The economics of coffee have always been tumultuous, from unfair to environmentally unfriendly growing practices to labor controversy.
All the private wars of small farmers and large companies boil down to warm Styrofoam cups, gourmet coffees and cutting edge drinks in a dizzying array of colors and tastes usually retailing anywhere from $2 to $4 a cup - black gold.
And the fuel addiction is obvious on college campuses.
"It's always been my experience that 18- to 20-year-olds don't drink that much coffee - but I think I'm being proven wrong," says Ira Simon, director of food and vending services at UNC.
A casual survey of UNC students streaming from class to class shows hands circling cups embossed with trade names that have become synonymous with the product.
"College towns and coffee shops go hand in hand," says Grant Meadows, manager of 3 Cups on 431 W. Franklin St. "Our society is becoming more and more inundated with coffee."
And the aromatic brew saturates at the rate of about 100 pounds of coffee sold a week at 3 Cups. Meadows says about half of that is sold in bulk and the other in takeaway cups.
"We probably go through 65 to 85 pounds of regular coffee a week," says Dominique Soroka, general manager of the campus-based Daily Grind Espresso Cafe .
That figure doesn't include specialty coffees or flavored coffees - which Soroka estimates is about 25 pounds a week.
"I think I have noticed a lot of our specialty drinks have become more popular," Soroka says, and the Daily Grind menu is a testament to the rising ubiquity of coffee and its more flowery cousins.
Fruit juices, caramel and towers of whipped cream have tipped the average price of a cup of java - and all its attendant frills - to a little more than $3. For the enchantment of a Magical Mocha, that number goes up to four.
Although Strong's Coffee went under last year, community cafes and coffee joints have mushroomed.
Carrboro recently added Padgett Station, on 401 E. Main St., and West Franklin Street welcomed 3 Cups with open arms.
Matt Dallas, a shift leader at The Friends' Cafe located inside the newly renovated Health Sciences Library, estimates that he pulls 250 to 500 shots of espresso a week.
"The people who come in aren't really people; they're machines trained to drink all our coffee," Dallas says, indicating students and faculty hunched over their books and papers.
"Coffee is something adults enjoy," he says. "As (children) get older, they understand the importance of staying awake."
And to that end, Dallas brews up 75 to 125 pots of regular coffee a week, 30 to 35 pots of decaffeinated and 35 pots of flavored.
Despite caffeination that would have the rest of the population clinging to the ceiling, he's philosophical about coffee and its drinkers.
"People are drinking coffee because it used to be a culture; now, it's a fad - a trend."
And numbers from the Specialty Coffee Association of America indicates that the trend will maintain a steadily upward trajectory.
According to a report released on retail sales of coffee in 2003-04 by the SCAA, coffee has an estimated market size of $8.96 billion.
Soroka estimates that the Daily Grind pulls in more than $700,000 a year.
To put this into perspective, UNC houses a total population of 26,878 students. If the Daily Grind was the only place to buy coffee on campus, each student would have to shell out $26 a year to account for its revenue - about six cups of $4 coffee each.
Judging by the brisk business at Alpine Bagel and Ram cafes, students buy a lot more than six cups, and it adds up to a lot more than $26.
"I feel that $4 a day for coffee is a little expensive, but if it's what (students) want to spend their money on, that's great," Soroka says.
"Four dollars to make your day, that's a small price to pay."
Contact the Features Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.