by Dave Trecker
We sing about it, we agonize over how it’s made and we drink lots and lots of it. I’m talking about coffee, of course, the ubiquitous beverage that makes the world go ‘round.
It’s such a staple in everyday life that we take it for granted. Never mind it was once considered a carcinogen and its cultivation is an environmental disaster. Most in the civilized world – count me among them – need it to kick start every day. Now there’s even more reason to drink it. Recent studies show it cuts risk of developing heart disease, lengthens survival from colorectal cancer and tamps down symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The American Cancer Society says drinking coffee also helps fend off prostate, liver, uterus, oral and throat cancers. Pretty impressive. Both caffeinated and decaffeinated beverages work, probably because both are loaded with cell-protecting antioxidants –guaiacol, chlorogenic acid and scapoletin among them. Other ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties.
There’s a debate over whether filtered coffee, such as from a drip coffee maker, is healthier than the unfiltered brew, espresso for example. Nutritionist Laura Wright of the University of North Florida says, “What really matters is what you put in the coffee.” Avoid loading it with cream and sugar, she says. How much can you drink without getting jittery or losing sleep? Depends on all kinds of things, but in general, says Rob van
Dam of Singapore University, you should limit yourself to 4 or 5 eight ounce cups a day.
What about espresso, my favorite stimulant? We devotees look down our noses at regular coffee – too weak, not enough kick. But the numbers say otherwise. Caffeine levels are lower in regular coffee, but you drink more of it. For example, a double shot of Starbucks espresso has 150 mg. of caffeine, while an 8 ounce cup of Pike Place medium roast has 155 mg. Depends whether you slam it (espresso) or sip it (regular coffee), whether you take a quick hit or spread it out over time.
Okay, enough metrics, let’s go back to the beginning. Where did coffee come from? Turns out it’s native to Ethiopia but was first consumed by Yemini monks in the 15th century. One can only imagine how they accidently roasted the beans and brewed the coffee. The beverage was so widespread in the 17th century that the Ottoman Empire considered it “the perfect symbol of Islam.” German chemists isolated caffeine in 1819, and scientists later pegged its effect as a stimulant to binding with the adenosine receptor, allowing feel-good dopamine to run free.
Today the most common beans – Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta – are cultivated in 70 mostly equatorial countries. Brazil, with 35% of the worldwide crop, is by far the biggest producer. Other top growers include Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia. The best places in this country to see coffee groves and the roasting/grinding process are in Hawaii – Kauai Coffee on Kauai and Kona Joe’s on the Big Island. And you get to sample some of the best stuff you’ve ever tasted.
There may be “an awful lot of coffee in Brazil,” as sung by Frank Sinatra, but Americans drink more of it than anyone else. We lead the world in per capita consumption, with 34% of us downing at least one cup of Joe every day. Coffee is finding its way into foods as well. Besides the namesake coffee cake and coffee ice cream, powdered java is turning up in brownies, tiramisu, mocha cookie bars, cappuccino caramels and energy-boosting sheet cakes.
Everybody loves the stuff. No wonder it’s mentioned in the lyrics of over 7,000 songs. Dave Dudley summed it up:
“Some men drink lots of alcohol,
“And some drink from the vine,
“As for me, I’m very simple,
“Give me coffee every time.”