top of page

The Psychology of Coffee

Coffee: My muse, my addiction, my vice.

I didn’t come to love coffee until college. I needed it to survive my 8:00 AM English course. Did anyone else do the head bob in college? You know, when you fall asleep, but catch yourself and jerk your head up so hard it gives you a bit of a headache? So yes, I found coffee and it was love at first sip.

Sipping Coffee in Paris. Photo by Eric Doolin Photography

A [Super] Brief History

Coffee was discovered in 400 AD in Ethiopia. It was used by monks during late night prayers at the monastery. Talk and trade happened and it moved to the Arabian Peninsula. With thousands of travelers visiting Mecca, coffee overflowed worldwide.

Biology & Process

Coffee beans actually grow in berries. I didn’t know this until I traveled to Guatemala in 2007 and had the wonderful, but very hard and dirty experience, of helping with the coffee process. Coffee trees grow in a strict range of the world known as the Coffee Belt. The soil there is rich and there is plenty of rain. A coffee tree can produce about 10 pounds of coffee cherries each year. The process, accompanied by photos from my trip to Guatemala, is as follow:

  1. Pick the berries from the trees. Luckily they are relatively low to the ground and the area is shaded, but damn if it isn’t still hot.

  2. Put the berries in a big canvas bag, carry them up or down the hill (or mountain) while berry juice drips down your back and you slip around in the dirt. Can you tell this was my favorite part?

  3. Remove the bean from the berries. There are machines that help with this now, but you certainly have to help it along by hand too.

  4. Throw out the unripe beans. They’re too bitter. Most of this is done by looking through all the beans by hand.

  5. Rake out the beans to dry.

  6. Package or roast. This is where certain growers and beans vary.

Picking berries off a coffee tree in Guatemala


Now to the interesting stuff!

Having had the opportunity to work with coffee growers and pickers in Guatemala, I have had first-hand experience in just how important it is to support fair-trade coffee. Coffee beans are a huge exported product in many countries. Fair trade ensures that employees are paid fairly. Not only that, but it also gives these small, mostly family or community run farms, the ability to make their own policies to protect their environment, well-being, and production. Who knows how to protect their employees and communities better than those who live and work there themselves? The community I shared my time and work with in Guatemala was nothing short of wonderful. The people there work with integrity, respect, and diligence. They seriously care for every little bean to make sure you are getting a product that is of the highest quality. The people I worked with took me into their homes after a long day and were more than happy to share stories and food. These people were welcoming and helpful. Supporting these families and communities not only gives us quality coffee, but also sustains biodiversity and the global economy.

Berries fresh off the tree in Guatemala

On a smaller scale, coffee affects our individual real life physically, mentally, and even socially.

Increased coffee consumption has been linked to lower risk of heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension. Even despite the fact that coffee drinkers are more likely to smoke tobacco! Coffee intake also reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and liver disease, as well as cancer of the colon, skin, endometrium and liver. Researchers from Yale have said that there is “no evidence that coffee adversely impacts human health and [there is] consistent evidence that coffee favorably impacts human health” (Loftfield, 2016).

Sounds sweet right?

Wait – there are more benefits!

Coffee ingestion has even been found to correlate with a lesser risk of mental and cognitive problems such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, impairment, and cognitive decline (same with caffeinated tea, FYI). Caffeine from coffee and tea (not the same as with soda – technically it may not even be the caffeine in coffee, but a protein called quercetin – research continues to look at the interaction between the two) increases the efficiency of our working memory. This is a short term memory function that allows us to process information currently at hand. This helps us with decision making, behaviors, awareness, etc.

You really need more?

Drinking coffee at work has been shown to not only increase productivity, but also networking, and social connection. Think about how often if you take a little break to go grab coffee with a co-worker. If you don’t, tell your boss research shows it will actually increase your work and job satisfaction. Speaking of satisfaction, in senior citizens, coffee actually correlates with increase in well being and quality of life (my hypothesis is because of the social connection). Coffee consumption increases morale and self-confidence. It can even help coping mechanisms.

Coffee beans raked out and drying in Guatemala

With all these benefits I don’t feel guilty about my coffee addiction, and neither should you. As with all things, just keep moderation in mind. A lot of the research I have reviewed for this post say that 3-5 cups of coffee a day is the sweet spot.

An important note: All these wonderful benefits are only for adults with fully developed brains. Coffee before adult-stage can actually result in stunted growth and cognitive impairment. Freshman, proceed with caution.

Drink Up!

San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala


Group, E., Ph.D. (2010, June 17). 7 Reasons You Should Buy Fair Trade Coffee. Retrieved from

Hedström, A. K., Mowry, E. M., Gianfrancesco, M. A., Shao, X., Schaefer, C. A., Shen, L., & ... Alfredsson, L. (2016). High consumption of coffee is associated with decreased multiple sclerosis risk; results from two independent studies. Journal Of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 87(5), 454-460. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2015-312176

Kim, Y., Kwak, S. M., & Myung, S. (2015). Caffeine intake from coffee or tea and cognitive disorders: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Neuroepidemiology, 44(1), 51-63. doi:10.1159/000371710

Liebeskind, D. S., Sanossian, N., Fu, K. A., Wang, H., & Arab, L. (2016). The coffee paradox in stroke: Increased consumption linked with fewer strokes. Nutritional Neuroscience, 19(9), 406-413. doi:10.1179/1476830515Y.0000000035

Loftfield, E. (2016). Exploring associations of coffee consumption with cancer and mortality and unraveling the underlying mechanisms. Dissertation Abstracts International, 76.

National Coffee Association:

Roe, B., McCormick, S., Lucas, T., Gallagher, W., Winn, A., & Elkin, S. (2016). Coffee, cake & culture: Evaluation of an art for health programme for older people in the community. Dementia: The International Journal Of Social Research And Practice, 15(4), 539-559. doi:10.1177/1471301214528927

Stroebaek, P. S. (2013). Let's have a cup of coffee! Coffee and coping communities at work. Symbolic Interaction, 36(4), 381-397. doi:10.1002/symb.76

bottom of page