Thursday, May 16, 2019

And America’s favorite coffee brand is…(drumroll please)…

I used to be a Starbucks devotee. I lauded the flavors, the baristas, the brewing processes, and the politics of Starbucks. Like people, brands evolve, and Dunkin’ Donuts (DD) is no exception. Ten years ago, when I was doing research for a book, I looked at DD versus Starbucks and concluded that next to the mega-shiny branding of Starbucks, DD was a stalwart, supermarket-based brand that one drank out of necessity when traveling in New England, which is where DD is based.

But it turned out that I underestimated this 69-year-old American-bred, Massachusetts-based chain, which was founded by William Rosenberg.  Dunkin’, which dropped Donuts from its name as of January 2019, is in the midst of a $100 million brand overhaul.  The new branding goes along with how Dunkin’ has positioned itself---as the premiere, beverage-led, on-the-go brand. As part of this offering, Dunkin’ now offers a special pickup section for online orders, in addition to a bevy of espresso-based drinks, cold beverages, frozen drinks, and vanilla chai.

The oldest coffee-shop brand in the U.S.
In fact, one of the best things about DD is its staying power.  In September 2018, more than 45,000 people surveyed by the polling company, Harris, expressed their brand preferences in different categories, including coffee. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, depending how you look at it, Dunkin’ emerged the hands-down winner. And although Dunkin’ is an American brand, it has a global presence, with almost 13,000 stores in 46 countries---and a total of 2 billion cups of coffee (and counting) sold every year. Oh---and one more thing...let’s not forget all of the store-brought Dunkin’ coffee in bags and pods. Once again, Dunkin’ rules in this category.

New brand, but Dunkin’ will still have donuts—lots of them
Dunkin Donut’s pink-and-orange branding seems whimsical, and in fact, it was intended to be fun and attractive to customers. For now, most Dunkin’ stores will retain the old branding, but all new stores will have updated signage, with the new logo and the streamlined color scheme. But, there will be donuts---there will always be donuts! In fact, last year, Dunkin’ sold almost 3 billion donuts worldwide.

When Dunkin’ has your heart
Why is Dunkin’ so popular?  Well, from a technical, brewing-related perspective, the fact that all coffee is thrown out after 18 minutes of brewing, if not consumed, could have something to do with it. But, there’s also the connection between coffee-consumption, family tradition, and personal preference.  Many people say they like it because it’s hot and strong—but not too bitter (often they mention Starbucks in contrast).

Based on my research I found that many people love Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, but find the atmosphere uninviting. In New England, however, the experience is different. A woman  I know, who grew up in New England, had her first significant coffee experiences in Dunkin’ Donuts, which dominates in New England. After church on Sundays, she and her father went to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. The lack of heavy Starbucks concentration, particularly in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and other parts of New England, can be jarring to those who are fixated on Starbucks as a reliable haven for coffee. But, for this mother of two, who now lives in Long Island, “Dunkin’ Donuts is home and Starbucks is a shiny mega-brand.”
Drinking Dunkin' with my colleague/friend. 

Fortunately for her---and for all of us---Dunkin’ has staying power and will likely be the go-to choice for many of our great-grandchildren, who will wax poetic about the coffee-drinking experience of 21st-centruy coffee-lovers. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Caffeine 2.0: How the 'eat your coffee' movement is getting it right

Happy spring!

It started slowly. First I noticed a few caffeine-bite products with clever names (VERB caffeinated energy bites; Eat Your Coffee caffeinated snack bar; Awake energy granola bars, etc.), and then it became a THING. As a coffee-lover, with a seriously caffeinated lifestyle, I personally like Wild Ophelia cold brew caramel latte bites. Think New England fudge meets morning coffee and Brach’s caramel, with a nice buzz---a little piece of caffeinated heaven.

The market for caffeinated food is not entirely new---there have been coffee- and/or caffeine-infused foods around for a while, but now there is a whole new level of caffeine awareness, as well as a lot of clinical evidence to confirm that caffeine is not only stimulating, but also health-enhancing.

What the data says about caffeine
According to researchers at Stanford, caffeine makes people healthier on a molecular level. They looked at the health of two cohorts of adults over time, including a healthy group of 20- to 30-year-olds and a healthy group of adults aged 60 and older.  Results were published in Nature in January 2017.

They found that older adults had more IL-1-beta, a circulating inflammatory protein, than younger adults. However, they also determined that older adults who consumed more caffeine than their peers had lower IL-1-beta levels, suggesting lower overall levels of inflammation, especially cardiovascular inflammation.

The lead researcher in the study, Dr. David Furman, a Stanford professor, has pointed out that 90% of non-communicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation.  And by extension, caffeine can have a profoundly anti-inflammatory effect in the body.

The eternal love affair with caffeine

Caffeine is a beautiful, life-affirming substance that increases alertness, whether a person is rested or fatigued, according to researchers.  It is especially helpful for tasks related to vigilance.  In addition, caffeine is thought to improve short- AND long-term memory because of its stimulatory and neuroprotective effects.  And finally, caffeine helps with endurance and physical performance.

Exercise physiologists point to coffee's ergogenic (something that enhances physical performance, stamina, and recovery) properties, which not only helps performance, but contributes to caffeine's fat-burning phenomenon.

Starbucks takes on twice the caffeine and ups the ante with nitro

So a couple of months ago, Starbucks introduced their new Starbucks Plus Ground Coffee with 2X the caffeine---a promising concoction that I buy in pod form and have enjoyed immensely. Can I taste the extra caffeine? No, but I can certainly feel it. (Hallelujah!)

But wait, there's more! If you're lucky you either live or work (or hang out near) a Starbucks location that serves Nitro Cold Brew. Nitro Cold Brew is the Starbucks version of nitro coffee (there are others, but Starbucks is definitely the frontrunner in this area).

What is Nitro Coffee?

Nitro coffee is cold-brewed, infused with nitrogen gas, and served on tap---just like Guinness. This process not only makes the coffee taste smooth and slightly sweet (no sugar or milk needed), but it has 30% more caffeine, on average, than a comparable non-nitro brew. Another benefit: Nitro coffee is generally made with dark roasts, which have less acidity and fuller body.

The process of brewing nitro coffee takes 16 hours. There is one caveat, however: Generally, when you order Nitro Coffee at Starbucks, you order the smallest size (tall). Venti (the largest cup at Starbucks) is NOT an option because it is considered too caffeinated. I find that level of caffeination very exciting!
I had my first cup of Nitro last week, and truth be told, I'm hooked. Have you tried it yet? My prediction: If you are a coffee lover, you will LOVE it. Spring 2019 is the perfect season for exploring and enjoying Nitro Coffee. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What will it be like to drink coffee in 2019? It could make us wealthier, healthier, and happier...

As we head into the first days of 2019, speeding along like a rush-hour Acela train, everyone I know is trying to frame the coming year, even as they are still processing 2018.  My main goal for the upcoming year is to become thriftier. I try hard, but I’ve certainly missed the mark more than I’d like to admit.  I found lots of inspiration on the internet. 

In fact, since the beginning of written history wise people have extolled thrift as a competitive advantage.

“Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift?” ---Cicero

"Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity and dignity; industriousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling, be frugal, considerate, and frank; be temperate in manner and speech; carry yourself with authority." ---Marcus Aurelius

But even virtues have their limits. For example, although I love coffee unconditionally, I JUST got a new coffeemaker after 13 years. That’s a long time that I relied on my Gevalia drip coffeemaker (very reliable---and utilitarian--- machine).

Goodbye Gevalia, Hello Hamilton Beach

It’s been several years that I’ve been wanting a new coffeemaker, knowing that when it was time, I was going to opt for a mid-range brand---neither very cheap, nor very expensive---but definitely good quality and highly functional.  So this holiday season, I strenuously hinted that I would like a nice, new coffeemaker.

My wish came true, and I became the proud new owner of a Hamilton Beach FlexBrew Coffeemaker, which brews drip coffee on one side, K-cups on the other—and has a single-cup option independent of the other 2 functions. It’s programmable and widely recognized for the fact that the coffee stays hot in the carafe for a long time, without making the coffee bitter. It all comes down to science.

The science of brewing coffee (for non-scientists)

I prepared myself to say goodbye to my Gevalia---my go-to source of coffee for many dinner parties, and afternoon playdates; always ready to brew for girlfriend get-togethers; and the way I started my mornings for more than 4,290 days of my life. I understood that it was time, and that over time, the coffee I was brewing was not optimal---it was okay, but could certainly be better.  

I wanted to get more insight, so I spoke to a chemical & biomedical engineering PhD candidate at Cornell---a true coffee-lover. He explained that the materials that the coffee flows through during the brewing process (plastics, metals, etc.) have been engineered to be nonreactive, meaning the materials that the water flows through do not have a leaching effect; leaching is a common problem that degrades the quality and purity of the water and the final brew.

He told me that even coffeemakers that are well-constructed with advanced polymers can become reactive over time, though more expensive coffeemakers tend to last longer. And apparently water temperature, and the ability to optimize it, is really important. So although a really cheap coffeemaker will basically brew the coffee, within 5 minutes you will have to microwave every cup you pour. Good coffeemakers have all of these features built in---and I’m really happy about the FlexBrew’s temperature optimization capabilities. Sure this is not the most expensive coffee-brewing machine on the market, but it hits all of my targets.

Creating Wealth

The best part of having a coffee maker you love is being able to brew coffee at home that you like as much as coffee you buy at cafes. The goal is thrift---saving by not spending. Granted, I don’t have a cappuccino or latte function, but I live in the land of many cafes and coffee shops---so no problems there. Most important, however, is my determination to save more in 2019 than I did in 2018 (the crazy rollercoaster stock market notwithstanding).

Speaking of coffee, I had some amazing coffee during the holiday break in the Berkshires. Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, MA, serves Currency Coffee---and it's really good. Currency Coffee is based in Dalton, MA, a small mill town, which also happens to be where all of the paper used to make U.S. currency is manufactured. 

One of the most interesting things about Currency Coffee is its branding, which features imagery from American currency pre-dating 1900, specifically currency from the era of the Industrial Revolution. 

Watch my review of Currency Coffee here:

That being said, Currency Coffee is au courant in terms of its coffee offerings, all of which are Fair Trade-certified. This company’s distributors are mainly based in the Berkshires and the surrounding areas, with distributors in Pittsfield (Guido’s Fresh Marketplace); Williamsburg (Williamsburg Market); Amherst (Atkins Farms Country Market); and, of course, Wild Oaks Market.

Finally, as we move into the new year, it’s customary to not only think about our money, but our health, as well. Coffee improves overall health and increases longevity, according to the bulk of evidence culled from 19,000 studies.  Health and wealth---two excellent goals for 2019.  And let’s not forget happiness!

Raise a cup to 2019. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Coffee-drinking, art-loving, word-smithing & SNOWBOUND

Have you ever been so distracted by the pursuit of coffee that you lost track of time---and then found out that all the while you were coffee-klatching, a potential disaster was unfolding? That was me on Thursday, November 15---the day of the nor’easter that we all underreacted to until we were stuck in Penn Station, and our children were stuck on buses, while thousands of people were stuck in gridlock that lasted up to 12 to 14 hours, forcing them to deal with their biologic needs the best they could.

Newsbar @ 13th & University

After a full morning of working alone, I met up with two of my colleagues (2 amazing women-editors), at News Bar Café near Union Square, to work on a project and drink endless cups of coffee, while enjoying various soups, breads and sweets. News Bar has a traditional wooden exterior, and a café-pub-like feel, with large plate glass windows at the front of the café.  
Teresa, Jess and Nicole drinnking coffee @ Newsbar

The best way to describe the feeling of being in News Bar at midday as the snow innocently swirled around outside is ‘fika’---a Scandinavian term meaning ‘cozy happiness,’ which usually includes drinking hot drinks in warm settings, against the backdrop of cold, often wintry weather, outdoors.

We accomplished what we came to accomplish, and determined that we had worked so hard and so long that it was time for a break. 

Picasso’s unintentional ode to coffee
Like almost everyone else in NYC and New Jersey, we were clueless about the magnitude of the growing storm. So we went to MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) in midtown. We ubered, and it took 45 minutes to get from 13th Street to 53rd Street---on the east side (a long time for a non-rush-hour trip, even in NYC). Still, we ambled forward like art-hungry foragers looking for soup cans, green helicopters, a starry night, and screaming aliens. Although we found out that Warhol’s soup cans were loaned out, and Munch’s Scream was no longer there (it had actually been loaned in from a private collector for years, but was now gone), each of us found something to get really excited about— works by Kandinsky (Teresa), Rousseau (Jess), and Picasso (Picasso’s Repose, from spring 1908, was my favorite that day).

Repose by Picasso (@MOMA)

When I walked into the room where Repose hangs, I saw it and immediately felt a sense of calmness and well-being. My friend/colleague, Jess, suggested that the reason I love it so much is because its palette is so coffee-esque. Looking at Repose is the visual equivalent of walking into a coffee shop where many different types of coffee are brewing at the same time. Repose is a lady-in-waiting, waiting on a cup of coffee. She sits dreaming of hazelnut-, mocha-, Sumatra-, and Kona-infused coffees.

Snow globe magic meets nor’easter reality
After seeing this painting, we decided to head to the café on the second floor to actually drink coffee---one of my favorite things to do at MOMA. The staff was characteristically polite, and the coffee and espresso drinks were hot, bold, and well-brewed. Best of all was sitting and looking down out of the café’s large window facing 53rd Street. The snow swirled around like a scene from a snow globe. It was all magical and festive---until I got the call from my oldest daughter that my youngest daughter (aged 7), had been stuck on her school bus for more than 2 hours.

Of course, I totally freaked out, and decided to go straight to Penn to try to get home and manage the situation from there. But when we walked out of MOMA, it was clear to me that this was not a ‘manageable’ situation. The snow that looked magical had suddenly become menacing (at least in terms of transportation), and the streets of NYC were absolute chaos, though of course, as I approached Times Square on foot (heading to Penn with Teresa), much gaiety ensued (e.g., fully grown adults in Santa hats scaring small children).

Watching the snow & drinking amazing cofee

After many phone calls, and trains that were stuck in tunnels or packed to the gills at Penn Station, I made it onto a train and finally home, where I discovered two daughters---one who had been stuck on a bus for 4 hours and another who had waited for her outside almost 3 hours. All told, it was challenging, but they are none the worse for the wear.
Penn Station 11-15-18

Giving thanks ahead of Thanksgiving
In the spirit of gratitude, I was blissed out that we all made it home, though I was up late (drinking home-brewed Dunkin’ Donuts hazelnut coffee) following the various pilgrimages of friends trekking home from all over the tristate area. Eventually, everyone made it home---but some people ended up not getting there until the wee hours of the next day---just in time to go to bed for a few hours, wake up, drink lots of coffee, and do it all over again. 

Frolicking in snow showers

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Raise your cup to Veterans---coffee-fueled heroism has always been a ‘thing’

In honor of Veteran’s Day, many coffee chains, including Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, have been giving free coffee and coffee drinks to Veterans. This is just one way to show respect to these hard-working individuals, who have served our country faithfully. It may seem like a small gesture, but ask any military man or woman about coffee, and they will tell you that coffee is a HUGE deal when it comes being in the service---whether you’re on the battlefield, or in a supportive role. 

Coffee is the lifeblood for most demanding professions, from doctors, to traders, teachers, and construction crews---the day cannot start properly without a strong infusion of coffee.  Add to this list, soldiers and other military professionals, who drink coffee, frequently, in large amounts.

Coffee-obsessed Soldiers

 NPR aired a segment in 2016, which revealed that coffee was an obsession during the Civil War. In fact, according to Smithsonian curator, Jim Grinspin, during the Civil War, letters from soldiers mentioned coffee more than slavery, guns, or President Lincoln.  They droned on and on about the coffee they would have for breakfast.  Union men depended on it for every aspect of combat.

Confederate soldiers weren’t as lucky. When the war started, Union soldiers closed southern ports, meaning nothing could come in---not even coffee.  Indeed, coffee was a major competitive advantage for Union soldiers.

From one century to the next, coffee is front and center

Fast forward to the major wars of the 20th century---WW1 and WW2---and reliance on coffee only increased. During WW1 each soldier got 36 pounds of coffee, which they brewed with any water they could get---fresh water ideally, as well as brackish water, rain run-off, and even water from puddles.

And how about the 21st century? Coffee has been elevated even more in military life. In June, the U.S. Army did an analysis involving soldiers and coffee-drinking (caffeinated coffee), with the goal of determining the optimal amount of caffeine for a soldier. The article was published in the Journal of Sleep Research. The upshot: Researchers found that consuming an optimal amount of coffee/caffeine can increase soldiers’ level of alertness by 64%.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no more wars, where there would be soldiers craving coffee. That vision, however, is not grounded in reality. War is a persistent part of the human experience, unfortunately.  So given that reality, let’s hope that soldiers are getting the coffee they need, and enjoying every drop of it.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mystic seaport: Exploring the coffee-drinking habits of whalers

1871 was a fortuitous year in the United States.  In 1871, John Arbuckle and his team invented a machine that led to the mass production of coffee---a machine that could fill, weigh, seal and label coffee in paper bags.  While this was happening in New York City, the Charles W. Morgan commercial whaler was being completed in New Bedford, MA. At 106-feet long, with 7,100 square feet of sail, this massive, fully rigged whaler was a workhorse on the seas.

Why we care about whalers

In the fall, there’s nothing like a weekend getaway to look at the leaves, hike a few trails, and drink a lot of coffee. A recent trip to Mystic, CT, got me thinking about what life on a whaling ship would be like. Mystic Seaport Museum, which has been the permanent home of the Morgan since the early 1940’s, does a great job of bringing a reconstructed mid-19th-century New England whaling village to life.  

The Morgan is massive and visually impressive. You can board the boat and see the cargo hold for the whale blubber, the bunks, the galley, and even the captain's relatively lavish quarters. You can grab the wheel and make at steering the boat, while observing the catboats out on the water. 

As I explain in this video, life on a whaleship was tough, really tough, and there was inequality---but because of the intensity of the experience, the multicultural crews sought refuge in camaraderie, and together, they stoked their morning energy with copious amounts of hot coffee (which was sometimes referred to as dirty water, because of its makeup---but it did the trick). 

Over time, the coffee got better, as mass-produced coffee made it to the ports of New England in the mid 1800's. The coffee-fueled productivity of these crews drove the US economy; lamp light depended on whale blubber oil, and at the time, whale meat was part of a mainstay diet. 
At Bartleby's with E. (2018)

Henry Ward Beecher on the virtue of coffee

At around the same time, the reformist congregational clergyman and renowned abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, became minister of the Plymouth Church, located in what is now known as Brooklyn Heights. During that time, Stowe enthralled his congregants with reformist activism, a spirit of temperance, hard work---and a lusty appetite for coffee.  About coffee and its essential powers, he said:

"A cup of coffee---real coffee---home-browned, home ground, home-made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the lava: such a cup of coffee is a match for twenty blue devils and will exorcise them all.

Begone daily demons

Are we not exorcising demons when we will ourselves to productivity with the help of a cup of coffee? Yes, we are. There are many ways to be productive, including pursuing adventures during a weekend getaway---and then there's relaxing with a cup of coffee. During my weekend in Mystic, I carved out time to go to my favorite local coffee shop---Bartleby's Cafe. Bartleby's has been prominent in the Mystic coffeehouse scene since it opened almost 20 years ago. It's my local favorite for the last 10 years. It's all good---the people, the vibe, the setting and the art, and of course...the coffee. I also really like the peanut cookies and the BLTs.

So much of life is about finding balance, riding the waves and getting it done---but there's so much more to life than that. For me, drinking coffee while traveling is about making memories, feeling healthy and cherishing life. I can't wait for the next adventure! #drinkmorecoffee, #begrateful

Bartleby's (2010) with A. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A coffee-drinking workers’ paradise

Happy Labor Day!  The joy of Labor Day is its focus on pursuing leisure, enjoying the outdoors, and hanging out with friends and family---but Labor Day, like most things of value, was hard-won. It started as a municipal ordinance in the mid-1880’s, and slowly took hold as individual states passed laws celebrating Labor Day. Finally, in June 1884, the United States Congress passed a federal law making the first Monday of September an official holiday celebrating working people.

So what does Labor Day have to do with coffee? A lot it turns out.  Starting in the early 20th century, drinking coffee in the middle of the day became a major cause celebre for working people and the unions that represented them.

1900 was a very auspicious year for American workers. That was the year that the Hills Brothers Company introduced vacuum-packed coffee, making it possible for people to brew coffee at home, and even at work. However, even before coffee was mass-produced, it was consumed regularly, in coffee shops and homes, and used to stoke productivity and improve overall morale---so the coffee break has actually been around for as long as coffee has been around---but for a long time it wasn’t a legal right.   

The movement towards formalizing coffee breaks accelerated in 1952, when the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, a trade group, launched a campaign designed to popularize the coffee break, and create a new norm. The campaign pivoted on to-the-point advertising: “Give yourself a Coffee-Break---and Get What Coffee Gives You.” Apparently the campaign worked, or at least tapped into the national zeitgeist in which all types of workers---blue collar, white collar, domestic, and agricultural---looked forward to those moments in the day when they could have a nice, hot, healthy cup of coffee. Employers were into it too, because they noticed that productivity actually increased when they provided coffee onsite for their workers.

A big moment for coffee-break champions occurred in the mid-1960’s, when the large Detroit-based automakers negotiated 12-minute breaks with trade unions, whose workers were determined to not only have a coffee break, but to have time to sit down for a few minutes, drink their coffee, have a bite to eat---and maybe chat with a co-worker.

So it’s been a lovely Labor Day here in New Jersey. There’s been a lot of coffee, a lot of food, and no shortage of laughter.  The day was hot, the pool was cool, and the kids were happy---what more could you want.  Well, one thing I know I will want tomorrow morning when it’s time to go back to work is a huge cup of coffee---at home when I wake up, at work when I arrive, and throughout the day.  Coffee-drinkers of the world unite! Happy Labor Day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Drinking coffee in the land of fika and geothermal geysers

When it comes to drinking coffee, Icelanders are over-achievers.  They rank #3 in the world in terms of per capita consumption, with Finland and Norway taking the top 2 spots.  And although this small Nordic island country only has 350,000 people, there are cafes everywhere.  In fact, Iceland’s home-grown café scene is so robust that there is no need for Starbucks in Iceland.

Coffee permeates Iceland’s culture, affecting every aspect of life, from work, to play, to love. Although coffee didn’t come to Iceland until 1703 (very recently given the long, long history of Europe), by the mid-1700’s, virtually every household in Iceland had a coffee grinder and roaster. 

Coffee plays an important part in love rituals in Iceland. In a famous Icelandic novel, published in 1935 by Halldor Laxness, coffee-drinking took center stage.  This novel depicted the hard-scrabble life of Icelandic peasants, oppressed by debt-bondage and an inhospitable landscape. There were moments of sweetness, however, including a wedding scene in which everyone in attendance drank 5 cups of coffee each---what a celebration!

On the rugged shore near the Intercontinential Divide in Iceland.

Traditionally, women were judged by their ability to brew good coffee for their families---and even now, it is expected that if a visitor drops by, a cup of coffee will be forthcoming.  As a visitor to Iceland earlier this month, I experienced that wonderful ‘coffee hospitality.’ Icelandair serves amazing coffee. In our hotel in Keflavik, breakfast (which started at 4 am) was accompanied by unlimited coffee, and beautiful white ceramic cups---which were also highly functional and sufficiently large to limit the number of trips back and forth to the coffee counter.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the term ‘hygge,’ a Danish word that means ‘cozy, charming, and special.’ Well there is another Scandinavian term widely used in Iceland---Fika (fee-ka). Fika means ‘stop whatever you are doing and enjoy your coffee.’  It’s basically the northern European ‘coffee and cake’ tradition on steroids.

As summer wanes and fall approaches, I am prepping for a long season of hygge and fika with friends and family, and although I am not Icelandic, I am a coffee over-achiever and I know how to fika like a pro!

Learn more about the hygge and fika traditions here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Drinking coffee at a British pub

According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), there are 10,500 pubs in the U.K.  Pubs are an important part of British culture. They are known for their warmth, coziness, and camaraderie, as well as their drink and menu of savory foods, including ‘pies,’ chips, burgers, salads, and rich, deeply satisfying desserts.

 I don’t really go to pubs very often (though I remember going to some nice ones several times when I was a student at Middlebury). However, during a recent trip, I decided that when in London, one must experience British pub life. I simply concluded that while I could happily spend all my time at cafés, I didn’t want to miss out on such an iconic experience. 

I chose Warwick Arms, located at 160 Warwick St. in Kensington, because it was close to my hotel and had an interesting twist (which I will get to later).  It did not disappoint. The interior was welcoming and warm, outfitted with leather tufted chairs, wooden tables, and a fireplace.

Warwick Arms has a menu full of options---traditional British pub food, drink, North Indian curry (who knew?), and COFFEE. That’s right---coffee! I was so excited, and boy was I hungry after a hard day’s work of being a tourist---walking, visiting the British museum, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and contemplating the fact that Stephen Hawking was recently buried at Westminster Abbey between Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Pubs are not for dieters, and when you go, you must be prepared to be tempted by all of the appetizing options. I had a chicken saag dish, a few sips of my friend’s rosé, a heaping portion of naan, and  A LOT of coffee. The entire meal was super-delish and surprisingly affordable. 

I ended up paying roughly $40 for 2 large entrees, a starter dish, and a lot of coffee---an amazing deal found right in the heart of London(!) Pubs are not only a great value, but they are a perfect setting for a nice night out. Wouldn’t have missed this for anything!

Check out my vlog review here:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Summer Nights at MOMA

In the summer, Thursday nights at MOMA are dedicated to listening to music in the Sculpture Garden. Last Thursday the featured group was OSHUN, two young women, who create Afro-futuristic music that combines hip hop, R&B, acoustic harmonizing, heavy drum and bass, and EDM. (If you listen carefully, you might just hear woven-in samples from 90’s conscious hip hop groups, like Tribe Called Quest).

The garden was abuzz with Afropunk aficionados, the after-work crowd, beautiful people with big afros, MOMA members---and random people like us, who love MOMA and enjoy drinking coffee when we’re there. 

Thandiwe and Niambi Sala are recent NYU graduates, who chose the name OSHUN for its multifaceted meaning. Oshun is a West African deity---a goddess, also known as an orisha, who is the deity of fresh water, luxury, love, destiny, divination, pleasure, and sexuality. She is revered as the goddess of the Osun River in Nigeria. Their goal is to channel “the spirit of their ancestors in order to manifest a sweeter tomorrow for us all.”

Check out “Parts” released earlier this year. 

I don't often come just for music. In fact, when I come to MOMA, I come mainly for art. For me, the Sculpture Garden, with its sculptures and landscaping, is magical. One of my favorites is Picasso’s “She-Goat.” Picasso created She-goat (she may be pregnant) from discarded materials---scraps of metal, palm fronds, ceramic shards, and more. The goat's belly and rib cage were created from a wicker basket, while her udders were fashioned from two ceramic jugs.

There are several compelling exhibits at MOMA now, including one focused on Yugoslavian architecture from 1948 to 1980---a period in which brutalism in architecture was all the rage. Brutalism is derived from the word “raw” which in French translates as “brute.” 

If you’ve ever seen large concrete, multi-storied buildings that at first glance seem artless and oversized, you’ve seen brutalist architecture. Contrary to this reaction, brutalism was used by architects to create transformative housing, with gardens in the back, and functional space for lots of people---a democratizing force.

If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

In the meantime, I’ll be traveling and trying to get in a few more beach days. Keep drinking coffee...and make sure to check out that exhibit you've been wanting to see--summer is almost over. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Friendship, Fireworks and Fair Trade Coffee

What do you think of when you think of July 4th? Parades, fireworks, fun in the sun, lots of barbecue and grilled veggies---and fair trade coffee.  Why not?

This year, the friends who hosted me and my family served up an amazing spread (as usual) replete with grilled lamb and chicken, hot dogs, grilled veggies, and roasted potatoes. I brought a vegan cake (from Asia B) and grapefruit San Pelligrino. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we swam in the saltwater pool, and then we ate more. Finally, it was time for coffee---but I was shocked to learn that everything, even Starbucks, was closed. (Gasp…what could we do?)

As it turned out the only option was to “brew” a coffee pod in an old-model Keurig---and I was happy to have it. The coffee was brewed in a large cup…and it was delicious.

At first, to me, it was just another box of k-cups---until I tasted it.  The coffee was an organic French Roast from the Rogers Family Company, a San Francisco-based company that has been around for 3 generations.  Not only was the coffee organic and delicious, but it was also a proprietary Fair Trade coffee.

What is Fair Trade and why does it matter?
The term Fair Trade has been buzzy for a while now, but behind Fair Trade-certified labeling, there is a history that has altered the course of hundreds of thousands of lives of coffee farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean---and the communities they live in.

In 1962, the Coffee Study Group, convened by the United Nations, drafted the International Coffee Agreement, which made it possible for the International Coffee Association to regulate the price of coffee---basically to keep coffee prices at a certain level by not allowing the market to be glutted.

Like all commodities, the cost of coffee is subject to wild fluctuations, due to weather events---such as frost, or supply increases due to coffee farmers implementing innovative technologies. So maintaining a base level price over the years has been difficult.

Buying fair trade coffee helps whole communities

In 1988, things hit an impasse when the global supply of coffee grew exponentially, while demand remained steady---threatening the ICA’s goals to maintain a livable wage for coffee farmers. That’s when a Dutch organization, Max Havelaar, create the “Fair Trade” label, a form of certification for coffee grown in certain conditions, under specific provisions. Since the initial introduction of Fair Trade, standards and provisions have been updated. The latest update, in 2007, integrated provisions for improving the standard of living for coffee farmers.

Elements of fair trade include purchasing directly through a democratically organized farmer-owned co-op—with no middleman; establishing a “floor” price for the coffee purchased through a fair trade agreement; credit for coffee farmers extended by importers; and certification from a certifying organization—with importers and wholesalers covering the cost of certification. And finally, there is the consumer-facing fair-certified product labeling. This labeling communicates to consumers that this coffee was fairly traded.

Lazy summer days
The truth is that the Roger’s Company’s Organic French Roast (k-cup) is good, although I wasn't expecting very much from a k-cup brewed in a retro machine---but, I was a person in need of a cup of coffee. What a nice surprise: It tasted like a well-vetted French roast; so good that I had three more cups. A perfect drink for a somewhat lazy, very fun, summer holiday with friends.

My friend, Elina, had some as well. We had a great time extolling the virtues of this coffee (and Elina is quite frankly hilarious).  Take a look at our video. Hope you're having a great summer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Birthday musings: My lifelong love affair with caffeine

Because my birthday is at the end of May, I usually end up celebrating on Memorial Day weekend, as I did this year.  I have been drinking coffee since I was 15, and have always loved coffee with cake. This year, my birthday cake, a vegan cake made by Asia Bullock, owner of Asia B’s Sweet Treats, was a 3-layer yellow cake with chocolate icing---à la vintage Betty Crocker.  It was my dream cake.

When I tasted the cake it reminded me of when the kids in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (written by C.S. Lewis & published in 1950 as part of the Chronicles of Narnia series) first tried Turkish delight, a traditional starchy confection, made with powdered sugar and rosewater, which was rendered magical in the story. The cake was so good, so sublime, and so otherworldly that the only way to make it better (at least for me) was with coffee.

My friends and I celebrated at Trend Coffee and Tea House, which has become Montclair, NJ’s go-to coffee hot-spot, with a schedule of musicians performing live, a burgeoning sip-and- paint scene upstairs, and amazing coffee, espresso, sandwiches and soup----against the backdrop of the charming locale, a house that was built in 1860, replete with large square-pane bay windows, seating nooks,  high ceilings, vintage book shelves, original art, and an airy, lofty sense of openness. It was a gray, wet, early summer day, and it was perfect. The coffee flowed, the kids played, the adults laughed a lot, and there was singing and gift-giving.

Gifted with coffee superpowers
Speaking of gift-giving, my favorite surprise this year was gifted to me by my very talented writer-colleague, Jess, who shares my love of coffee --- “Coffee Gives me Superpowers,” written by Ryoko Iwata, who lives in Seattle and blogs at “I heart coffee”, arrived via mail courtesy of Amazon on the day before my birthday.

There have been a lot of books and articles written about every aspect of coffee, but this book approached the topic of coffee from a different angle. “Coffee Gives me Superpowers” is a compendium of coffee-related facts presented in infographic format---served up with a heaping dose of humor.

Iwata covers it all---from brewing, to health benefits, to coffee culture, coffee personality types, and an overview of the language for espresso-based drinks. Did you know, for example, that people who take their coffee black are “straightforward, quiet, moody minimalists,” according to Iwata. Also, black coffee is calorie-free, ‘makes you poop,’ and is not good to drink in early pregnancy. Norway is the #1 coffee-drinking country in the world in per capita terms, Washington state is the #1 coffee-drinking state in the U.S., and Arkansas has the lowest per capita coffee consumption in the U.S.
It was a tough decision, but overall, if I had to choose a favorite chapter it would be “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Caffeine.”
Nicole & Jess (at work function)

The unthinkable—life without caffeine
Globally, 90% of all people use caffeine in some form, making it the most widely used, depended-upon drug in the world. In fact, coffee fueled the Industrial Revolution and helped create the basis for ‘the   productive workday.’

If access to caffeine suddenly disappeared, the world as we know it would cease to exist. Planes would crash, businesses would shutter, children would not be sent off to school on time, if at all, economies would falter and crumble, and people everywhere would descend into deep depression and hysterical madness.

The ultimate muse
Caffeine really is a drug---and it can be deadly, but honestly in terms of coffee, it would be very difficult to overdose.  On average, a cup of brewed coffee has between 95 mg and 200 mg of caffeine (compared to Red Bull, which has between 76 mg and 80 mg).

A lethal dose of caffeine is between 10 and 20 grams, which translates into 5 gallons of coffee. However, not surprisingly, you can now buy pure, unadulterated, concentrated caffeine online. Earlier this month, the FDA sent warning letters to two companies that sell highly concentrated caffeine products. 

The decaf myth

According to a news release from FDA, a 16-ounce package of a product from, which sells pure powdered caffeine and liquid caffeine, contains enough caffeine to be lethal. This leads me to ask, “Why not just drink coffee? Why risk death? What’s the point?”
And what about decaf? Many coffee-lovers say ‘why bother?’ when confronted with the notion of decaf coffee, but decaf coffee has its place. However, even in its commercially decaffeinated state, coffee contains numerous antioxidants and health-giving properties. But here’s one thing, I absolutely didn’t know. Decaffeinated coffee does have some caffeine it, roughly 8.6 mg to 13.9 mg—less than 10% of the standard dose in a normal 8-ounce cup of coffee.

While it doesn’t have the thermogenic, fat-burning effects associated with caffeinated coffee, decaf also decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disease, many different types of cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and suicide.

Image result for health benefits of caffeine

Time marches on

 Another ‘did-you-know’ caffeine fact: When you consume coffee, it takes 20 minutes for the effects of the caffeine to kick in, and those effects can last anywhere from 8 to 14 hours. Having celebrated another birthday, there’s one thing I’m sure of. Time marches on, new players come on stage, the drumbeat of life is constant, and the need for caffeine is daily. 

Caffeine truly is the gift that keeps giving. Make sure you have your daily dose of coffee—and enjoy the beginning of summer 2018!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Coffee, acrylamide, and the cult of false-equivalence

It seems the anti-science movement has gained some momentum lately, as lawmakers, disdainful of evidence-backed data, make decisions that are at best stupid, and at worse, harmful to public health.
Such is the case with the pending judicial decision in California, related to Prop 65, which would require coffee sellers to post warnings about the fact that coffee contains acrylamide---which according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is a probable carcinogen in humans. Note that this conclusion is based on studies involving rats mega-dosed with acrylamide in controlled pre-clinical studies.

Acrylamide Schmahilatide
What exactly is acrylamide? According to the American Cancer Society, acrylamide is a chemical byproduct of frying, baking, or roasting certain starchy foods at high temps (microwaving and boiling don’t produce acrylamide). Not only is acrylamide found in roughly 40% of all calories consumed by humans, it is also found in cigarette smoke and some adhesives and packaging materials.

In 1986, California lawmakers implemented Proposition 65, which requires the state to keep a list of harmful chemicals that could lead to cancer, reproductive harm, or birth defects. There are at least 1,000 chemicals on that list, including alcohol, which, according to Prop 65, causes cancer and birth defects; bisphenol A; mercury; and lead.  Here is a comprehensive list.

As for food and beverages, the highest amounts of acrylamide can be found in French fries, chips, roasted asparagus, roasted nuts, prune juice, toast, breakfast cereal—and coffee. However, real-world evidence just doesn’t support the idea that eating asparagus and nuts, while drinking coffee, gives you cancer.

The cult of false equivalence—alcohol, cannabis, and coffee
In contrast to coffee, which has been shown in well-designed, meta-analyses to increase human lifespan, alcohol is the second leading cause of death in the world. Its consumption is responsible for 15% of all breast cancer, and largely responsible for most head, neck, throat, and liver cancers, as well as other cancers, and cirrhosis. But the headlines don’t scream about alcohol the way they do about coffee.

In my opinion, there are 3 main reasons: First of all, the alcohol industry has formidable leverage and power, second, heavy drinkers (more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men is considered heavy drinking, but moderate consumption is considered okay) are loathe to admit that their addiction to alcohol could be the reason they are sick, or the reason they die prematurely, and third, there is a long history of demonizing coffee and equating its consumption with that of alcohol and cigarettes.  This is called false equivalence.

False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two completely different things appear to be logically equivalent even if they are not. As science has fallen by the wayside under the current administration, false equivalence has become a common way of arguing. “Hey, that guy got cancer from drinking too much alcohol, or that lady got raped when she left the bar drunk with some random guy…Well guess what, marijuana is ILLEGAL (in many places), so when you smoke a lot you won’t die or even get sick, but you could get arrested—unless you have cancer, in which case you can use it legally and therapeutically, along with your coffee. So it’s the same thing. Right? ”

Why does coffee continue to get a bad rap?
Over the years, despite efforts to demonize coffee, attributing to it an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and even impotence and sexual deviousness, twenty-first-century science has shown that it decreases the risk of numerous cancers, as well as neurologic diseases, stroke, and obesity, as discussed in a peer-reviewed article in the New England Journal of Medicine

You can even see it playing out in politics. When racist incidents that happened in Starbucks went viral, people were ready to boycott and write Starbucks off as a big, behemoth, racist corporation (the case involving the two young men in Philadelphia has since been resolved; Starbucks is way ahead of the curve with this issue).

But go to any inner-city African-American neighborhood---liquor ads everywhere, and not a peep from many of the same folks who are telling everyone to ‘stay woke’ and boycott Starbucks, all the while continuing to drink their lives away. Who cares about the extremely racist implications of alcohol advertising in residential neighborhoods? After all, it’s much easier to keep people down with enough alcohol, television, and junk food—keep ‘em fat, happy, and drunk. But Starbucks---OMG, be careful….they want to fill you with caffeine and (gasp) you may even get some ambition. And if Starbucks moves into your neighborhood, then what? (Increased property values…how dare they.)

False equivalence can kill you---so don’t worry about the red herring of acrylamide warnings on coffee.  Drink up. Happy spring to all of my coffee-drinking brothers and sisters everywhere!