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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Suddenly Sunny! Coffee Decreases the Risk of Skin Cancer (and More)

Happy spring! The weather has morphed from on-the-verge-of-one-more blizzard to feels-like-summer-during-the-daytime weather. The sun is shining. There are even a few people sporting sun visors and Vera Bradley sun hats.

Spring means renewal---and a desire to get away from the same old, same old.  For years, I’ve been ruminating on the many benefits of coffee. The fact that coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants in the American diet (we absorb the antioxidants in coffee more readily than fruits and vegetables) and that it significantly decreases the risk of Parkinson’s disease, depression, liver disease and type 2 diabetes. It also makes you smarter, less depressed and a better athlete. 

We know that: NEXT!

So here’s the news---speaking of fashionable, uber-chic visors and sun hats: Drinking coffee decreases the risk of skin cancer in women, according to a study from Harvard University. In a 20-year-study of 112,000 people, women who drunk at least 3 cups of coffee per day were much less likely to develop skin cancer. 

Get ready for summer…It’s coming! And enjoy the spring holidays! Chag Sameach! Happy Easter!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The 5th Annual MLK Coffee Drinking Party: Civil Rights and Coffee--Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (What a Party it Was!)

On Sunday, January 19th, 2014, we hosted our 5th annual MLK Coffee-Drinking Party. (MLK, Jr. loved coffee and was a regular coffee-drinker.) Five years seems like a long time, certainly long enough to create a tradition in a community like Montclair, New Jersey. But when you think about long-standing traditions, you should think about coffee. Coffee has been part of the human experience since the 9th century when, according to the legend, an Ethiopian goat-herder “discovered” coffee beans after observing his goats eating them and becoming unusually active. By the 1400’s, coffee beans were being cultivated and roasted on the Arabian Peninsula, and by the 1600’s, regular coffee consumption was part of life in Europe and New York.

Coffee and Civil Rights—Two Old, Cherished Traditions

Now think about Civil Rights. Think beyond the United States for a moment. What are civil rights? Civil rights are secular human rights that guarantee legal, social and economic equality. The quest for these rights is as old as the human experience. There have always been people who found themselves in unfair, unjust situations, who sought to align their outer circumstances with their inborn inner dignity. Coffee drinking/civil rights are very old traditions. Just as, by comparison, drinking coffee in the United States and being able to celebrate the victories of the US Civil Rights Movement (The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorized federal action against segregation in public places; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968) are both relatively new.

For us, and the people at our party, and lots of other people, celebrating MLK Day and the American Civil Rights Movement continues to be an important “tradition”---a cultural touchstone, worth acknowledging---a holiday that particularly resonates in a place like Montclair (for a number of reasons, the photos themselves tell an important part of our story). It also reminds us that there is more work to do here in the United States to further advance socioeconomic and racial equality.

Coffee, Cocoa...and Wine

Now back to the party: Every year, more and more people come. The goal is to always make room for more. This year, about 55 people got together to drink coffee, hot chocolate, tea, wine or seltzer—and eat sweet and savory treats.  People came, they went, it snowed, we had fun and the kids played. Toddlers dressed up in tutus, while tweens danced around with Wii joysticks. Everyone enjoyed the jazz. Once again, there were zucchini cookies (thanks Shannon!) and amazing brownies, really good savory treats, and gluten-free and vegan options as well. Though many of the same people come each year, this year there were new people, which made it more festive and even more interesting.  It was the usual diverse assortment of writers, editors, lawyers, educators, I.T. professionals, fitness enthusiasts, Wall Street executives, business people, volunteers and creatives. Lots of parents, some not parents. Some people born and raised in Montclair, some from other parts of the country, many from NYC (mainly Brooklyn or the UWS), and many Montclairians who came by way of Italy, Ghana, Russia, Israel, Romania, or Hong Kong. And though we went quite late, everyone was out by 11:30. The next morning (which normally would be reserved for spin or yoga classes, or family walks) was a no-holds-barred day for volunteering as part of a newly evolving MLK Day tradition in Montclair called Day ON.

 The party was not political---after all the politics that led to the party had mainly happened before most of us at the party were born. We were there to drink coffee, to honor a tradition and to express our gratitude, which we did by holding up our cups in honor of Dr. King and taking photographs. Thanks to the efforts of eighth grader, Noah Gale, who made the “Thank you, Dr. King!” poster this year, we had lots of visual reminders of Mr. King surrounding us. Most parties here in Montclair tend to be easygoing, light, fun affairs---the hard work around the issue of diversity, inclusion and ‘civil rights’ is done in the classrooms, where our children are taught; in the township council; in editorial offices in NYC and here in town; in local real estate offices; and at dinner tables and during quiet moments when no one is looking. The hard work is a day-in, day-out grappling with a reality that doesn’t easily bend to symbolism. The hard work is done not only here, but everywhere, wherever there is work to be done—by those willing to do it.

Civil Rights and Coffee Cups For All

Now for a bit of honesty: To our children, the Civil Rights tradition feels very ‘traditional,’ mainly because they are so young. Yet, they somehow seem to get it, most likely because their teachers are young and dynamic and able to contemporize the Civil Rights story for them. It’s important that they understand the reality that the civil rights “issue” is ongoing, always relevant and never ending----and there are many, many “issues.”

In a world, in a nation, that is increasingly global and truly multinational, the African American Civil Rights movement is quintessentially American and rooted in the 20st century (with earlier roots that go back to the 17th century and the beginning of American slavery). Lack of civil rights is a daily reality for millions of people worldwide. Their struggle is just as profound as our struggle. In fact, human slavery thrives now as much as it ever did. According to the Global Slavery Index, 21 million people worldwide are living as slaves, meaning they are either in a forced labor situation, in debt bondage or living as sexual slaves. Many of those affected are children. Of the 60,000 slaves in the United States, the largest percentage are 12- to 14-year-olds who are being used as sex slaves, because of their youth, vulnerability and sheer attractiveness to the adults who buy them.  For more information about global slavery, please visit:

Thanks to everyone who came this year…and to those of you who wanted to, but couldn’t. Coffee connects people and cultures, and in the process, reinforces a sense of community, personal dignity and well-being. Looking forward to next year---and looking forward to a time when our children will be able to raise their cups not only to Martin Luther King, Jr., but also to other leaders who successfully help bring civil rights to others here and everywhere else who struggle daily for their human dignity.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Red-Letter Day for Coffee Drinkers--Consolidate Your Memory and Hydrate with Coffee

January 13, 2014 was a red-letter day for coffee drinkers!

Two major health-related stories were widely reported, starting with news (published in Nature Neuroscience) that caffeine enhances “memory consolidation.” Although there have been lots of studies showing that coffee is a cognitive enhancer, there has never been a study in which study participants were asked to memorize something without the benefit of coffee, take caffeine after the memorization activity--- and then perform at a later date….until now.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University got 160 people between the ages of 18 and 30 to look at pictures of various things (ducks, etcetera) and to identify them as either “indoor” or “outdoor” objects. Shortly after this task, the participants received either a placebo tablet or a 200-mg caffeine pill. Then they left. 24 hours later, everyone was back at the study site looking at the same pictures.

The goal was to determine whether the pictures were old, new or the same. The people who had consumed caffeine after looking at the pictures the previous day were better at determining which ones were the same. The important takeaway here is that you can consolidate memories you want to retain by drinking coffee AFTER you hear something, read something or see something. Very interesting…

How does that work? Well, one hypothesis from the researchers is adenosine blockade (the same mechanism responsible for preventing fatigue). For more information about that, please see the Nature Neuroscience article.

Another Coffee Myth Bites the Dust…

In 1928, a study demonstrated caffeine’s diuretic effect, but that study was never validated. So 86 years later (in 2014), researchers at the University of Birmingham in England decided to test how caffeine impacts hydration status by conducting a switchover study on 50 men. (Women were excluded from this study, because menstrual cycles affect water balance.) 

In this switchover study, some men drank 4 cups of coffee a day for 3 days, while others drank 4 cups of water a day for 3 days. After a 10-day wash-out period, they switched from coffee to water and vice versa. The researchers tested hydration status throughout by looking at body mass, total body water, and blood and urine tests. They found that caffeine did not alter hydration status. Drinking coffee contributed to hydration as much as water….Surprise!

So if you’re thirsty, looking for energy and interested in being healthy, drinking coffee just makes sense---and it tastes good too! If you want to remember everything you've read in this post, have a cup of coffee....then you can consolidate these ideas more easily. Comments are welcome!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Want to Achieve Your Goals in 2014? Don’t Stop Drinking Coffee

One source of joy at the beginning of a new year is the sense that we get a clean slate. A chance to be kinder, work harder, to fulfill dreams and be healthier.

And while a common resolution to break bad habits (things like cigarette smoking, binge eating, hoarding, drinking too much and regretting it later, watching too much reality television, being overly engaged in social media at the expense of everything else…), you should not stop drinking coffee in 2014 (unless of course there is a compelling medical reason).

The Health Benefits of Coffee

 Drinking coffee not only significantly decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cirrhosis, and depression, but it is packed with antioxidants. Plus coffee is a good source of B vitamins. One serving of coffee contains 6% of the RDA of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), which supports the adrenal gland and functions as an anti-stress supplement. The same cup of coffee also provides 11% of the RDA of vitamin B2, which supports metabolic function, making our ability to digest proteins, carbs and fats more efficient. When you think about it, having a cup of coffee in the morning (hold the sugar and high-fat dairy creamers and milk) is like having a serving of vegetables.

 Want to be more productive, alert of cognitively prepared? Want to burn calories more quickly? Drink coffee. Want to be part of a vibrant coffee-drinking community? You know what to do…

Bringing in the New Year with a Group of Coffee-Drinking Friends

Drinking coffee is an anywhere, anytime, go-to activity that brings a sense of instant companionship. On New Year’s Eve, as we waited for the countdown to 2014, I drank half a glass of wine and then got up the nerve to ask my hosts for a cup of coffee. The hostess happily started brewing coffee and putting out mugs and saucers, while her husband offered a (surprisingly) delicious vanilla soy creamer. Our small group of celebrants emptied the pot in less than 20 minutes, as we chatted. We were warm and stimulated and buffeted against the below-zero temps outdoors.

 Twenty minutes before the ball dropped, we did what millions of others were doing. We descended to the basement, sat on comfy sofas and channel-switched back and forth between NBC, FOX and CBS, watching as Ryan Seacrest smiled jauntily next to various beautiful women. Our young children pranced around in oversized 2014 sunglasses as glitter dropped all over the carpet.

 Finally, it was time. 5,4,3,2,1---we swigged our champagne, hugged and kissed, and hung out a bit longer to watch Mariah Carey sing. It truly was a happy new year, full of good friends, good wine and champagne---and exceptionally good coffee.

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Coffee Rust Threatens Coffee Farmers Across Central America

                Two months into the start of a new coffee-growing season, coffee rust is still destroying coffee crops and the dreams of coffee farmers hoping for a better harvest than last year. Coffee rust is a fungus that shows up as yellow patches on coffee leaves. It attacks the leaves and reduces the plant’s ability to feed itself. As a result, the coffee fruit will never mature and the harvest will be lost.

                Predictably, this has an impact on coffee prices, but more important, it can literally force farmers into poverty and leave them and their families hungry. In mid-2013, 437,000 coffee farmers were affected across Central America, including farmers in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador and Honduras---the largest coffee grower in the region.

                One positive exception has been Colombia, which actually saw a 26% increase in its national coffee yield year over year. The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia developed a coffee rust-resistant plant strain and farmers planted it. It worked. Now---that technology needs to be transferred to other countries and other coffee farms.

                For coffee farmers like Ernestina Martinez, a widowed mother of 8, who successfully started her own farm several years ago and painstakingly got production up to 4 metric tons, the carnage of the rust-plant fungus has been harrowing. She destroyed the harvest and is looking for Plan B. She is mournful of what’s lost, but determined to keep growing.

                Part of enjoying coffee and all of the good health, productivity and contentment it brings is being aware of where it’s grown, who’s growing it and what hardships they face. Let’s hope this growing season brings a resurgence of yield and prosperity for Ernestina Martinez and her peers!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jazz and Coffee, Coffee and Jazz. Alive and Well at the Jazz Standard. And Everywhere Else too.

Jazz is alive and well and living in New York City---and in San Francisco---and in Paris, and in the other places I love to be... Likewise, wherever you happen to be, you will most likely tell me that jazz is right there, where you are, living and breathing, and attracting devoted followers, who often feel passionate beyond words when they hear the opening strains of “Freddie Freeloader” by Miles Davis, or “My Favorite Things,” by John Coltrane, or maybe “A Waltz for Debby,” by Bill Evans.

So it was, recently, on an October night at Jazz Standard right on 27th Street….I was there with someone very nice, listening to the Vijay Ayer Trio, and enjoying the music of this 42-year-old MacArthur Fellow, who along with his trio creates music thoroughly within the tradition of classical jazz, with a sense of brand new energy that makes you want to drink wine and coffee at the same time…so you can wake up your senses in every possible way to drink their music in all night long. 

D.C. Dowdell, a San Diego-based jazz pianist and teacher has said, “Jazz goes into my coffee in the morning, and in my wine at night.” Fourteen words of poetry expressing the love of jazz, coffee, and even wine, in a way that totally captures the exhilaration of the experience of drinking coffee (and wine) and listening to music that holds so many souls captive with its sheer beauty and ever-changing majesty.

Jazz Standard is located at 116 East 27th in NYC. The closest subway line is the 4/5/6, though you can get there other ways. World-class performers play classic jazz, funk and R&B, with performances every night of the week. There is a barbecue restaurant upstairs called Blue Smoke, renowned for its smoked dishes and sweet potato fries. However, food, drinks, dessert and coffee are also served in the club. The coffee is really good---as is the wine, the food, and especially the dessert (thumbs up to the pumpkin-ginger cake). Reservations are required.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Drinking Coffee, Alone Together, at the Whitney Museum

Drinking coffee late at night is a time-honored tradition for coffee-drinkers and a rite of passage for most ambitious young people, who pull their first all-nighter in high school. There is evidence of coffee-drinking in Edward Hoppers’s 1942 oil-on-canvas painting, “Nighthawks.” This famous painting was on view in early fall at the Whitney as part of a major exhibition that surveyed the drawings and paintings of Edward Hopper, while focusing on how he developed his work, conceptually and artistically, from idea, to drawing, to revision, to painting.

“Nighthawks” which portrays four people in a late-night diner, situated on the corner of three intersecting streets in the West Village, pays homage to urban anomie, personal freedom---and late-night coffee-drinking.

And while Hopper’s ability to masterfully present light and illumination is on full display in this painting, rife with shades of maroon, taupe, and chestnut brown—with a dab of bright red and canary yellow---it is the seeming aloneness of the individual diner-dwellers that is most striking.

Look at those clean cut people sitting alone, apparently ruminating on who knows what. Presumably the coffee they are drinking only serves to make them more wakeful, thoughtful and potentially ready for action. But indeed, all of the action it seems is internal---and in the flush of light humming down from the backlit expanse of the diner’s ceiling.

What is it about this painting that feels timeless and evokes a sense of recognition from almost everyone who sees it? Clearly, it is the innate knowledge and sense that it is possible to be alone and together at the same time. 

While at the Whitney a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a skim latte. It was well made, nicely served and energizing. But what really made it special was the big LOVE sign that graced the entrance/exit of the Whitney---in homage to the Robert Indiana exhibit, which is still at the Whitney as this post is written.

And finally, one more reason to love coffee and appreciate its health benefits. A recent study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that the average metabolic rate of people who drink caffeinated coffee is 16 percent higher than those who drank decaf. So really, when it comes down to drinking coffee at the Whitney, you have the chance to be metabolically boosted, artistically edified---and maybe even happy alone/together.