Language is a living thing. The way we convey ideas to one another changes over time, sometimes morphing into an entire new vernacular that would be completely unrecognizable to speakers just a few generations previous. If, for instance, you were to tell one of your great-grandparents that you “literally can’t,” they would probably assume that you are physically unable to do something as opposed to just, y’know, that you kinda don’t want to.
The most recent seismic shift in human communication comes via the invention of text messaging, and texting as a vehicle for the popularizing of emojis. What’s old is new again and the pictograph is back, baby! Why use a full sentence to express a thought when it can be so perfectly captured by 😂 or 🤸♀️ or 💀? And emoji usage is subject to change, with different images gaining and losing favor as their intended changes (or worse, picking up traction with The Olds). But in emoji usage as in life, one thing remains constant: coffee stays undefeated.
As they did in 2019, Unicode reviewed emoji usage in 2021 to find the year’s most popular picture texts, and ☕️ remained on the top spot for all drink-based emojis, and second for the broader food-and-drink category behind 🎂. (BIRTHDAY CAKE?! If it’s someone’s birthday, don’t be a monster and send them just an emoji. Text them an unpunctuated, all lower-case “hbd” like a normal human.) Overall, ☕️ ranked 124th out of all emojis used, up about 20 spots from 2019, where it was also tops in the beverage category.
For context, there are over 3,600 emojis available to texters—per Unicode, “92% of the world’s population uses emoji”—but the top 100 account for nearly 82% of all emoji usage. In order, the top 10 are 😂 ❤️ 🤣 👍 😭 🙏 😘 🥰 😍 😊, with Tears of Joy accounting for over 5% of all emojis sent, followed closely by Heart, then “a steeeeeep cliff after that.” But let’s be honest, most of these are throwaway emojis, and in fact, a majority of the top 100 are all are in the Smileys & Emotion category and are basically read receipts. “I read your text but I don’t care to respond.” Or 😂.
When it comes to emojis that are actually trying to communicate something and not bring a transmission to a gentle halt, it’s coffee. If you really want to know where ☕️ fits within the 2021 zeitgeist, you really need to look no further 🍆 and 🍑. These uhhhh food-based emojis that don’t have any other meaning that I’m aware of came in at 165 and 179, respectively. If our texts are a look into our thoughts and desires, we crave coffee more than… fruits and vegetables.
So even as our means of communicating it change throughout the course of history, the question, “want to get coffee?” will always be a foundational part of the human experience. Aubergines and drupes come and go, but coffee is forever.