There’s a drug war gripping our streets right now. From Newport Road to Queen Street to St. Marys the dealers rule their territory with an iron fist. Each day new advertising campaigns and marketing slogans appear to lure in potential customers. Each day new chemical technologies raise the stakes and the resulting fallout deepens.
You all know the players:
Starbucks. Pret. Nero. Costa. Coffee #1.
The Plan. Barker. Little Man. Uncommon Ground. Kin & Ilk.
On one side the push towards glucose inhalation – honey blossom frappuccino, double chocolate cookie mocha, tiramisu frappé crème. On the other, the pull towards caffeine induction – Costa Rica, Kenya, Columbia, Nicaragua. Street level linguistic creativity conveys the new temptations, semantic invention alluding to novel experiences.
State sanctioned stimulants are a staple of the modern city, and Cardiff is no different. In each case there’s been an escalating push towards the different directions these can take. The caffeine purist becomes more committed to the refined experience, the sugar addict craving more indulgent excess.
In a very real sense it’s reflective of its intended demographic. There’s an argument which says the bodily intake of a populace becomes its functionality – ‘you are what you eat’. Caffeine and sugar are legal highs, so accepted as to no longer be considered drugs, and have become actively encouraged in formalised business models.
It just so happens that these business models are also reflective of the varying direction the stimulants drag you in. Sugary drinks are advertised as ‘indulgent’ where more purified caffeinated experiences use language like ‘rich’ and ‘smooth’. It’s the business chain against independent store, excessive capitalist against vegan artist, corporation against anarchist.
As modern city occupants we stand in the midst of this crossfire. Perpetually trapped between the offer of an extra caramel shot or an AeroPress coffee we are being asked to make increasingly complex choices about how we want our stimulants delivered. Viewed from the ground it’s a battleground of advertising and daily innovation to hold our attention and make our wallets more porous.
The initial promise of morning highs which catapult productivity can slump in the afternoon as these experiences wear off leaving people tired and deflated. Like most drug experiences these are not intended to be stable, sustainable experiences but bursts to shock the senses into seeing the world with new energy.
This of course lends itself to a low level form of dependency and modern cities seem to run on these at least to some extent. Modern offices with their frequently menial and repetitious tasks are often fuelled by coffee breaks, an essential part of the organisations ability to function.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Cardiff has a broad and interesting selection of both chains and independent stores. It’s a cultural phenomenon embraced by most because these are seen as acceptable and relatively harmless drugs, free from the life crippling consequences which plague hard narcotics.
It is however a snapshot of legal highs and the resulting mind-states they induce. These are conductive to both the modern consumer with frappuccino in hand as they indulge in retail therapy, or the city creative seen sipping a Costa Rican blend at a casual business meeting. These outlets are an echo of the city’s desire for these sensations, and in turn these places perpetuate the daily cycle of caffeinated and sugared highs.
These daily rituals become habits, habits become long term behaviours and Cardiff has very much become a city embroiled with these substances. There are of course many others at work; food, alcohol, the rise of e-cigarettes. We will have a look at those in future posts as they too have their own idiosyncratic way of operating in the city.
For now entertain the idea that the modern city runs on legal drugs known as caffeine and glucose, often combined with dairy products.
A walk along almost any street will reveal chalk boards and posters with alluring imagery and seductive language intended to excite, encourage, beckon. In that regard Cardiff is no different from any city in the UK, it’s just that in our corner of the world the war plays out in it’s own unique manner.
The ritual in action: