Join our newsletter to receive updates.

Habitual Caffeine

By - March 29, 2006 (Updated: November 30, 2014)


Coffee has been consumed around the world for centuries by everyone from royalty to peasants. Coffee consumption has as many different rituals as there are countries in which it is imbibed.

However, I never realized that I had my own coffee rituals until they changed dramatically when I moved to Europe.

I’ve been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. As a child, I wanted to be cool like my Dad, a committed coffee drinker, so I started choking down the stuff strong and black at a very early age.

By high school I was addicted. I couldn’t face the day without a cuppa. And many an all-nighter in university was fueled by massive quantities of caffeine.

Until I moved away from Eastern Canada, I didn’t realize how strongly our coffee culture was tied to one company — Tim Horton’s. There are 2,607 outlets in Canada, mostly east of Ontario, and only around 200 in the US. But Timmy’s has influenced everything from how we drink coffee to how we talk about it.

Tim Horton’s is your typical North American doughnut shop that expanded with bagels, soup, sandwiches and muffins, but its mainstay has always been coffee. There are urban legends about what is in the coffee that makes it so addictive, but one thing is certain — Eastern Canadian caffeine addicts can’t get enough of the stuff.

The speed and ease of acquiring Tim’s coffee is its main advantage. The coffee is always brewing — at busy spots there could be six or more pots on at a time. You can walk in and order or, if you can’t handle the physical strain of standing in line for five minutes, you can stay in your car and go to the drive-through.

I was at a two-large-a-day habit when I moved overseas. My first was purchased via the drive through by my house, so I could drink it while sitting in morning traffic.

I bought my second coffee of the day after lunch, conveniently located at my workplace. There were a total of three Tim’s on the small university campus where I worked, one right downstairs from my office and at least half a dozen within a 10 minute walk.

This obsession with Tim’s has even extended to the Eastern Canadian way of speaking. The first time I realized that the whole world may not be affected by the Tim Horton’s phenomenon was when Andrew’s Dutch colleague was visiting and we took him through the drive-through. We ordered our usual — a large black double-cupped, a large black double-sugar double-cupped and a large double-double double-cupped. He looked at us like we had just ordered in Swahili.

When Andrew and I first came to Europe, we searched in vain for take-away coffee. There were few options — usually only at train or gas stations and what was up with the size of the cups?! There was only one size and it was smaller than a Tim Horton’s small. Where was my 750ml trough of caffeine?

Our second faux pas was ordering coffee with our meal. Our culture has perfected the ‘bottomless cup’. A good Canadian waitress knows to pour the coffee as soon as you sit and keep it coming. When Andrew ordered a coffee with his Belgian meal, the waiter looked at him like he was from Mars then proceeded to confirm, three times, that he should bring it before the food.

At first I was appalled at this lack of respect for the cuppa Joe. What did they mean there were no refills? But then I started to notice something: when I was served a coffee, there seemed to be a little ceremony about it.

First of all, my coffee was made just for me. It hadn’t been sitting in a pot waiting to be poured. It was all mine.

Second, I wasn’t asked how I wanted my coffee. I was presented with a tray holding a tiny pitcher of cream and one or more kinds of sugar. It was understood that, like the drinker, each coffee was unique.

Finally, there was always a little something extra — a cookie or a bit of chocolate. I can tell you, you don’t get anything for free at Tim’s.

It took some time, but I now prefer the quality of my coffee to the quantity. Sure, there are still some mornings I wish I had an IV drip of caffeine, but I’ve seen that taking the time to prepare and enjoy my perfect cup is my new, more laid back ritual.

Will I still go to Tim Horton’s when I’m back in Canada? Of course I will — but I may just drink my coffee after I eat my doughnut.

Go top