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Coffee, laissez-faire and Denis Leary

The American standup comedian and actor Denis Leary has a wonderfully raucous sketch in his Lock n’ Load show when he loses his temper, unable to get someone, anyone, to serve him a regular, ordinary cup of coffee. You feel for the irascible Irish-American as the fella goes on his folorn search (he fails).

Coffee. I drink the stuff every day and there is no doubt that in my brief lifetime, it has gone from being the nasty stuff brewed from ‘instant’ granules in a jar to a massive industry boasting tremendous variety and choice. Companies like Coffee Republic and of course, Starbucks, have played a huge part in this. Sometimes the sheer headspinning variety of choices and the names of some coffees bring out the Denis Leary in me, but on the whole I have to accept that this choice has done a lot for the consumer. There is a fine article here by Edward Hudgins of the The Objectivist Center defending Starbucks and other chains from the chidings of our modern-day health scolds. There is also a fine and detailed article here via Reason magazine about the Fair Trade coffee movement. While fairly friendly to the Fair Trade outfits, the article, written by Kerry Howley, also raises some uncomfortable questions about just who wins or loses from the Fair Trade business model, and whether it is really simply about feel-good consumerism, benefiting poor farmers or just raising the quality of coffee. However, it is a paradox that the Fair Trade model has become a hugely successful business phenomenon. The FT brand is ironically, pitched at precisely the sort of folk who might claim to despise brands generally, writes Howley, in a passage reminiscent of David Brook’s work, Bobos in Paradise:

“The hippie spilling buckets of ake blood may never break bread (or sip coffee with straight-laced businessmen talking quality, but the consumer has little to lose from a synthesis of strong words and strong lattes. Another Starbucks, a better coffee, a calmer conscience: What caffeine fiend can argue?”

Related thoughts here.

35 comments to Coffee, laissez-faire and Denis Leary

  • Well, I can’t speak for the wherver Leary lives, but regular coffee is quite abundundant around here. My personal favorite is Dunkin Donuts, but you can get regular coffee pretty much anywhere, from cheap take out places to fancy restaurants.

  • Lizzie

    From a nutritional point of view, coffee is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Caffeine stimulates the pancreas to release blood sugar, as does nicotine, which is why they are such effective appetite suppressants. However, it’s the wrong kind of blood sugar – it’s from the liver’s glycogen stores. The body ideally gets its blood sugar from food, rather than its emergency stores. Enough screwing around with your pancreas leads to it not being able to function properly and will probably cause you to end up with a disease like diabetes. So next time you can’t get “just a coffee”, have something to eat instead and know that you’re really doing yourself a favour!

  • Lizzie:

    …except that actual studies show an inverse correlation between coffee consumption and diabetes.

    A Harvard study from 2004 showed a decrease of over 50% among men, and over 30% among women.

    A Finnish study from 2004 showed a similar result.

  • Well, I don’t know about fair trade, but I don’t like my coffee out of plastic or out of paper (waxed or otherwise).

    Nor do I see a need to pay those prices, unless I get what I want.

    And fresh brewed too, and served within 5 minutes of arrival (especially when I’m waiting standing at the counter).

    Best regards

  • From Dennis Leary’s Lock and Load:

    Been in Dunkin’ Donuts lately? The last bastion of coffee-flavored coffee? It’s gone. Forget about it. You walk in there now, there’s people wearing berets, they’re writing poetry on computers, there’s a kid behind the counter: “Would you like a coffee kuhlata?”

    Fuck no! http://www.blowme.com! Coffee Kuhlata — what the hell is that all about? Man, when I was a kid, Dunkin Donuts had two things — coffee, and donuts, and that WAS IT! You took the donut, you dunked it in the cofee, thus the fuckin title of the place! Duuuuuuuuuukin DONUTS!

    That’s all the had, donuts and coffee, nothing else, no ice, no napkins, no soda, no salt, no pepper, no parfait, no crousants, NOTHING! You walk in there now, there’s soup flying around, people are eating finger sandwiches… They got donuts on display in a case, like relics from a former era, you know. ‘Here’s what we used to serve. We used to fry ’em up and sell them by the dozen, back in the 70’s.’

  • Lizzie

    cirby – Certainly just drinking a cup of coffee a day won’t do it, but it can be a contributory factor. I know the studies you’re taking about, and I found them most interesting. The reduced risk of diabetes is supposed to be because there are beneficial substances in coffee (including a number of antioxidants) which help the body process sugar. Decaf works just as well! 😉

    The fact is though that like I said, enough screwing around with your pancreas (ie stimulating it with caffeine , nicotine or other drugs) will leave it unable to cope when it needs to work on its own.

  • KRM

    I remember reading a study that said peanut butter may cause cancer… It was then that decided to lend no credence to those kind of studies.

  • Julian Taylor

    I thank God daily that here in the UK we still do not have the ‘Maple Nut Crunch’ crap in our coffee that Leary rants about (by the way, did anyone here see the veiled coffee or beer rants in Rescue Me?). We DO get the multiple flavour Starbucks frapuccino garbage but we have several really good antidotes to Seattle’s finest – Costas and Cafe Nero. Cafe Nero has, in my qualification as a serious caffeine addict, by far the very best coffee I have ever found outside of Samizdata HQ or Nespressos in Beauchamp Place plus it pays no lip service at all to the anti-smoking or anti-cigar nazis in our society.

  • I have an aunt who graduated with a degree in health science who still believes whole heartedly coffee is of the devil. However, she constantly refers to data published in the 70s—back when she was in college—that’s very outdated. Both as a health-nut and someone who enjoys a good cup of coffee (so much so that I started a coffee roasting company!), I’ve at times suffered from a sense of conflict due to the impression that somehow the two were at odds with each other. Many others seem to share those impressions—who’ve been led to believe that to enjoy their cup of coffee is in conflict with their desire to maintain good health.

    We did a review of recent articles published since 2000 that relate to coffee–47 studies in all. In theme with the last few posts, here are a couple interesting things…

    * In the July 6, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, an article of substantial impact was printed. It concludes that habitual coffee consumption is associated with substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Given the major toll that diabetes is taking on the US, this finding takes on significance. Interestingly, where coffee consumption is higher, the prevalence of newly detected hyperglycemia is lower – especially hyperglycemia after a meal.

    * Research over the years has had conflicting conclusions on the effects of coffee in humans. The reason, it now turns out, is that there is a difference between the acute and the continuing use of coffee. In the same way that hearing a shout in a quiet room brings a different response from that in a noisy environment, coffee can have a different effect in someone who uses it regularly versus one who rarely uses it. Generally, the negative effects are short-term effects in individuals who have not been regular users.

    * In a study of coffee and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it was noted that, although caffeinated coffee was unrelated to development of RA, drinking 4 or more cups a day of decaffeinated coffee more than doubled the risk of RA. Unfortunately, the study did not include information on the method of decaffeination of the coffees consumed by its participants. As this study was a large scale study, the proportions are probably a reflection of the general market where 80% of decaf is chemically-processed with methylene chloride, ethyl acetate or other chemical means. The most likely explanation for the negative effects of decaf would be the chemicals used.

  • If you want amazing coffee, I highly recommend the hand-roasted (in small batches, for greater control of the end result) Ristretto Roasters. Din Johnson (brother of Samizdatista Hillary Johnson) is doing his bit to show people that very dark roasts are just burnt coffee – they don’t call it Charbucks for nothing – and producing java that goes down like liquid velvet. I give it to all my coffee-mad friends and family and they have all subsequently begged for more (or bought it for themselves).

  • Tanuki

    I prefer my coffee hot, black, unsweetened, and without the taint of faux “fair trade” posturings. To me coffee is just another enjoyable commodity stimulant – a tool which helps me make a decent daily income as part of the great social engine that is the capitalist military-industrial complex.

  • Ian

    Another vote for Caffe Nero – espresso and cigarette. Also most independent Italian-run coffee shops.

    I made the mistake of ordering an espresso in Starbucks once. The worst I’ve ever had. I’m a bit of a purist, so feel queasy when people ask for skinny lattes, let alone flavoured syrup. Yuck!

    Coffeegeek is as far as I’ve got with my coffee nerdery.

  • Charles

    Does anyone know if Russia has got out of that Nescafe stage? When I was there 10 years ago that’s all there was. Almost made me want to drink white tea.

  • Fraser

    How about Contra Coffee? (Link)

  • Richard Easbey


    Imagine my joy! Ristretto Roasters is here in Portland! I’ll definitely give them a try.

  • permanent expat

    Ahahhh! The food-fascist/drink-dirigiste/eco-freundlich,tree-huggers have crawled out of undergrowth to tell us for the umpteenth time that we should eat & drink only that which carries their seal of approval. Ever been in a ‘health’-food store? Seen the miserable sickly looking shoppers? The best advice ever was to eat & drink what turns you on; using your good sense, if you have any, about the quality & quantity.
    The sad truth is that your health depends to a very large degree on the (im)perfection of the DNA your parents handed down to you.
    Coffee is damned fine stuff in its own right but you don’t have to drink it to the exclusion of everything else. Even laymen such as me know one has to look around a little to find what suits the palate & purse.
    “Über Geschmacksache kann man nicht streiten.”, but in my case & after years of ‘research’ I now Know that my favo(u)rite Expresso coffee is Illy; Filter, a good Colombian or Abyssinian Highland. Coffee from New Guinea (!!!) is great. Laphroaig is the Malt. With wine I cannot see the wood for the trees but drink lots of good but inexpensive stuff from all over. Tea, I’m a philistine & PG Tips are tops….although I sometimes spoil myself with Lapsang-Souchong which is its own form of heaven.
    Try everything at least once. If you enjoy it, do it again. If you don’t, well……….don’t; it really is that simple.
    Do please, however, keep in mind that there’s always someone who will tell you it’s bad for you. Worry not, chances are they’ll kick the bucket before you do.

  • permanent expat

    Dammit………I forgot that cigarette with the Java.

  • veryretired

    Doesn’t it strike anyone else as funny that some of the biggest boom companies around are those that have found the “anti-commercial” niches like fair trade or organic or social activist donations?

    They advertise their counter-commercial leanings and the “right-thinking” types flock to them and spend extra money to stroke their self-satisfaction that they’re doing something moral in an immoral, globally capitalist, exploitive world.

    Meanwhile, in true capitalist fashion, the stockholders and various managers of these companies laugh all the way to the bank.

    It doesn’t matter what the specific attraction is—the whole point of free market economics is increasing the range and quality of choices for the buyer, and finding ways to make profits for the producer.

    I love it. “Hey, come here you great big idealistic coffee honcho, you. These beans were picked by highly paid pickers, and carried down the mountain by donkeys who are never whipped, only curry combed with lanolin by registered groomers. That’ll be an extra six bucks a can.”

    If they’re willing to pay twice what I pay for an organic carrot or some special sack of beans, god bless ’em.

    Like Mastercard says, “It’s priceless”.

  • RAB

    Love it Very retired!
    My favourite is Ben and Jerrys
    Crunchy frog and spring suprise.
    A truely catastrophic taste experience.
    But sooo cool!

  • permanent expat

    Here in my quiet fastness, Starbuck is still the name of some guy in (was it?) Starship Galactica. The local Espresso cafés are excellent and people with more discerning taste have said that the coffe here is only better in a very few parts of Italy. Decaf is in some of the supermarkets but I haven’t yet run across any ‘tree-huggers’ brands.

  • ResidentAlien

    If only the law treated other narcotics the same as caffeine. The murder rate would be lower, the prisons empty, Colombia could be at peace, terrorists would have a smaller economic and social space in which to move around and ordinary citizens wouldn’t have to submit to urine tests to get a job.

  • Johnathan

    permanent expat writes: “try everything at least once”. Egads, you mean even crack cocaine?

  • permanent expat

    Jonathan: Touché………..but I assumed that the dear reader was keeping reason & the admonition at the end of my first para. in mind. I have never tried crack nor indulged in buggery but……whatever turns you on baby 😎

  • Rob

    KRM – I think you’ll find that Peanut Butter causes vomit.

  • Lizzie

    permanent expat – obviously as I’m commenting at a libertarian blog, I don’t believe people should be told what to do! Drink coffee if you like! What I do believe is that most people, especially the chronically ill, would choose to change their diets and maybe even their lifestyle choices if they actually knew some of the chemistry and biology behind what they’re doing to themselves (high-sugar low-fibre diets, stimulant drugs, artificial chemical additives, the Pill etc).

    I certainly agree with you when you say “The best advice ever was to eat & drink what turns you on; using your good sense, if you have any, about the quality & quantity”; however, that advice was originally given long before the advent of so many additives to our food with which the body was simply never designed to cope. (Chemical sweeteners, for example – the reason they have a laxative effect is because the body is trying to get rid of them in a speedy manner as it can’t do anything useful with them!) And of course, good sense is often sadly lacking these days.

    I have always thought, oh, sod it, I don’t really care, I’ve only got one life and I might as well enjoy it. I tried everything at least once, and in many cases I did it again because I enjoyed it … until my body began to break down and I gradually accumulated more and more health problems, and my quality of life suffered badly. My parents are both robustly healthy with the proverbial constitutions of oxen, so that puts a heredity theory out of the window in my case! 😉

    I began to do a lot of background reading on proper nutrition (I shall be studying it formally from September) – including many proper scientific studies before anyone accuses me of having my head in the clouds! – and only now am I realising just how important it is. I am not going to tell anyone what to do, simply suggest that if someone has a long-term health problem, they could do worse than educate themselves on the body’s requirements and perhaps change a few things as a result of their knowledge. It really is the most basic medicine, and there is very little point treating a condition with drugs from your GP whilst continuing to do to your body the things that contributed to your condition in the first place, you know? The drugs can’t do much to clear something up if you are, in effect, feeding it with a poor lifestyle or diet.

    (Incidentally, the Wikipedia entry on decaffeination is interesting reading.)

  • Chris Harper


    And giving up on cigarettes and whiskey and wild wild women will, statistically, help me live a bit longer, but I would much rather they continue to drive me crazy and drive me insane.

  • permanent expat

    Lizzie: Everything is dangerous to someone, somewhere……….and common sense (not too much of it around) should inform one. Smoking is a classic example. Even before WW1 cigarettes were known as ‘coffin-nails’ but we now have our packs labelled ‘killers’ and complete idiots/greedy scheming bastards successfully sue tobacco companies because they didn’t know! What unadulterated crap. I am an older man & have smoked all my life because it gives me pleasure. It may well cause my inevitable demise but, having had two close encounters with eternity riding motorcycles, I gave them up in favo(u)r of the weed.
    Among other possibly terminal entertainments one can number mountaineering & arguing with women. 😉

  • guy herbert

    You may not live longer if you never do anything nominally hazardous, but it will certainly feel like it.

  • RAB

    If we had invented the Health and Safety directorate
    instead of the wheel. the human race would be extinct already.

  • permanent expat

    Lizzie: Today’s Daily Mail has an article about mammography as a possible ’cause’ of breast cancer.
    So what else is new?

  • Today’s Daily Mail has an article about mammography as a possible ’cause’ of breast cancer.

    That would be from the evidence of correlation, would it?

    Best regards

  • Lizzie

    I’m not bothered about living longer, and I didn’t say I was. I can’t imagine much worse than being eighty or ninety and having to cope with my body simply getting too old (instead of having a proper job, I am live-in carer for my elderly grandmother, so I know that of which I speak!) … I am, however, bothered about enjoying what life I do have, and in order to do that, I have had to change much of what I put into my body.

    I haven’t forgotten that a little of what you fancy does you good, and I do have those things occasionally*. I used to have them all the time (and consequently feel dreadful) simply because I was unaware of the biochemistry involved. Had I known, there is no way I would have done the things I did! It’s easy to say “don’t smoke, it gives you cancer” for example, but few people are going to take any notice unless they know the processes involved. I knew drinking too much, doing drugs, and eating crap were all things that were bad for me, but I didn’t care because I didn’t know what they were actually doing. Does that make sense? (I know it sounds silly, but that’s just how it was. And I was – honestly – an intelligent girl with an above-average IQ!) Now I do know the details, and I’m quite frankly gobsmacked that I’m still in such (relatively) good shape!

    I think I am a wee bit younger than most contributors/commenters here. I am very aware of the problems facing my generation that in no small part are due to us never having had anybody say “no” to us. Most of you (those who are about thirty or older) will have grown up learning that things are good when enjoyed in moderation; my generation have been taught to enjoy things in excess. My parents, as did millions of others, became parents at a time when the prevailing ideology was to let the child decide what he or she wanted/needed, to never say “no” because it might stifle the child’s creativity, and similar ideas. I think it has, on the whole, done our generation no good – we know all our rights and none of our responsibilities, and we are poorly educated about life. (This, of course, doesn’t apply to everyone my age, but it applies to a whole lot of us.) And we are increasingly suffering from chronic health problems like ME, CFS, fibromyalgia and IBS which were either unheard of or rare twenty years ago. (I know a lot of sufferers of these conditions in my own quite wide social circle.)

    *I don’t think a life without whisky is a life I’d like to lead.

  • ziz

    Google News Today. “Drinking six or more cups of coffee every day could reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by more than 20 per cent, says a new US study.”

    The saddest fact about the massive rise in worldwide coffee consumption is that Kenyan exports have halved due entirely to corruption – see also their pyrethrum crop – this cuts national income and hits the sharecropper farmers.

    They don’t need EU protectionism to screw their agriculture.

    Meanwhile in pole position in exports is Mehico funded by US mega foods.

  • permanent expat

    Ziz: Well, that’s today’s Africa. I suggest we have a meeting to find ways of giving them some money. Should be simple, just resurrect that picture of the snotty-nosed, pot-bellied, flyblown child.

  • Everclear Punch

    I like my coffe like I like my women…black and bitter!

    (Not really, of course, but I love that line!)