate change will make those conditions much harder to come by.

— Isabel