Caffeine is a stimulant -- that much we know for sure. But coffee is so much more than caffeine. It is a sum of various cultural connotations, innumerable factors which cannot be succinctly described. These factors, though I know not which, somehow make coffee a beverage which acts as much more than a stimulant.
Of course, this is not the case for everyone. There are many people who drink coffee simply for the jolt, either as a morning kick start, or an afternoon pick me up. But I would like to think that, on some level, even those people know that there's more to it.
For me, there is. Coffee is part of a winding down ritual I call on most every day. Actually, several times most every day. The first sip, and many thereafter, is always punctuated by a deep exhale. I sigh, my shoulders heave and fall, and whatever tension I might have felt dissipates. I suppose there are chemical explanations for this. But I would like to think that I am more than Pavlov's dog, that my euphoric tinge is more than an expectation of adrenal stimulation.
There is the smell, first. The smell, which invokes a plethora of positive connotations. Sunday mornings, crisp air, box scores and fried eggs. Not just the best part of waking up, but the sole reason for doing it.
And the taste, of course. It depends on the roast, the beans, the brew, and many other factors. There is no such thing as one coffee taste, no matter how many may try and say so. Citrus and chocolate, herbs and spice, smoky timber. You can find all of these, treat your tongue to a subtle cornucopia of flavors.
The warmth. That embrace of the cup, the inhale, the exhale, the head tilt and the smile. The warmth is physical, and emotional too. I am not prone to romantic notions, nor to thoughts of anything beyond the immediately and rationally explicable. But this is a warmth which cannot be measured in degrees, a comfort like an heirloom blanket.
Admittedly, I'm wallowing in contradiction. Coffee, since its first consumption, has been an agent of energy. It is the savior of the afternoon office worker, the midnight studier, the early riser. I do not contest any of these uses. Rather, I simply make the case that, caffeine or no, the ritual and comfort of coffee consumption lends itself quite well to relaxation. It is the perfect accompaniment to a rainy day, a charming book, and an affectionate cat.