What is a zero sum view

What if there was no more coffee?

The net effect would be very small.

Although coffee provides some level of stimulation, like many other drugs, the body gets used to the effects. In fact, the net effect of regular caffeine intake is the stimulatory effect, which is largely negated. Caffeine is much more effective as a stimulant when used infrequently.

Caffeine withdrawal is rarely debilitating. OTC headache relievers are usually effective and often not needed anyway. Debilitating withdrawal symptoms are more common with heavy caffeine. Most caffeine users do not increase their caffeine consumption far beyond normal use due to the increasingly dosed side effects of nervousness, restlessness and sleep disorders.

Caffeine is also available from other sources (especially tea) and can be synthesized without any particular difficulty. Although coffee is the source of caffeine used in soft drinks, etc., replacing it with synthetic caffeine would not add much to the price. Mass synthesis would certainly make the cost reasonable. It is rarely synthesized today as it is a by-product of the decaffeination process. Teas often have a higher concentration of caffeine than coffee. However, because tea is usually less brewed, the coffee drink is usually more effective.

A sudden destruction of the coffee harvest worldwide would require an adjustment period and the existing coffee inventory would have a sharp rise in price. But after the adjustment period, there wouldn't be much of a difference in the real world.

Starbucks would switch to overpriced tea. In any case, more tea than coffee is produced worldwide. We'd probably get more creative if we served tea. There are several beverages that are considered coffee substitutes, but since Ms. Olsen's death in 1996 there has been no doubt that the coffee apocalypse was overdue.

It is clear that some people would have difficulty adjusting, but most people would quickly adjust to the loss and get on with their lives after a brief period of mourning. Adaptation - part of what it means to be human.

I've added some potentially interesting references as I see the skeptical version of this question being on hold.

Re: caffeine withdrawal:,

The incidence of headache was 50% and the incidence of clinically significant stress or dysfunction was 13%. The threshold for caffeine withdrawal was as low as 100 mg / day

1 cup of coffee contains around 100 mg of caffeine on average.

Combine the fact that the weakest withdrawal symptoms last anywhere from 1 day to 9 days and the relatively low rate of impairment - I think it's categorically safe to say that productivity problems would be a minor mistake in the general population. Air traffic controllers etc may need to be supplemented with modafinil etc to maintain constant vigilance.

Re: caffeine tolerance

From studies in rats Separate groups of rats were given scheduled access to drinking bottles containing plain tap water or a 0.1% caffeine solution. Daily drug intake averaged 60-75 mg / kg and resulted in one complete tolerance to caffeine-induced stimulation of locomotor activity which could not be overcome by increasing the caffeine dose.


While it is generally a good answer, it lacks views from agriculture and the coffee industry. Killing all coffee plants can bring the economy to a standstill in some regions of the world and baristas can become unemployed =)

Gary Walker

@jean - the question specifically wasn't concerned about what was going to happen to the coffee industry. If coffee ceased to exist, not a lot of coffee in the industry, if coffee were only partially destroyed, it would eventually be rebuilt (at least partially) but suffer in the meantime. That is of course very obvious. Also, who really cares about the suffering of the baristas when the coffee runs out.

Sean Boddy

+1. For the sake of scalability, I did some verifications. Brazil is the largest coffee exporter in the world and, even for them, only accounts for around 3% of total exports. Smaller economies may be in bigger trouble, but the world is not going to collapse.