Over the Limit?
Americans young and old crave high-octane fuel, and doctors are jittery
The lure of prescription stimulants may well fade, as it has in decades past, when the ugly effects of abuse and addiction become clear. (Hippies in the late 1960s graffitied the walls of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district with "Speed kills," a testament to the fact that overuse was no summer of love.) But the $4 minivacation from the stresses of daily life appears to be a destination with real staying power. "Coffee culture" has become so much a part of American culture that 36-year-old Starbucks, once considered a gourmet's treat, now boasts 9,401 stores nationwide and has focused growth on economically struggling neighborhoods far from the yuppified precincts of its early success.
Even McDonald's hawks a premium blend; Dunkin' Donuts sells lattes. "It's like a miniature splurge," says Tracy Allen, vice president for Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Co. in Seattle, which markets a barista-brewed cup of organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe as if it were a fine wine. "The coffee shop is the 21st-century version of the 1950s malt shop," says Joseph DeRupo, director of communications for the National Coffee Association. "It's where kids go to meet friends and socialize."
What's next? Richard Holschen, a police officer in Kaktovik, Alaska, couldn't tote around coffee in the subzero temperatures above the Arctic Circle, so he invented caffeinated SpazzStick lip balm. "I needed to stay awake if I was on duty three days straight," Holschen, 34, says. "Caffeine and lip balm were a logical conclusion for me." Internet sales have been brisk, he says.
Robert Bohannon's phone started ringing off the hook in January, when the Durham, N.C.-based inventor announced that he'd perfected a recipe for caffeinated doughnuts and bagels. "I feel completely overwhelmed," he says. He hasn't yet produced the pastry on a commercial scale but plans to license his invention this year.
With Justin Ewers, Alison Go, David LaGesse and Adam Voiland