Kim Penstone

Coffee: A drug you can drink

2005-04-14 08:03

Let me preface this column by pointing out that, for 30 years of my life, I didn't touch a drop of coffee.

While I've always found the smell of coffee intoxicating, and those cappuccinos with the chocolate sprinkles really beautiful to behold, not a bean passed my lips for the first three decades of my life.

Not, mind you, because I was mindful of my health, and I viewed caffeine as a dangerous and toxic substance best left to journalists on the night shift - truth be told, I went through a phase where a regular breakfast consisted of a banana muffin from the Engen and a Red Bull - but more because I just wasn't interested.

It just never seemed like a fun drink to drink (unlike Red Bull, of course, which always seems massively fun until one night you lie in bed and listen to your heart palpitate inside your head until the sound - and the fear that your heart might catapult through your chest cavity - prevents you from sleeping).

I mean, let's face it, if one friend phoned me up to ask me round for a cup of coffee, and another asked me round (at the same time) for a bottle or two of wine, chances are I'd take the wine and dump the first friend.

'But that was then'

In November last year, for no particular reason, I decided it was time to start drinking coffee. No advertising campaign coerced me, no friend finally convinced me. I just woke up one morning and thought, "I feel like a cup of coffee".

Suffice to say that my life has not been the same since.

For years, friends have declared that they aren't functional before their first cup of coffee, and I grew up with Garfield and his penchant for the coffee bean, but nothing prepared me for the real thing. I'm hooked. 100% addicted.

(And so far, I've managed to limit myself to one cup a day. Okay, maybe two. And they're mugs. Big mugs.)

Anyway, if you're unlucky enough to see me first thing in the morning, you'd be able to tell whether or not I've had that first cup of coffee.

If not, my eyes are a little bleary, and I tend to stare a lot, because my brain is still trying to catch up with my eyes, which aren't focusing anyway. You know when you used to play a big record the wrong setting on the player? That's what your voice sounds like in my head.

'Full of beans'

If, on the other hand, I've had my morning fix, I'm (if I do say so myself), quite fabulous. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to tackle the day, full of (excuse the pun) beans.

So what has me absolutely stymied is why coffee makers of the world haven't united to create a bang-up advertising campaign.

My suggestion: "Coffee. It's a drug. But you can drink it." (with apologies to Savannah)

Seriously, I've never been a fan of drugs, but I simply can't understand why anyone would need cocaine when coffee is so freely available. And legal to boot.

(Granted, I'm told that the effects start diminishing when you're up to your twelfth or thirteenth daily cup, and that then you might need something stronger to provide that familiar kick?)

It just confounds me that no one, as far as I'm aware, has managed to produce an ad campaign that adequately captures the true glory of coffee, while the cocaine industry (with no formal advertising) has the world in its mystical grasp.

Why is it that the ad world insists on using clichéd "aaaah-leaning-back-into-a-couch-after-a-hard-day's-work" imagery when the reality is so different? Why don't they show the heart-fluttering, finger-trembling, tingle-up-the-spine feeling that coffee really brings to us poor slaves?

Why don't they, like car manufacturers, equate the feeling of drinking coffee to, I don't know, playing the drums (don't you love that new GTI ad?).

Perhaps, however, that is the catch 22 facing the coffee industry. Shout about the wonder drug to the world, and you might end up in the same place as cigarettes, alcohol and fast food.

First the advertising is banned, then the habit is frowned upon, and suddenly you're hiding your grinder and percolator under the counter. Only those over the age of 18 may indulge, and then only outside, where the smell won't offend non-partakers...

On second thoughts, let's stick with the couch advertising. Wouldn't want to ruin a good thing.

  • Kim Penstone has had three cups of coffee today, her fingers are moving faster than her brain and she's spent a lot of time on the delete button. If you think this article is simply silly, feel free to blame an overdose of caffeine, and complain to the authorities.

    If you're interested in the more serious side of marketing and advertising, you can find that on

    Send your comments to Kim or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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