Coffee has been a North American staple since it found its way to the continent in the 17th century (earliest in Canada, by some accounts). From its legendary discovery by lively goats in Ethiopia to the birth of coffee houses in Arabia, coffee has a well-traveled and storied past, evolving into localized brews and flavors as its popularity spread around the globe.
Today, coffee is a multi-billion-dollar industry and loved around the world. And our obsession with the little red berry continues to grow as we create new ways to consume and enjoy it. North America loves that bitter taste and smoky aroma - it pulls us from dreamland to our daily lives with a jolt of pure deliciousness. In fact, Canadians and Americans both drink more coffee than tap water!
Our grandparents drank coffee from a can, brewed at home in a percolator, or diner-style out of heavy ceramic brown mugs. In the years since, coffee has evolved in surprising ways. Here’s a rundown.
The rise of coffee’s “big-haired” days began in the 1980’s, when the latte and the café au lait started to become popular. But it was the 80’s after all, characterized by excess, so those simple milk and espresso drinks gave rise to a booming industry of ever more indulgent coffee concoctions. The boom was helped along with the rise of coffee houses as popular hangouts for more than just the would-be writers.
These were not just coffee drinks, but rich, sinful concoctions like lattes with flavor shots, multi-chocolate mochas with whipped cream and caramel drizzles, and icy blended coffee drinks with colorful sprinkles. Coffee, it seems, became an auxiliary ingredient. In fact, today’s wild selection of bloated, sugary, gooey-topped, and colorful concoctions seems to pay homage more to the popularity of coffee houses as places to socialize than to an actual appreciation of coffee. The beloved beverage went from the day’s quick pick-me-up to a day’s worth of calories in one cup, the big-haired sister to the simple morning cuppa joe.
Time flows as quickly as the coffee on open-mic night, and we’ve started to move out of the cringe-worthy decades of excess, thank goodness. In recent years, coffee’s newest evolution takes us to the opposite extreme. Recent research points to health benefits of our morning brew and coupled with the bad news about how sugar affects our health, there is a fast-growing trend to make our coffee less showy and more sophisticated. Healthy, even.
Here’s a rundown of a few slimmed down versions of our old favorite:
Coffee as a health supplement. You can now buy coffee infused with vitamins and antioxidants to give you energy, strengthen your immune system, and boost your metabolism. Vitamin infused coffees began with the idea that many people forget to take their vitamins, but few forget their morning cup of joe. It’s expanded into multiple formulations for different nutritional needs.
Coffee, supercharged. Happy coffee is an instant coffee blended with amino acids and extracts to stimulate the neurotransmitters in your brain that are related to happy feelings. It is marketed to help with weight loss, relieve depression and anxiety, and boost mood, focus, and concentration.
It often includes nootropics, which are supplements thought to improve memory, motivation, and creativity.
Just like it sounds: coffee with butter added (and oil). The idea is that 1-2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter and a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil boosts your energy, helps you lose weight, and keeps you feeling full longer. All without a caffeine crash. It is popular with followers of the keto diet. Coconut oil is commonly used.
Did your inner child just cringe? Adding an extract made from dried matsutake mushrooms is said to add healthy nutrients and minerals from the mushrooms, as well as antioxidants. It is used to boost focus and cognitive functioning, lower anxiety, and help your body use oxygen better. The flavor is less bitter and more earthy than regular coffee, and without the flavor or texture that can give mushrooms a bad rap.
It was only a matter of time before the bubbly water craze spread to our favorite water-based beverage. Bubbly coffee is simply tonic water and espresso: bubbly, bitter, satisfying. Bubbly coffee is currently gaining popularity in the larger cities, and given our love of everything coffee, should make its way to a coffee shop near you soon if it hasn’t already.
Nitro infused coffee is perhaps a sign that the brew-pub crowd is maturing. This type of coffee is infused with nitrogen and served from a tap, like your other favorite frothy beverage from a tap. It has a creamy, carbonated essence, reminiscent of your favorite craft brew. Without the added fullness and sluggish after-effects.
Cuppa joe, mug ‘o’ mud, jitter juice…. There are as many nicknames for coffee as there are variations of the bold brew. And now, with the focus on added health benefits, go on and enjoy a cup or two.