Considering that 60% of U.S. coffee drinkers claim to need a cup of coffee to start their day and that people who are used to drinking one cup of coffee a day or more, can get withdrawal symptoms -- including headaches, muscle pain and stiffness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, depressed mood, and marked irritability -- 12–24 hours after stopping caffeine intake that can last as long as nine days, what would happen if magically all coffee on the planet (or in a certain country, like the U.S. or Finland), would disappear?

If we take into account the many people who consume coffee at work, would the absence of coffee actually lead to such a lethargy at the workplaces, that the Coffee Disaster would in fact hurt the country's or the world's economy to a noticeable degree?

It seems that caffeine merely leads to dependence, not to addiction (referring to the article provided above). Would people try really hard to find other stimulants or to get coffee from another country (if still available), or would the whole thing just pass without having a large effect on society at all?

It's kind of obvious that a lack of coffee would have a severe impact on the coffee industry itself. Coffee companies would be the first to come up with and to promote alternatives. To avoid this question from getting to broad, I'm specifically asking about the effect on economy at large and individual motivation, not so much about what would happen to one single branch of economy.

  • $\begingroup$ How bad you think removing a substance will be is directly related to how dependant/addicted to it you are. In reality, just about any addictive substance can be removed and society will get over it in a few weeks at most. For the really nasty stuff, maybe with a few deaths, but nothing serious on a larger scale. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Dec 28, 2015 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose it could end up like this, but on a global scale. If you ever wondered where did all those zombies roaming the streets in some B-movies come from... :-) $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2015 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ Coke should do the trick $\endgroup$
    – rpax
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ There would be much triumphant laughter amongst the tea barons of the world. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2015 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, and caffiene is addictive, not merely 'habit forming' or whatever. It fakes part of the adrenaline cascade, so think meth amphetamines minus the effects of the poisons forced on the process. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Dec 31, 2015 at 4:55

6 Answers 6


The net effect would be very small.

Although coffee provides some measure of stimulation, like many drugs the body becomes used to the effect. In fact, the net effect of regular caffeine intake is the the stimulant effect is largely negated. Caffeine is much more effective as a stimulant when it is used infrequently.

Caffeine withdrawal is rarely debilitating. OTC headache remedies are usually effective and often not needed anyway. Debilitating withdrawal symptoms are more common with heavy caffeine use. Most caffeine users do not increase caffeine use far beyond common usage because of the increasing dosage side effects of nervousness, restlessness, and sleep disorders and frequent urination.

Caffeine is also available from other sources (notably tea) and can be synthesized without particular difficulty. Teas often have a higher concentration of caffeine than coffee, however since tea is usually brewed weaker, the coffee beverage is usually more potent.

A sudden destruction of the coffee crop worldwide would require an adjustment period and existing coffee inventory would have a large price increase. But there would not be much real difference in the real world after the adjustment period.

Starbucks would switch to overpriced tea. Worldwide more tea is produced than coffee anyway. We would likely get more creative in the ways we serve tea. There are several beverages that are considered coffee substitutes, but since Mrs. Olsen died in 1996 was there any doubt that the coffee apocalypse was overdue.

Clearly some individuals would have trouble adjusting, but most people would quickly adjust to the loss, and after a brief period of mourning, move on with their life. Adaptation - its part of what it means to be human.

I added some potentially interesting references as I see the skeptics version of this question has been put on hold.

Re: Caffeine withdrawal: <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-004-2000-x" In experimental studies,

the incidence of headache was 50% and the incidence of clinically significant distress or functional impairment was 13%. The threshold of caffeine withdrawal was from doses as low as 100 mg/day

1 cup of coffee on the average has about 100 mg of caffeine.

Combining the fact the most debilitating withdrawal symptoms last from about 1 day to 9 days and the relatively low rate of impairment -- I believe it is categorically safe to say the any productivity issues would be a minor blip in the general population. Air traffic controllers, etc. may supplement with modafinil, etc. to maintain constant alertness.

Re: Caffeine tolerance <a href="http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/256/1/62.short"

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

Well, I messed up. I knew synthetic caffeine was rarely used today, but it appears I was wrong. According to the Decadent Decaf Coffee Company, caffeine synthesis is commercially important for soft drinks, etc. Monsanto began commercial synthesis in 1905. By 1945, 4 US manufacturers existed, but today it is no longer manufactured in the US - primarily in China (of course). The US apparently imports about 4 million kg. of synthetic caffeine annually from China.

  • $\begingroup$ While it's a good answer in general terms it lacks a views from agriculture and coffe's industry. Killing all coffe plants can colapse economy on a few regions of the planet and baristas can become disemployed =) $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Dec 28, 2015 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @jean - the question specifically was not concerned about what would happen to the coffee industry. If coffee ceased to exist, not much coffee industrial, if coffee was only partially destroyed, it would rebuild (at least in part) eventually but suffer in the interim. Of course, this is very obvious. Besides, who really cares about the suffering of baristas when there is no coffee anymore. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2015 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ +1. For a sense of scale, I did some checking; Brazil is the largest exporter of coffee in the world, and even for them it only amounts to about 3% of total exports. Smaller economies may be in more trouble, but the world won't collapse. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:27

If there was no longer any coffee, the software industry would be presented with an existential challenge: Adopt tea or cease to exist.

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    $\begingroup$ programmers.stackexchange.com had to change their logo from a coffee cup to a teapot... $\endgroup$
    – tmh
    Dec 28, 2015 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ Jolt Cola and energy drink sales would spike, and programmers would resemble meathhead tweakers even more than they do now.... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ ^adopt Ritalin or cease to exist. Though it seems like that's well-underway sans coffeeocolpyse, sadly. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2015 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ We certainly would have to withdraw error 418 from the HTTP protocol. $\endgroup$
    – lracicot
    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:09

On the individual level, presumably people would switch to other beverages. I imagine tea would be a popular choice. There'd probably be a boom in kava sales. And some would go to totally different beverages, fruit juice or soft drinks or whatever.

People might look for other mild stimulants, or alternative sources of caffeine. Even if no suitable alternatives were found, I doubt the effect would be that great. I suspect people would just get used to it. This would be the biggest question mark in my mind: Would worker productivity suffer measurably for lack of a convenient mild stimulant like this? I'd guess the effect would be very small. As anyone done any studies on the effect of coffee on worker productivity?

Companies would look for ways to make synthetic coffee. Perhaps someone would find a way to synthesize coffee from inorganic materials. People today drink artificial lemonade and barely notice it. Even if they couldn't exactly reproduce the chemicals making up coffee, I think it's very likely chemists would come up with something that tastes similar enough to satisfy people.

Economically, obviously the coffee industry would have problems. But besides that, I'd think the impact would be small. People would just switch to other beverages, so what the coffee industry lost the tea, juice, soft drink, etc industries would pick up. There are so many alternatives, I'd be surprised if this would have any serious economic impact.

  • $\begingroup$ "Would worker productivity suffer measurably for lack of a convenient mild stimulant like this? Has anyone done any studies on the effect of coffee on worker productivity?" My thought exactly. Perhaps I should ask the question about studies on a different site. $\endgroup$
    – tmh
    Dec 28, 2015 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ Trying to get further insight by posting Does coffee make workers more productive? on skeptics SE... $\endgroup$
    – tmh
    Dec 28, 2015 at 9:51

The more interesting effect would be on how people would change their socialization habits. Workers interact over the coffee machine, friends go to meet at "Tim Horton's" (in Canada) or Starbucks, first dates are often made by asking "would you like to have coffee?" and many other social interactions are made over the beverage.

Coffee shops are also places where lots of business is transacted (a tradition since about the mid 1700's, when coffee shops became the rage in London, England. Lloyd's was reputedly started by people hashing out insurance contracts at a coffee shop, for example. Even today you often see or overhear people reading over and discussing and signing contracts in a corner table away from the counter.

So the physical elimination of coffee might cause some serious readjustments of people's social lives. Substitutes like hot chocolate and tea will certainly become much more popular, but one of the key attractions of coffee is it is generally much simper and quicker to prepare. OTOH, the different speed of service could lead to a much slower pace of social interaction at tea houses and chocolate shops, as customers stop and contemplate the process (especially if customs like the Japanese tea ceremony become popular). Slower and more prolonged social interaction is generally thought to be a good thing up to a point (although the "small world" theory [AKA Six degrees of separation] stresses the importance of weaker and more infrequently distributed links to connect you to a much greater circle of people and events. Closely linked people tend to form closed circles with fewer linkages).

So while the drinking of coffee and associated risks and benefits of drinking coffee would fade, many of the social habits we have built around drinking coffee would bee modified, with interesting and subtle repercussions.


Starbucks would not go out of business. It's social function would remain unchanged.

Initially it would switch to selling tea and other infusions. Soon, synthetic caffeine or caffeine extracted from other plants would be added. It's not unique to the coffee plant and it's a small molecule.

I once gave up coffee and tea for a month to prove I was not addicted. The first couple of days I had mild cravings and felt dim. After that I felt normal again. Is anyone truly addicted to coffee?


Let me trace back this problem. What does coffee help us do ? Focus, Concentrate. Help us get things done faster. More work would pile on the other half, the non drinkers would be the first sign.

And if the coffee drinkers are dispersed evenly among the work population of the world, we would not notice the difference, because although it would take me longer, it would take you longer as well.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You seem to have a very zero-sum view of things we do across the world. $\endgroup$
    – djechlin
    Dec 28, 2015 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ You may want to flesh your answer out a bit. As it stands it's more of a comment. Also, coffee does a heck of a lot more than just help someone focus - like staying up for longer, which is not quite focusing. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Dec 28, 2015 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @andrei The intended effect is the same. a person staying awake but not having any kind of focus cannot be useful in any situation. we dont drink coffee to stay up longer, we drink coffee so we can focus, get done faster and shorten how long we have to stay up. $\endgroup$
    – 1122015
    Dec 28, 2015 at 19:54

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