Monday, October 17, 2016

A fresh perspective on a five-year-old indie coffee house or why Java Love is still the bomb---By Megan Wilt

Life as a mom in Suburbia can be a bit cookie-cutter.  Life as a stay-at-home-mom in Suburbia can be nearly surreal in its fulfilled expectation.  This is not the 1950s and it’s the rare SAHM who prides herself on a Donna Reed-esque tidy home and nightly roast.  We are modern women living out vintage lives in a modern world. 

Thankfully, for those of us living in the Manhattan-adjacent burbs, there are a few more opportunities that keep us tied to the real world.  It is just a situation like this that draws me to our town’s stand-in for the water cooler – Java Love.  While I have often spent an afternoon sitting in the reclaimed comfort of burlap coffee sacks and beautifully collaged wood, the café thrives as a setting for an afternoon of shop-talk--- getting acquainted with a local friend in a way our busy lives and Facebook banter cannot provide. 

Unlike the ubiquitously-branded Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts stores scattered about town, Java Love tends thankfully toward the adult – no middle schoolers flooding the space with too-large backpacks and too-small manners while on a Pokemon quest.  Nor is Java Love the harbinger of one-size-fits-all milky lattes or burnt-tasting espresso.  Java Love is a real coffee house.  They pride themselves on all things local and roast their own beans. 

Java Love’s offerings are like the old wedding day superstition – something old, something new, something borrowed, something…well, nothing blue, but 3 out of 4 is all you need.  The demand for something old is represented by the reliably consistent quality of your basic espresso drinks.  Java Love has staff that understands the difference between a latte and a macchiato (hint: if you’ve been getting either at Starbucks, you will be surprised by the real thing).  The espresso is always bold and well-rounded and never, ever tastes burnt. 

The “something new” is brought to the customer by the imaginations of the young, hipster-esque staff with seasonal menus and carefully-considered recommendations.  They love to add a unique twist, such as a dash of cayenne powder, squirt of lavender or rose syrup, or using the flavor of almond milk to enhance a nutmeg- and ginger-spiced drink. 

All that said, the shop knows that there will always be someone stopping in for drinks made popular by the big chains, so they’ve also developed some borrowed concepts, like the ever-present pumpkin spice latte (or PSL, if you’re basic).  Admittedly, I tend toward the “something old” side when drinking espresso.  I like my coffee strong and simple.

While the child-free coffee shops are ideal, let’s be honest – the majority of us are in the burbs because we have kids.  Although Java Love is not popular with the roaming tweens and teens, families are welcome.  When Java opened its second location on Church St last spring, I found my children rejoicing right along with me.  We are no longer forced to visit Starbucks after dance class at Sharron Miller’s dance school or trips to the library. 

My 8 year-old daughter is a bit of a Java Love connoisseur, typically choosing a decaf espresso drink while working her way through the flavored syrup choices.  The baristas make sure her drink is never too hot.  My 5 year-old son, on the other hand, chooses between hot chocolate and the regionally-produced apple juice varieties stocked in the cooler.  Our suburban experience would be lacking something essential without Java Love around to provide a welcoming respite.  It feels much like the comfort of your own home, but coffee-stocked and mess-free and, therefore, much more enjoyable. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Montclair welcomes the crazy dancing goat to the fold

Three weeks ago, there was a pleasant buzz about the latest coffee shop to open in town. Crazy Mocha, located at 491 Bloomfield Avenue on the ground floor of a 93-year-old bank building, is a Pittsburgh-based chain owned by Ken Zeff.

According to a brief convo with the super-friendly, attractive young baristas, Zeff’s brother lives in Montclair. Having spent a fair amount of time visiting his brother, Zeff decided that Montclair would be a good location for another Crazy Mocha storefront.

Because of its philosophy of locating its stores so as not to cannibalize the business of independent coffee shops (such as Java Love downtown on Church St.), its location on Bloomfield Ave. several blocks north of Trend Coffeehouse, is perfect.

Not only is there plenty of table seating, but there is a lounge communal area near the front windows replete with comfortable large leather shares, tables made for hanging out and other little seating nooks for those who are seeking a more relaxed experience. The wifi is reliable.

So how do you turn an almost 100-year-old bank building into a cozy café? It’s called adaptive reuse---a program that allows historic, unused buildings to be repurposed for contemporary uses. Were it not for the interior brick walls (original) and ornate fixtures, such as a large fireplace near the entrance, as well as other interior design features that ground the space, the high ceilings and large windows, might make a person feel that they are in a vault (the building was previously called Vault491). There is even a deposit slot in the door.

Fortunately, all of those architectural features have been leveraged in the interest of creating a nice coffee shop, while retaining the old Italian Renaissance charm of the original building.

The coffee itself is good—hot and well-priced. I had a latte and it delivered---smooth, bold and sufficiently caffeinated. On the food side, Crazy Mocha has the best selection of biscotti that I have ever seen. Sure, you can get plain, chocolate and hazelnut at Crazy Mocha (and everyplace else), but you can also get salted caramel biscotti, apricot-vanilla biscotti and mocha biscotti---with many other biscotti options available.

Traditionally, the chances that a new eatery or restaurant will make it in Montclair have not been encouraging. In fact, Mountie’s Eatery (which I recently reviewed) has already closed, less than three months after opening. I am sad to see it go. However, when it comes to cafés, the town’s appetite for coffee houses and cafés is strong enough to keep all of these places afloat. Welcome to town, Crazy Mocha. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why craft fair coffee doesn't have to be amazing, it just has to be hot---and available

It’s fall and in fall, people like to get crafty. Craft fairs are a standard-bearer of community tradition, in communities across the world---and coffee is the lubricant that keeps people shopping, buzzing around and having a chance to interact with others.

Just because something is expensive or ‘gourmet’ or deemed ‘high-end’ doesn’t mean it’s good---and even if it is good, sometimes it’s just not necessary. Sometimes all you want and need is a good cup of steeping hot brew and access to whatever it is you like to add to it (milk, sugar, etc.)

 Such was the attitude at the Anderson Park Craft Fair in Montclair, NJ last Sunday. The coffee was provided by CTX Jorges ICE Xpress, LLC, a national food vendor.  It was served by George, who greeted everyone with a smile.

People would breathlessly approach him and say, “Are you the one with the coffee?” He would nod, point them to the Styrofoam cups and let them get a nice cup of coffee for $2.00. Then they would meander over to the funnel cakes, or the hot dogs, or the crafts themselves----lots of amazing art, ranging from wall art, to ceramics, to sculpture and more; beautiful fall-friendly bespoke clothing; all manner of jewelry; gummy bears and worms and more, more, more.

This INFINITY HOOD SCARFWRAP is handmade by Diane, who is the owner of Clozs, along with her husband Eddie. They have every pattern and material imaginable, as well as a choice of lengths and styles. The price-points are very reasonable. Learn more here: 

The reality is that anyone who wanted to walk a block out of the park could have gotten a nice latte from Java Love, or they could have walked three blocks to Starbucks, or two to Dunkin’ Donuts. The point wasn’t the name on the cup. The point was that the coffee was very hot, it was decent, it was caffeinated and it was served with a smile.

Studies have shown that coffee increases social interaction in a positive way. Coffee not only stimulates the brain to neutralize sleepiness, but it also stokes virtually every reward system in the brain, with a huge dollop of dopamine-stimulating affects.

Nothing’s better for business than happy people looking to brighten their lives with beautiful stuff made by people who have dedicated their lives to creating beauty. Those people need coffee too---and deserve a hot cup wherever they go. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Second Annual NY Coffee Festival: Coffee, food, fun and a reality check about water

"Water ,water everywhere and not a drop to drink."---From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge Taylor

The global coffee industry is worth more than $100 billion. So it’s no surprise that there is a full line-up of industry trade shows and conventions scheduled over the next few months in the U.S. Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, China, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

However, although there are a lot of trade shows for folks involved in the coffee industry, such as growers and coffee farm owners, sometimes the role of the consumer is underappreciated.
Not so with the NY Coffee Festival, which starts today and runs through Sunday late afternoon at NYC’s 69th Regent Amory, located at 68 Lexington Ave. (between 25th and 26th St).

This year’s festival---the second ever---promises to be stimulating, with over 70 coffee, food and equipment suppliers, interactive workshops, barista demonstrations and competitions, lots of nosh, a DJ, bands, art and even coffee cocktails---all for the price of $20 for a standard ticket and $45 for VIP entrance.

Although this is only the festival’s second year, the event will be packed. Last year, there were 12,000 people and given the current buzz, at least 15,000 people are showing up this year.

But here’s the catch. Fifty percent of the proceeds from this event are going to charity: water, a non-profit organization that provides clean and safe drinking water for people in developing nations---including many of those in coffee-producing locales. 

This NYC-based charity is 10 years old, with a history of major success helping people get potable water. Since 2006, the organization has helped fund almost 20,000 projects in 24 countries, benefiting over 6.1 million people and raising more than $200 million.

Watch this video to learn more about the founder,  Scott Harrison, who was previously a beer-guzzling, drug-addled, party-boy nightclub promoter before deciding that his life’s primary mission would be to help the 663 million people in the world who don’t have access to clean or safe water.

Many people die from drinking water infested by bacteria, leading to various tropical diseases and ultimately death, especially for children. Scott decided that he could not stand the thought of a child having to drink scummy water, or lose a day of education to carry that water from far-flung sources. 

He has since planned and executed numerous programs involving digging rigs, freshwater wells and community education.

As you sip coffee this weekend at the NY Coffee Festival, remember that good coffee requires good water to make it safe and drinkable---and also keep in mind the people who are grateful simply to have clean water every day to make way for a better future.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Pharma’s quest to unlock the molecular mystery of coffee

It’s fascinating to consider how coffee is de-caffeinated. The general idea is that the coffee beans are steamed and then rinsed repeatedly with a solvent to extract the caffeine, while leaving the other components intact.

What happens to the caffeine? It turns out that when coffee companies extract caffeine from coffee beans, they send the caffeine to pharmaceutical companies. Pharma companies then take the caffeine and use it as part of analgesic medications, such as Excedrin and other OTC medications.

The magic of caffeine
Coffee contains lots of things besides caffeine, which is just one of the hundreds of bioactive ingredients found in coffee, in addition to antioxidants, chlorogenic acids, melonoidins and other components.

All of the components of coffee combined confer numerous benefits to those who consume it, such as a decreased risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, certain types of cancer and depression, among other things. However, as the world’s most consumed psychostimulant in the world, coffee owes its astounding popularity to its caffeine.

Targeted adenosine activity
In terms of its mode of action, also known as MOA, coffee is a nonselective antagonist of several adenosine receptors—A1, A2, A2b and A3---meaning it blocks the activity of these receptors, resulting in specific reactions in the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system.

Caffeine’s MOA is compelling because of its immediate and obvious benefits---increased energy and alertness and the ability to perform almost any activity, whether it’s productive or not, better. It all comes down to adenosine blockade.

Harnessing adenosine without side effects
For more than 20 years, pharma companies have been researching potential therapeutic applications of selective adenosine modulation (both blocking and enhancing various adenosine receptors). Researchers have found that effectively manipulating adenosine receptors could help treat the molecular damage and inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury.

However, developing effective targeted adenosine modulator therapies has been challenging, because of the ubiquity of adenosine receptors and the problem of side effects. The goal is to not only identify druggable adenosine targets, but  to develop a drug that hits that target without systemic side effects. In fact, there is only one FDA-approved selective adenosine agonist---Lexiscan (regadenison), which is marketed by Astellas.

The first and only adenosine agonist 
Lexiscan is approved for use in cardiac stress imaging in patients who are unable to use a treadmill or stationary bike. For those patients, IV infusion of Lexiscan increases blood flow to the heart for diagnostic purposes.

Companies with adenosine-related products
Three companies---Astellas, Fujisawa and Bedford Labs, manufacture a pure adenosine injection, which is used clinically to help normalize certain abnormal heart rhythms. Meanwhile, Adenosine Therapeutics has been at the forefront of adenosine therapeutic research, with mixed results. The company has been in business since 1999 and has struggled financially, continuing to look for financing or a partner to help it bring its phase 3 cardiac stress agent, Stedivase, to market.

At the moment, coffee remains the most reliable way to manipulate adenosine receptors and achieve physical and psychological (not to mention) social benefits. Drink up. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Are mycotoxins ruining the health benefits of coffee? A fair-balance discussion

Does the coffee you drink every day have mycotoxins? Yes, according to researchers. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring mold toxins found in susceptible grains, nuts, beer, wines and coffees.  Their presence and concentrations depend on various conditions---humidity levels, temperature, rainfall and storage conditions.

 There are dozens of types of mycotoxins; however, regulators and health advocates are most concerned about ochratoxin A (OTA). OTA is naturally occurring and highly prevalent. Medical researchers have linked excess OTA exposure with liver cancer, renal failure and neurotoxicity that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease.

If every person on earth were tested for OTA, 100% of us would test positive. It’s not whether we are consuming OTA, but how much we are consuming. The OTA-in-coffee issue has stoked controversy and disagreement between those who are concerned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is too lax, and those who point to evidence (from Europe) showing that most commercial samples of coffee have only 2% to 3% of the level regarded as safe.

The coffee I am drinking is a popular commercial brand,
and it probably contains mycotoxins. Despite that, available
data leads me to believe that the benefits of drinking coffee
outweigh the risks of ochratoxin A exposure. 
 Also, we know that decaffeinated coffee has more OTA than caffeinated coffee, because caffeine protects coffee berries and beans from mycotoxin infestation. We also know that roasting helps decrease the amount of OTA---but it does not eliminate it.

The mycotoxins-in-coffee controversy has been growing since around 2000 when researchers started to publish their fndings. Widely different approaches to analytical batch testing have made it difficult to determine how much OTA is present and whether it exceeds regulatory guidelines.

After years of being maligned, coffee has undergone an image revolution. Instead of being publicly linked with breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and various types of psychological disorders, coffee has now been established as beneficial for many different organ systems.

However, recognition of coffee as something other than a helpful vice is relatively new. Historically, coffee has gotten a bad rap. At various times, coffee has been associated with cancer, infertility, “neurasthenia”, miscarriage, and heart attacks. In one memorable editorial published in Science Magazine in 1890, a researcher suggested that people who drank large amounts of coffee suffered from widespread bodily inflammation, had an intense aversion to work of any kind, and could die if denied coffee.

So the pendulum has swung from negative to positive in terms of the public perception of coffee, but the issue of mycotoxins and OTA is far from resolved. Researchers continue to refine OTA testing techniques while coffee growers and others involved in the business seek to optimize conditions to decrease the level of OTA in coffee---since it will most likely never be completely eliminated from the global coffee supply.  

On the upside, all of the positive research on coffee shows that benefits related to coffee consumption exist despite the problem of OTA contamination.  In fact, drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk of liver cancer, AD and Parkinson’s disease---the three things that researchers have targeted as potential outcomes of OTA exposure.

You can be sure that at least some of the coffee you consume has traces of OTA, but you can also be sure that coffee is being more aggressively tested by regulators worldwide, and that coffee growers and others in the business are taking measures to decrease the threat of naturally occurring toxins in our beloved brew. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CRUSH your workout with coffee and stave off multiple sclerosis too...

Yesterday I was so excited to tell you about Mountie’s that I forgot to share the latest health benefit that I just discovered---a long-term benefit related to coffee’s neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory properties.

Drinking coffee over a period of years decreases the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease in which the immune system attacks the protective coating of the nerves. Total risk reduction based on two large-scale studies---one in the U.S. and the other in Sweden, is about 30%, but the magic number to attain that benefit is six cups of coffee a day.

The connection between coffee and MS makes sense, given the well-established connection between increased coffee consumption and decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Long-term benefits are great, but sometimes instant gratification is what we all want. You can instant benefits from drinking black coffee (no milk/no sugar), according to Men’s Fitness. Long story short: Coffee can help you CRUSH your workouts. How?

Studies show that drinking coffee before a workout not only revs you up to go longer, harder and stronger---but it also increases your metabolism, because the coffee prompts your body to rely on fat cells for energy, rather than glycogen, the body’s normal default source of energy.

Pre-workout coffee also decreases muscle soreness during weight training, so you can do more reps, with higher weights. The net effect of adding coffee to your workout is being more fit, and ultimately having a better body.

But I would argue that the long-term benefits of coffee are even more important than the short-term benefits, though they are all interrelated. The long-term benefits---decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, liver cancer, and of course, Parkinson’s and MS add up to something wonderful---a potentially longer, higher quality life.