The following is a dramatic analysis of how and why coffee runs my life, and why I consult it for advice, inspiration and motivation every day, and why I could never live in a place that routinely charges above $2.50 a cup.
Sometimes, you can't think of any other title but the most direct and, in this case, that's what I've done.
I realized this on the weekend -- that coffee controls my life -- when I was pouring over some Forbes.com list of "The Most Expensive Cities for Expats." On top of listing the things that should actually matter (i.e. rent, cost per square foot, taxes, etc.) they also listed the things that really do matter -- the price of a fast food burger and the price of a cup of coffee.
I've used the Hamburger Scale before, in Switzerland. Walking around Geneva as a 22-year-old, my basic feeling was, "Christ, I'm not paying for any of this." The cheapest sandwich I could find was 20 Francs (pretty much $20 CAD and $45 USD), and I had refused to buy hair gel because the only tin of goo I could find was also 20 Francs, and I had gone to three stores (by that time, 20 Francs was probably $56 USD).
So, feeling curious, I saw a McDonald's and thought, "I wonder how much a Big Mac meal is here." 13 Francs. 13 freakin' Francs. Whenever people ask me what I thought of Switzerland, my immediate response is, "A Big Mac is 13 bucks." That's it, and that's all.
But, the Coffee Factor is undeniably the only that way I -- and most Italians -- can conceivably go.
The basic fact is, I could decide on where I want to live -- anywhere in the world -- just on the price of coffee.
I mean, I drink a lot of coffee. I'm one of those guys who drinks so much coffee that I have to lie when people ask me how much I've had during a day. I'm with coffee like Warren Beatty is with sexual partners. I'm one of those guys who drinks decaf because the caffeine I would intake is unhealthy, and I've read that caffeine bloats your face.
I just dig the taste.
It's not even like I have coffee when I want coffee. Sometimes, it's just something to do. Have I shown up somewhere downtown 20 minutes early? Hey, may as well grab some java. Am I walking around bored out of my mind? Yup, this is happening.
When I was 21, I took a one-day train trip to Madrid from Lisbon. I got in at 8 a.m. and left at 10 p.m. that same night, and was forced to walk around all day with just myself as company and a heavy, heavy backpack. My feet were sore and I was in dire lack of any public facilities.
The solution? I must have had about five coffees just so I could use a washroom... and, it was a hot day outside. I would hardly call that pleasant, but you could argue that coffee saved my life that day.
There are times that I'll be sipping coffee and I'll go, "Yuck" and spit it out. "Blech." Sometimes, I don't even want it!
That's why I know that wherever I plan to move in the future -- be it a country, city, town, village, or hamlet -- I can only base it on one financial constant: the price of a cup of coffee.
Because, to most people, coffee is something you have when you need a kick, or to clear your hangover headache. (That's BS, by the way. I don't think it does anything for either of those. It's all in your head.) For me, though, coffee is this thing that I have uncontrollably, that I can't even afford, but I do anyway.
If I'm living in Canada, or the United States, or I don't know Brazil maybe, where Starbucks, Tim Hortons or some kind of chain coffee shop is present, then I can handle it.
I know the price won't go much north of $2.00 and I can prepare the Bank Of My Mind for that daily credit. If I'm walking into some independently owned Mom n' Pop shop is Copenhagen, Denmark (where a cup of coffee, by the way, is $6 USD), then I've been bungus'd (reared).
I can't handle this fluctuation of coffee prices, or or Big Mac prices for that matter. Most people look at the ups and downs of oil. Not me... I head straight for cafes of economically diverse crowds.
As the world goes, coffee goes. It controls us in a way that no other machine, animal, or person can. If your wife is annoying you, you leave the house. If your TV is taking up too much time, you will turn it off. If your dog starts the walk by pulling you, by the end you're pulling him, or her.
But, with coffee, it grins at you with its baked-bean-stained teeth and laughs, ever so slightly. "You know I've got you right where I want you," it says.
So, why then, should coffee be different in some countries? It's not like alcohol, where certain nations make certain brands, or kinds. I can understand why Keith's is cheaper in Nova Scotia, mashed whiskey is cheaper in Kentucky, and red wine is cheaper in France.
I get that.
No matter where you go, it's the same, shitty brew. Even when you find a "good cup of coffee," all you're really saying is, "This one didn't kick my ass. You should try it!"
Coffee sets the pace for our life, or day, our year. It's our universe; it's our equator.
It's gotten to the point that you can tell what kind of neighbourhood you're in based on what coffee chain you see around you. If you see a Starbucks, chances are everyone around you has at least one pair of skinny jeans, owns a Mac, and voted for Obama. If you see a Tim Horton's, chances are it's a mix of blue collar workers who have maintained a steady, perhaps even substantial income, as well as young people or yuppies with a secret stash of money who are trying to look like a man (or woman) of the people.
But, if it's after dark and you see a Coffee Time? Get the hell out of there, my friend.
Coffee... who knew?
(*Originally posted on White Cover Magazine)