Monday, October 9, 2017

Fall is National Coffee Drinking Season

It's been more than a week since we all celebrated National Coffee Day (September 29th). I say celebrated loosely, because for me the celebration basically focused on brewing K-cups at work, and drinking coffee to keep going so I could meet all of my deadlines for the day.

I wrote a lot of copy, but, alas, none of it had anything to do with coffee, except that one generic Facebook post that read like tens of thousands other posts: "Happy National Coffee Day!" (with the requisite link to all of the places that had coffee deals that day, including a lot of good BOGO offers, and some food add-ons (thank you Dunkin' Donuts for that awesome pumpkin donut). 

And thank you to all of the other places that had deals that day---Tim Hortons, Peet's, Wawa, McDonalds, Cinnabon, Starbucks, and Krisy Kreme. I've never been to Krispy Kreme, but I have to nod my respect in their direction. Krisy Kreme acknowledged that one day is simply not enough time to celebrate coffee---so they extended their offers through the weekend---until October 1.

Coffee and Fall---a Match Made in Heaven

In that vein, I hereby declare fall National Coffee Drinking Season. After all, it's perfect. What goes better with fall foliage than coffee (especially pumpkin spice coffee), and what goes better with coffee than earth-tone sweaters and crisp fall days? And how about coffee and apple crisp. It's very clear: Fall is national coffee drinking season. 

That's not to say that coffee should not be celebrated year-round. The health benefits of coffee are constant, as is its ability to get us up and going, ready to take on the day and be our best selves. 

National Coffee Day is a fairly new phenomemon. And although it's called "National" Coffee Day, it's an international occasion, with celebrations all over the world. In March 2014, the International Coffee Organization first proclained "International Coffee Day" as PR for part of an expo in Europe. And prior to that, other countries, including China, Japan, Nepal, Indonesia, and Taiwan had already celebrated various versions of a national/international coffee day. 

So I hope you had a good National Coffee Day---and I wish you a happy coffee drinking season. Bottom's up!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Drinking lavender coffee in the Shenandoah Mountains

And so just like that, summer is over. Whereas 2 weeks ago, we were braving temps of barely 80 degrees to go to the pool or hang out in seaside locales, this weekend,  the ponchos are out. I’m planting mums and shopping for school lunches. Summer’s a wrap. It’s a done deal.

The last weekend of summer---Labor Day weekend---tends to be the last hurrah of the summer for lots of people. We ended up going to Shenandoah State Park, which was established in 1935 by park planners looking to transform a motley patchwork of forest, fields, orchards, and private tracts of land, into a park preserve.  They succeeded. This beautiful park, located in Virginia, is like an outdoors United Nations, with people from all over the world coming to marvel at the vast beauty of our American landscape.

As we drove along Skyline Drive, from one overlook to the next, and decamped from our car for various hikes, I never expected to find coffee….but I did. We stopped in at Lewis Mountain Lodge, which functions as part souvenir shop, a place for campers to shower, and a place to simply relax. You can get pretty much whatever you want at the lodge: books, maps, clothing, hats, Virginia pottery, clothing, hats, sundries, cameras, batteries, snacks, postcards, jewelry, magnets---and COFFEE.

Traipsing along next to the bears
So what I can say about the coffee at Lewis Mountain Lodge? It was not remarkable. It was hot, it was good---and it was free, because the kind shop-owner noted my enthusiasm. We fell into a passionate conversation about how coffee makes life better, how healthy it is, and why we can’t live without it. Amidst smiles and a final thank you, I left with my coffee, happy and caffeinated. Good thing, too, because 20 minutes later, I found myself literally 8 feet from two black bears (a momma bear and her cub). Momma Bear saw me looking at her and her baby, she looked back at me, I snapped a quick photo, and I quickly ambled back to the path. I admit, I was nervous---but coffee kept me calm and focused.

Lavender coffee
During our trip, we stayed at a lovely resort near Harrisonburg, VA.  My parents had told me about the White Oaks Lavender Farm, a family-owned farm where more than 20 varieties of lavender grow---a total of 8,000-plus bushes of fragrant, beautiful lavender. White Oak farms even has culinary lavender, which  is used not only for coffee, but for tea, jams, jellies, and even ice cream (If you go, try the strawberry-lavender ice cream; you won’t be sorry!).

While I was there, I bought artisan-roasted, fair trade lavender coffee. The minute it started brewing, I could smell the lavender mixing with the coffee---a delicious smell that prefaced a truly amazing coffee-drinking experience. I could “taste” the lavender, and feel little tiny bits of lavender plant in the coffee. Like coffee, lavender has many healthy properties: It’s anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, good for digestion, good for your hair and skin, and chock full of antioxidants.

Speaking of antioxidants, it turns out that coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants in the American diet. Perhaps that’s why coffee is associated with a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, many types of cancer (breast, colon, liver, brain, etc.), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke. And what happens when you mix coffee with lavender…you get all of the benefits in one, with an overall feeling of being both relaxed and energized.  This was a first for me, and it led me to one conclusion. We live in a big, beautiful world, and there are so many places to go, so many things to learn, and so many coffee-drinking experiences left to come. Look towards the vast horizon of possibility---and have a cup of coffee while you do it.

Happy fall!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Drinking Cuban coffee in the land of dinosaurs

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC is a local treasure. The kids never get tired of marveling at the huge dinosaur replicas (the original bones are stored in the museum’s archives---they are too heavy for display) or watching 3-D movies to pomder the mysteries of the universe while listening to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s soothing baritone.

Earlier this month, another mom and I took our kids to AMNH to spend the day seeing all the IMAX movies and special exhibits.  I was surprised to see a new offering---CUBA! This ambitious exhibit not only explores the astounding biodiversity of Cuba, which in reality is an archipelago comprised of more than 4,000 islands, but it also looks at Cuban society and history in a way that illuminates the beauty and brilliance of the island’s culture and people.

There are huge installations of streetscapes in Havana replete with graceful arches, Spanish charm, and splashes of color everywhere. The presentation is so big and so rich that I wanted to walk in, jump on a bike and start riding.

Beyond biodiversity
AMNH’s extensive exploration of wetlands and intact coral reefs reminds us how big the world is---so vast and dynamic, in fact, that the term “biodiversity” doesn’t really capture the majesty of Cuba.  In Cuba, you can find the smallest bird in the world (the Bee Hummingbird); one of the largest rodents in the world, the Jutia Conga, which weighs on average 15 pounds; and reptiles that are so rare it seems that they exist in a parallel universe where the dinosaurs still roam free.

At one point during the exhibit, visitors stream into a room that makes it seem as if they are on the street in Havana. There is art everywhere, including poster art advertising music festivals and baseball wins, and photographs documenting every aspect of island life, from the opera house to the domino table. But most important for me, there was a complete replica of a café with little delicate ceramic coffee cups (alas, no coffee) and a vent with the smell of coffee wafting out. (Olfactory bliss for sure.)

Coffee is a “thing” in Cuba

Coffee, it turns out, is a Cuban “thing.” Practically everyone drinks it all the time. Everyone there drinks café Cubano, which is espresso sweetened with demerara---sugar that is in the process of being brewed. Some people also like to have a cortadito, a 50-50 mix of coffee and steamed milk, or perhaps they find themselves at work in the middle of the day sharing a colada with their workmates. (A colada is a large cup of espresso---3 to 6 shots---which is intended to be shared.)
At the heart of the Cuban coffee tradition is socializing, taking in culture and lingering for long periods after meals to have lively conversations and share ideas.  It’s a beautiful tradition.  I’d love to try Cuban coffee, but I don’t see a trip to Cuba in my future any time soon. However, lots of Americans who like Cuban coffee order from Artizan. You can also buy Café Bustelo at any supermarket or bodega. And if you want to learn how to make it right, check out this tutorial


Monday, August 7, 2017

Beach-bound: Discovering Rook in Monmouth County

This weekend, we ventured down to Monmouth County with the goal of visiting friends in Middletown and venturing to the beach---weather allowing.

In fact, the weather was on the cool side---OK for the heated pool, but not so much for the gusty, cold beach, where the surf was already rough early in the day. 

So amidst all of the fun, we decided to amp up the happiness with coffee from Rook Coffee , a Monmouth County-based coffee shop founded in 2010, with a dedicated roastery that promises "great coffee and over-the-top service."

So I tried it, and guess what. They delivered. I had a hot coffee that was soothing and elevating at the same time, no bitter aftertaste and just hot enough. My friends also enjoyed their coffees. Here we are celebrating our good coffee-drinking experience. 

What is it about Rooks?

I was curious about the name Rook. The logo reflects the simple elegance of the rook, a crow with bare grayish white skin around the base of its bill (only in adults). Rooks like to nest high up in trees and eat everything from earth worms, to small mammals, to fruit, and even other birds. But most important, I think, is the fact that when you start to see rooks flying around towards the end of winter, it's a sure sign that spring is on the way.

But why focus on spring when there's still a bit of summer left. In fact, my goal is to venture back when the weather is warmer and drink Rook Coffee on the beach.

Over the last 7 years, Rook has grown a great deal, under the watchful eyes of the co-founders, Holly Migliaccio and Shawn Kinglsey, who left their corporate jobs to learn everything they could about coffee so that Rook could become a reality.

Well--the Rook is real and the coffee is REALLY good. There are 10 locations, which are listed here. When you're heading to the beach (or if you live in lovely Monmouth county) why not venture in for some 'great coffee and over-the-top service.' You won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Why do we cherish summer so much---and new findings from the EPIC study

During college, I went through my “dystopian phase.” My book list included Orwell’s “1984,  Zamyatin’s “We,” the “Waiting Seed” by Anthony Burgess, and of course, Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Huxley’s dystopian vision was truly a watershed moment in American literature----so much so that we routinely use the phrase “brave new world” in everyday lexicon.

But Huxley was no one-book wonder, he was famous for his proto-countercultural essays, as well as his novels. When I heard about Huxley’s “After Many Summers Dies the Swan,” I wasn’t excited to read it, as much as fascinated by the poetry of the title.

The book is about a 60-something, super-wealthy Hollywood exec, who has a much younger mistress and wants to live forever. When I learned the plot, I immediately understood the title. When we think about our lives, we think about summer in meta-terms.

Summer is pure magic (except when it sucks because it’s too hot)---especially if you live in the northeastern U.S. or some other northern clime. Summer is so cherished that it could easily be compared to some ancient Bacchanalian festival, replete with sun and shade; cherries and watermelon; flip flops, bathing suits, striped umbrellas, and the endless list of summer artifacts that we cherish for at least 3 months at a time (or when we head south somewhere).

Drinking coffee in the summer
For me, the festival vibe is not complete without some type of coffee. And the truth is that as long as it’s serviceable, I’m not overly discerning. On July 4th, I went to a super-fun family barbecue in Maryland, where I drank Folger’s coffee, which was scooped into a Keurig canister---and it was delicious!  I’ve also had lots of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (hot), and a few iced lattes from Starbucks, as well as a variety of store brands, including Signature (Acme’s store brand).

I also discovered a new coffee this summer---Kauai Coffee KoloaEstate Medium Roast Hawaiian Coffee, which is grown in volcanic soil in the mountains on the island of Kauai. It is uplifting and aromatic and simply delicious. Check it out at your closest supermarket.

Now when it comes to living forever---well that’s a hard one. It’s true that after many summer dies the swan, but that’s why we should cherish every sunny day and every rainy night. Just be happy, as much as possible. Look forward, be positive, create harmony and love, love, love.

Coffee drinking data from Europe---you can decrease mortality with coffee

Speaking of longevity, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last month, looked at the impact of coffee-drinking on mortality. In this study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), researchers looked at data from 521,330 people across 10 European countries, over a 16.4-year period. Compared with non-coffee drinkers, coffee drinkers had a 12% lower rate of all-cause mortality over the study period.

Researchers also found that male coffee drinkers had a 59% lower death rate from digestive diseases, while female coffee drinkers had a 22% lower death rate from circulatory disease and a 30% lower rate of death from cerebrovascular disease.

However, I should note that female coffee drinkers had a 30% higher risk of death from ovarian cancer, compared with non-coffee drinkers. I need to do more investigation to figure out why. If you’d like to read the study yourself, you can find the abstract here

Monday, July 24, 2017

A good gut feeling about coffee---and how to treat difficult intestinal infections

It’s hard not to go down a rabbit hole if you google ‘fecal transplant.’

There’s so much to explore—so many questions to answer. Where does the ‘good’ poop come from? (Other people with healthy microbiomes.) How is it stored? (Different ways—but it should be fresh upon transfer.) How is it transplanted? (Note: Although fecal transplants are generally performed in clinical settings via enema, colonoscopy, or other methods, there’s a burgeoning DIY community.)

Fecal transplant, also known as fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), is intended to reinvigorate the body’s microbiome---the community of thousands of different types of bacteria that reside in the gut.

It’s true: Good health starts in the gut. In fact, the body’s microbiome is the epicenter of our immune system and implicated in everything from obesity, to chronic diseases, to severe gastrointestinal distress and illnesses, to mental illness. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a question of the balance between the good and the bad---bacteria that is.  

The goal of an FMT is to improve the bacterial profile of an individual’s microbiome by transferring healthy bacteria from a person with a healthy biome. During an FMT, more than one thousand bacteria are transferred (by comparison, there are about 30 different bacteria in top-brand probiotics).

The reason that FMT is becoming a household acronym is because it has proven helpful in beating the most persistent, painful and deadly cases of Clostridium Difficile (C diff), a 'bad' bacteria in the gut that causes inflammation and illness. .

C diff cases have been increasing, and the cases tend to be more severe than previously. CDC statistics peg the total number of cases at roughly 500,000 per year, with roughly 15,000 deaths as a result. While C diff is highly infectious and can be transferred simply by touching an infected surface, the real problem is that taking antibiotics can decimate the bacteria that could fight C diff and keep everything in balance, leading to an overabundance of C diff---and all the symptoms that come with it, including constant diarrhea, fever, gastrointestinal pain and profound fatigue.

C diff has replaced MRSA as the most common hospital-acquired infection, so numerous precautions should be taken in hospital settings. But even when there is no imminent threat, it helps to know that things like taking probiotics and drinking coffee can improve the overall profile of your microbiome.

In a study that was published in the International Journal of Microbiology in 2009, researchers found that individuals who drank 3 cups of coffee per day over a 3-week period, had an increase in the metabolic activity in their microbiome, with an increased presence of Bifido Bacterium species---good bacteria. Bifido bacteria coat the lining of the intestines, stimulate the immune system and combat C diff. 

When it comes to being healthy, every little bit helps. So a cup of coffee and a few more Bifido Bacterium swimming around your microbiome are good things.

If you’re interested you can learn more about Clostridium difficile here:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Are you longing for longer telomeres? Drink coffee

Years from now, it will be clear that 2017 was the beginning of a golden era of genomics. Scientists can now visualize what’s going on in our bodies on a cellular level---with a genomic dimension.

One popular application of this growing knowledge base has been trained on understanding the aging process and attempting to slow it down. Telomeres, the caps on the end of a strand of DNA, are an important biomarker for aging.

The longer they are, the better, because they can better protect chromosomes from being damaged. The longer they are, the longer it takes to get to the DNA---probably one of the reasons that people with longer telomeres live longer.

Numerous studies have shown a link between healthy lifestyle habits (exercise, sufficient sleep, eating lots of vegetables, etc.) and longer telomeres, while stress, smoking, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise are associated with shorter telomeres.

Researchers, who analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study, have determined that drinking coffee can make telomeres longer. This finding syncs up with data from an NIH study that linked coffee to a longer life.

In this 13-year study of roughly 4,000 people (men and women between 50 and 71), drinking four to five cups of coffee per day decreased the risk of death by 16% in women and by 12% in men.
Ongoing research is attempting to find a clinical method to methodically increase the length of telomeres. 

One day, we may be able to take a telomere-enhancing capsules, but until then, we have to focus on lifestyle. Fortunately, some of the best things in life---coffee included---can help us lengthen our telomeres.

May your summer be happy, sunny, productive and full of good coffee!