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This article was published on January 31, 2019

People are obsessed with buying coffee with cryptocurrency – here’s why

They can take our cash, but they can never take our freedom

People are obsessed with buying coffee with cryptocurrency – here’s why
Matthew Beedham
Story by

Matthew Beedham

Editor, SHIFT by TNW

Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls. Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls.

We’ve all heard the trope cryptocurrencers use to push their utopian dream on us; having the ability to buy your morning coffee with Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency.

But I’ve been wondering where this incessant need to “caffeinate by cryptocurrency” came from? Is it really a good thing? I don’t even drink coffee, so what am I supposed to buy every morning with my cryptocurrency? Why is everyone so keen on buying coffee with cryptocurrency?

Hard Fork asked some leading industry names to get the skinny latte on this obnoxious meme that won’t go away.

It’s a metaphor

Let’s be honest, buying coffee is mundane, but it’s also quite an individual thing. Apparently, you can tell a lot about a person based on their coffee order. Not to mention lots of people seem incapable of functioning until they’ve had their morning cup.

Over 450 million cups of coffee are consumed in the US, every day. Coffee is a language a lot of people understand.

But using Bitcoin isn’t. So, maybe buying coffee with Bitcoin is the first step we all need to take to understand how cryptocurrency can work. Else we might all get left behind.

Economist, cryptoasset, and blockchain researcher, Garrick Hileman, put it simply: “…making a purchase most people identify with helps make a complex technology more tangible.”

Using cryptocurrency as payment in this most mundane of purchases makes it relatable. Buying coffee is simple, buying coffee with cryptocurrency should be too. One can hope.

Dominic Frisby, author of Bitcoin: The Future of Money?, told Hard Fork that buying coffee with cryptocurrency is worth doing to learn how it works and to get familiar with it.

“To get started, I [suggest] buying £20 [worth] of coins. Get a friend to do the same, practice sending each other small amounts of money, then meet up and buy a cup of coffee,” Frisby told Hard Fork.

That is, if you can find somewhere that actually accepts Bitcoin…

It’s not about the coffee

There’s more to it than the simplest answer, though. This meme is more of a thin veneer on top of a much bigger goal for cryptocurrency: mass adoption.

Creator of Litecoin, Charlie Lee, made a very direct argument. The more pervasive cryptocurrency is, the more use we have for it. The more daily opportunities we have to spend it, the closer we are to mass adoption.

“Cryptocurrency is censorship-resistant global sound money. So being able to pay someone on the other side of the world with no one being [able] to block you has tremendous value.” According to Lee, “once you have your money stored in crypto [sic], it’s important to be able to spend it everywhere.”

In other words, being able to pay for your coffee with cryptocurrency isn’t actually about purchasing the coffee. It’s about the political opportunity of having a true global currency, free from government control. But to get there, to truly obtain that social power, we have to be able to buy coffee (and any other everyday item for that matter) with cryptocurrency.

If we get to a point where we can buy coffee with Bitcoin, it’s logical to assume that most other things could also be bought with cryptocurrency. A world where anything could be bought with cryptocurrency, is a world that, by proxy, supports many of its other values such as pseudonymous online payments, privacy, and transparency.

How to make the coffee worth the grind

The issue is, buying coffee with crypto isn’t strictly the intended purpose of Bitcoin or cryptocurrency, so it’s not without its challenges.

“It’s true that buying coffee doesn’t really need to be done with crypto,” Lee told Hard Fork. “Bitcoin was invented to be cash for the internet – and buying cups of coffee in the real world is a deviation from the purpose,” added Frisby.

Indeed, Bitcoin was created to create a medium of web-based peer-to-peer value transaction. Taking it offline – and spending it at physical locations – is always going to be contradictory to its original purpose. After all, we have an anonymous payment system already… cash. So what’s wrong with that?

Hileman makes the point that our days of using cash might be numbered. As more payments are digitized, we may find ourselves in cashless societies, like those developing in Sweden, South Korea, and China.

Perhaps then, buying coffee with cryptocurrency is about so much more than the simple act it describes. Buying coffee with cryptocurrency is about preserving choice and freedom.

This is all before we even start thinking about how to scale the damn thing.

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