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It has always been thus. The American Revolution began with the symbolic — and physical — dumping of English tea, which ultimately was usurped in the national diet by coffee, which means our Founding Fathers essentially traded one caffeinated drink for another, more strongly caffeinated drink.

According to historian David T. Courtwright, American per capita coffee consumption rose from three pounds per year in 1830 to eight pounds per year by 1859. Today, the National Coffee Association reports that the number of 18- to 39-year-olds who drink coffee daily jumped almost 10 percent year-over-year in 2011.

Remember, that’s in a country where about 90 percent of the adult population already ingests caffeine on a daily basis. A country where all of the coffee sold at our 10,000-plus Starbucks locations amounts to less than 4 percent of the domestic market for brewed coffee.

Is it any wonder that coffee is the world’s second-most valuable commodity, behind only oil?

Beyond java, we have caffeinated lip balm. Caffeinated sunflower seeds. Caffeinated soap. We have caffeine mixed with gobs of sugar — that tasty Frappuccino isn’t sweet on its own — and with all sorts of other chemicals, energy drink mystery ingredients like taurine, guarana and L-carnitine. We even have something called the “5150 Juice Syringe,” available online, which basically allows you to squirt an extra helping of liquid caffeine into whatever you’re already drinking.

The surest cultural signs our fair republic has become akin to a coffee-and-greenie-fueled Major League Baseball clubhouse, circa 1975?

(a) Vice-free, clean-living Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow endorses an energy drink.

(b) Elite Northwest Washington private school Sidwell Friends — where the Obama daughters go to school — has its own coffee bar.

(c) We don’t just drink vodka. We drink vodka mixed with the up-all-night energy drink Red Bull - because even our downers need uppers.

In the 1960s, a lot of families, and mine was one of them, wouldn’t let their kids drink soft drinks before noon,” Mr. Thompson said. “I remember as a child being at a friend’s house for a sleepover. The next morning, he gets a Coke out of the fridge at 8:30 a.m. It seemed almost criminal. And now we have caffeine inhalers.”

The Big C

In the books “World of Caffeine” and “The Caffeine Advantage,” co-author Bennett Weinberg dubs the titular compound the “hallmark drug of our time.” Lauding caffeine’s ability to help us work harder, think more clearly and even feel a greater sense of well-being, he sounds a bit like pumped-up former baseball slugger Jose Canseco discussing anabolic steroids.

This is no coincidence.

Caffeine works in the body by blocking a chemical called adenosine, which signals tiredness to the brain. Less adenosine, less fatigue. Blocking adenosine also causes the body to release more adrenaline, producing the famed caffeine buzz.

In other words, the Big C is a performance-enhancing drug - albeit one that’s just as useful for office workers as professional athletes.

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