The people at my former workplace related to coffee in a number of ways of varying peculiarity. Some opted for the vending machine’s “instant coffee”, eschewing the comparatively long-winded process involved in delivering “freshbrew coffee”, which did at least have the benefit of tasting like the beverage it purported to be. “Instant” tasted like vending machine coffee used to taste, providing the drinker with a Proustian transport to swimming pools and 24-hour garages of yore.
These incidental effects did not, however, account for the product’s popularity among the night workers of Precise. The more common answer given when asked about their choice of drink was that it may well taste like warmed-up toxic sewage, but what does that matter given that the only reason for drinking it is to remain sufficiently caffeinated? Why go through the fuss of waiting eight extra seconds for the machine to churn away internally as it prepares your “freshbrew” coffee – itself an avoidance of the myriad intricate rituals involved in the manual preparation of the black brew – when the reason we are drinking it is not to enjoy the taste, but to reap its chemical benefits?
This struck me as a curious inversion of Zizek’s famous “coffee without the caffeine” description of late-capitalist consumption. These were consumers after only the essence of a product, and none of the pleasure it offers. It might be ventured that they derived some enjoyment out of the drink’s very foulness – “it tastes so bad, it must be doing some good” – eschewing even a spoonful of sugar to make their hourly dose more palatable.
It should perhaps be added that these were night workers, working a seven-nights on/seven-nights off shift rotation, technically working full-time but essentially giving up an entire week of their lives in return for a holiday at the end of it. They were receiving a full-time wage despite working far fewer hours over a year than a full-time day shift employee. No-one pretended to have a career there: their jobs were adjuncts to their lives. We drew the essence of full-time labour on the 27th of every month, without ever having to perform in the parade of bourgeois appearances which has become second nature for many of those who work in the modern office.