In 1991, coffee-drinking seemed to be on its way out in the United States. From a peak consumption of 3.2 cups per day per person on average in 1962, coffee consumption was down to measly 1.75 cups. There were good reasons for this: Nobody liked the cheap, nasty sludge generally available and the entire experience reeked of Grandma.
Enter advertising giant Ogilvy and Mather, working for Maxwell House.
Their suggestion: Segment the product by quality, value and personal image—ideas that all ended up leading to the thriving coffee market of today. Just when we thought we were out, they sucked us back in. (Meanwhile, the parallel rise of coffee and decline of tobacco could be a sociology thesis, in and of itself.)
That little insight is part of a three-part series on the anthropology of coffee on the blog Anthropology in Practice. The first part looks at how coffee became a necessary part of our morning existence. The second delves into the history of the coffee bean in human culture. And the third examines the social role of coffee in creating a culture of productivity.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.