Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The World is Our Village---Coffee is the Elixir of Joy and Prosperity---Happy New Year

Where would we be without coffee? There’s a reason that it’s a cultural icon. During the winter months, coffee takes on an even more vital role. It energizes us, warms us, and can even decrease inflammation in the body---that’s because of its ability to decrease insulin and uric acid levels in the body over the short-term, according to an article published in Arthritis and Rheumatism.


That’s why we all take it so seriously. Turns out that folks at Villa Vosilla in the Catskill Mountains are very serous about coffee consumption, as is Maggie, owner of the Krooked Café in Tannersville. While hanging out at Villa Vosilla, I experienced coffee-related kindness around the clock. In the morning, we were offered a carafe full of coffee to take back to our rooms while we dressed for a day on the slopes. Later, during the après-ski, pre-dinner, post-appetizer phase of the day, I requested darker coffee than I originally got—and to my utter delight Bart the waiter showed up with dark, steaming hot, completely aromatic Italian coffee. Later on, he brought more coffee—and canoli to boot. (Thank you, Bart!)


But, the real surprise came from Maggie’s coffee. The Krooked Café is a Main Street must-visit, with a full menu and the most amazing coffee ever! Plus, she has skim milk. Beyond the coffee, there is the art that hangs on the wall. It literally captures the exuberance of the Hunter region and the tremendous amount of creativity, idealism, and sheer technical prowess that characterizes the people who make their homes there.



Finally, stepping away from Hunter for a bit (though the snow falling outside is beckoning us back…), I’d like to give a shout-out to One Village Coffee. It's an amazing story! A group of people in Pennsylvania went to Nigeria, created a team, and started a roasting company. Their commitment to helping a community in Nigeria was extended to their ongoing work in Honduras and Egypt. They are literally making good on their resolution to transform communities through business. Everything started to unfold in 2007 when Steve Hackman (President/CEO) and Scott Hackman (Sales Director) and their team met Bala, a local coffee farmer, in Nigeria. Bala was determined to use his coffee farm to bring jobs, education, and income to his village. Steve and Scott were determined to create positive change, so they worked with Bala to start a specialty roasting company---and WOW, is the coffee amazing!


About the coffee: It’s dark, smooth, without any bite or aftertaste. It’s mellow and invigorating at the same time. It plays on the palate on its own, or with a sweet or savory treat. Please try One Village---and while you’re at it, think of Steve, Scott, Bala, their friends and family, and all of our coffee-growing brothers and sisters around the world.


When the clock strikes midnight, I will be drinking coffee in the company of those I love most.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blogging Against Hunger

I would like to use this post today not to talk about coffee, but to talk about hunger---or rather to use this as yet another forum to participate in a blogging against hunger campaign. Everyone deserves a good, nutritious meal.

Please see below:

Hillside, N.J., Nov. 11, 2008 – Legendary music icon Bruce Springsteen will be lending his voice to the fight against hunger in New Jersey by appearing in a major advertising campaign for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey – the largest food bank in the state. With bare shelves and demand for food among state residents far outpacing supply, the FoodBank is in danger of being unable to meet the needs of New Jersey’s hungry. Consumers are encouraged to visit www.njfoodbank.org or call 908-355-FOOD (3663) to learn how they can help


Also, here is a really cool fact sheet giving us every bit of info we need to know about what is going on with the foodbanks in NJ. Please check it out and help if you can.



Community FoodBank of New Jersey

Fact Sheet



Statistics on Hunger

· More than 35 million Americans, including 12 million children, either live with or are on the verge of hunger. - USDA, Household Food Security in the United States, 2006



* The number of families coming to churches and food banks trying to get help to feed their families has increased approximately 20 percent. - National Anti-Hunger Organizations, 2008 Blueprint to End Hunger



* According to a recent survey, 6 percent of Americans said they or someone in their immediate family has gone to bed hungry in the past month because they could not afford enough food. - 2008 Hormel Hunger Survey



* One out of every five New Jersey families does not earn enough to afford the basic necessities – housing, food and child care – although 85 percent of these households have at least one family member who is working. – Poverty Research Institute, June 2008



* In New Jersey alone, an estimated 250,000 new clients will be seeking sustenance this year from the state’s food banks. – “No Food on the table,” By Judy Peet, The Star-Ledger, Oct. 23, 2008



Statistics on the Plight of the CFBNJ

* At the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), requests for food have gone up 30 percent, but donations are down by 25 percent. - CFBNJ



* Warehouse shelves that are typically stocked with food are bare and supplies have gotten so low that, for the first time in its 25 year history, the food bank is developing a rationing mechanism. - CFBNJ



History of the CFBNJ

* What was to become the Community FoodBank of New Jersey began when founder and Executive Director, Kathleen DiChiara, began distributing groceries out of the trunk of her car in 1976.



* The Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), a member of Feeding America, fights hunger and poverty by the distribution of food and grocery products, by education and training, by creating new programs to meet the needs of low-income people, and by involving all sectors of society in this battle.



* In 1982, the FoodBank was incorporated.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Highbrow, Lowbrow and Points In Between: Coffee Connects Us All

Comfort, reassurance, respite…all of those lovely words represent the very best things. These much sought-after states assume that many, many things are ok. But does that assumption hold? How about the dynamic minute-to-minute quality that life can have? Life can be simultaneously dynamic and restful. Things can be ok, even when they are not. No where is that tension as evident as when people are sitting down together over a cup of coffee.

Coffee is the common creature comfort that unites everyone across all divides. Two examples: a scene from the New Yorker and a small snippet of dialogue from an episode of E.R., a long-windy program that is finally wrapping up after 10 years (or is it 11) of relentless, hospital-based drama on NBC.

Writing in the 12/08/08 issue of the New Yorker, Jenny Allen fixates on coffee during her trip to someone's country house as a guest. Her Shouts & Murmurs piece entitled "I Have to Go Now" captures the panic of being in someone's home and not knowing important things. In this case, it's where to find the coffee and how to make it in someone else's kitchen while they're still sleeping. She says gamely, "I should be able to come in here and find the things I need to make coffee all in one place , and within a few minutes gurgling, coffeemaking sounds and that exciting coffee smell will start coming out of the coffeemaker..."

Finally, she finds the coffeemaker, that is, as she writes, not like a coffeemaker at all. But then there's the problem of findng the filters and deciding whether the coffee she finds--- a can of Cafe du Monde from New Orleans--- is the day-to-day coffee or special coffee that the host is saving for some private, special occasion. In the end, it's not clear whether our hapless heroine gets her coffee. It seems that she does not, as she continues to ruminate on why "this being a weekend guest, this protracted socializing" is not for her.

She contemplates whether she and her hosts will go into town, and whether once in town, there will be coffee. She is overcome by anticipatory fatigue of her visit and finally she ends up leaving. As she leaves, she is full of polite niceties: "please forgive me, thank you very much for having me, I'm sorry, I really am. Goodbye." She leaves, and though it is not written, we know that she immediately finds her coffee and steadies herself.

And then there is the E.R. scene.

Setting: The back entrance of a Chicago hospital where emergency-room physicians run out to meet passengers coming in via ambulance. A brisk clear winter night. Light snow swirls under the haze of city streetlights. During a temporary lull, a handsome youngish doctor ventures out and sees a hobo-like, yet also handsome man, hanging out with a dog.

Handsome doctor: “Hey Joe, what are you doing here? Aren’t you cold?”

Joe the Hobo: “No, but Viggo (his dog) doesn’t like the snow.”

HD: “Why don’t you come inside? I told you that you are welcome here.”

Joe the Hobo’s face twists into a somewhat attractive grimace and then morphs into a smirk, before softening into a wide open question mark.

JTH: “Oh, I don’t know.”

HD: “OK, come on in now. Let’s have a cup of coffee.”

JTH: “Coffee…OK. Coffee sounds good.”

They turn towards the light of the hospital entrance and head inside. The scene fades to black, but the idea of coffee-drinking lingers as the sign-off music evokes instant nostalgia.

And now, brief reflections on coffee-drinking from a real-time, unmediated perspective:

This week I have enjoyed the coffee that friends brought home from a recent trip to Peru, Dunkin' Donuts to bring to my writing workshop downtown, lots of Starbucks (can't wait to try the new Christmas blend), and a healthy dose of a bold Peete's blend, mercifully brewed in my Barista coffee pot while I listened to NPR and waited for the fog to lift.

Here's to coffee comfort all around.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wake Me Up! Caffeine, Creativity, and Chocolate...

Part of the romance of winter is seeking respite in warm places with warm drinks. It's the cold/warm contrast that makes it so exciting. Think apres-ski mocha latte. Think late-night decaf cappuccino with a hint of cocoa on the low-fat whip-cream topping. Think coffee in the winter, sitting by the fireplace and watching frost gather on the panes, while traffic lights beckon, sirens wail, and passersby chat just on the other side of your window. It's very energizing. One reason we crave coffee during the winter is that the caffeine helps us stay motivated, even as the sun sets early.

Caffeine has gotten a bad rap. But a comprehensive review of clinical data shows that healthy adults can consume 400 mg of caffeine per day without negative side effects---including no general toxicity, no cardiovascular effects, and no bone problems. Caffeine is also not associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Caffeine works: It is a powerful antidote to morning fogginess. One sip of caffeinated coffee in the morning sets off a cascade of positive effects. Muscles become stronger, the cortex of the brain is stimulated, and the airways to the lungs open up. In fact, in 2006, the Beverage Guidance Panel recommended that as a society, we should be drinking more unsweetened coffee and tea---and less sugary, fattening drinks. The panel recommends 50 fluid ounces of water daily and 28 ounces of unsweetened coffee or tea.

Caffeine Content of Popular Beverages (per serving)

Information from the National Soft Drink Association

Drip coffee

115-175 mg

Espresso

100 mg

Brewed coffee

80-135 mg

Instant coffee

65-100 mg

Brewed tea

60 mg

Instant tea

30 mg



Alan Weinberg and Bonnie Bealer have written the definitive guide to caffeine in their 416 page magnus non-fiction opus, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug.

And of course, there is that delicious combination of coffee and chocolate. What a daring, intriguing duo. A one-ounce serving of chocolate, on its own, has about 20 mg of caffeine, so the combo is definitely energizing. But, there's a nirvana appeal that has nothing to do with the chemistry of caffeine and everything to do with the particular alchemy of smooth dark chocolate and bold coffee. When it's done right, the wow factor is loud. Case in point: chocolate heath fudge made by Montclair, New Jersey-based Chocolatism. The tagline, "Chocolate you can believe in," is not overstated. All ingredients are pure, and while chocolate/coffee combos tends towards decadence, there is a nod towards restraint. It's as if you can feel the fat-burning thermogenic effects of coffee kicking-in just as you're finishing off your second piece of fudge. Long live the paradox and the synergy: coffee & chocolate; warmth & snow. Happy December everyone!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Calling All Coffee Superheroes

I am a coffee superhero. Mornings find me bleary-eyed, with a slumping spirit. But the first sip of coffee is transformative. Brightened eyes, tightened muscles, and a new-found vigor: that is the daily promise of coffee.

November 2008 Consumer Health Reports have weighed in on coffee’s health benefits.


  • Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Better gallbladder function---decreased risk of developing gallstones
  • Prevention of Parkinson’s disease due to increased dopamine supply in the brain

And, we already know that coffee improves mood and enhances concentration and function. Got a test? Drink coffee. Feeling down? Drink coffee. Need a boost before kick-boxing? Drink coffee.

The standard researcher response to the question “Why does coffee prevent so many diseases and how does it improve health?” is “We’re not exactly sure, but we have some ideas.”



Some of the elements in coffee that improve health:

  • Cholorogenic acids—an antioxidant that is found in the leaves and fruit of coffee. Slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream after a meal. Inhibits tumor activity and has antiviral properties.
  • Boosted levels of enzymes that aid digestion
  • Methylpyridinium—an anticancer compound found almost exclusively in coffee

Beyond the health benefits, coffee makes communities function better. It is the elixir of productivity and enthusiasm.



Be your own superhero. Drink coffee today!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New Coffee Data, Coffee Cake for the Winter Holidays, and Longer Life For All

Like everyone else, I want to live forever. And I want everyone I love to live forever. That fact makes me completely ordinary. With that unconscious thought buzzing in my back brain, news from the Annals of Internal Medicine that regular coffee-drinking is associated with longer life jolted me into a state of subdued ecstasy! At long last, data on the impact of coffee on mortality.

About the Study
There were almost 130,000 people altogether, including 41,726 men and 86,214 women. At the beginning of the study, everyone was healthy---no cancer, no heart disease. Over the next 18 years, however, some people got sick. The researchers wanted to know how drinking coffee affected the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and death in general (during that 18-year period).

In men, drinking less than one cup of coffee a day was associated with a 7% higher risk of death. The stats got better as they drank more, however. Drinking 7 cups of coffee a week decreased the risk of death by 3% compared with the overall group. And in men, drinking at least 6 cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of death by 20% in the overall group. In women, drinking 7 cups per week decreased the risk of mortality by 18%--a benefit that remained constant as their consumption increased to 6+ cups per day.

Coffee Cake Anyone?
Already, we are heading into the final stretch of 2008---a lovely year for drinking coffee. As we move towards winter holidays and finally towards New Year celebrations, I will be turning to Alma Schneider of Take Back the Kitchen for tips on how to make her recipe “Grandma’s Depression Era Dark-Chocolate Cake”. (Two cups of dark, dark coffee, yummm…) That way, as my family frolics its way through the holiday season, I can serve cake, make people healthier, and keep them energized for all of the celebrations to come!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Virtuous Addictions?

Waking in the morning, the desire (ok the need) for coffee, is unassailable. However, it’s important not to position coffee as simply another vice. When Peter Martin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Director of the Institute of Coffee Studies took the stage on October 21, 2004, to talk to a group of journalists, he mainly talked about the health benefits of coffee. But when the issue of addiction came up, he was ready. In most regular, serious, hard-core coffee-drinkers, coffee deprivation leads to serious symptoms: Within 12 to 24 hours, those denied their daily java get headaches, become drowsy and irritable, feel weak and tense, are unable to concentrate, and may even vomit. Fortunately, after about 48 hours, the symptoms start to improve. It sounds serious. In fact, some psychiatrists suggest that coffee withdrawal should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

So after admitting that the beloved dark brew is addictive, Dr. Martin felt compelled to comment, saying: “I’m an addiction psychiatrist and regularly face the challenge of treating patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, morphine, etcetera. I would like to underline that there is no evidence that coffee, or even caffeine, is addictive in the way that those drugs are. Even though headaches and the urge to drink coffee can occur after precipitously stopping drinking coffee, people do not destroy their lives and their marriages, rob banks, and commit assault or murder in order to obtain coffee.”

I watched as my neighbor and good friend struggled with coffee withdrawal during Yom Kippur. Not eating, he explained, was tolerable---but a day without coffee was challenging to the say least. But, he survived and is currently well-caffeinated.

Coffee does not destroy lives. It’s difficult to say that about alcohol, nicotine, and narcotics---but, remember, this is a scientific, empirical argument. Not a forum for moral judgment. In a recent film starring Anne Hathway as Kym, a recovering addict, Ms. Hathway is largely depicted as a sympathetic and chronically coffee-drinking character. Toasting her about-to-be-married sister, Kym proclaims, “L’Chaim” as she raises her cup of coffee 'to life'.

The end of pre-election coverage led to a news hangover, which is definitely suggestive of an addiction to excitement of the navel-gazing, we-are-making-history, this-is-a-seminal-moment variety. But that’s ok. Life---that is what we are mostly addicted to---and maybe, many other things too….Art, jazz, exercise, the New Yorker (who knew), National Pubic Radio, friends, family, and the thrum of life in our community. All very, very good things. To coffee---to life.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Soaring Heights and Economic Concerns

In a recent issue of Good (Oct 16-22), Starbucks addressed the issue of the economy. The subtitle “booms, busts, and everything in between” aptly captures the gamut of terms and concepts that comprise economic understanding. There were many interesting definitions and facts cited. A few, in particular, stood out for me:
  • The very first Internet trade was in 1994
  • In 1999, the Dow hit 11,000
  • In October 2007 (just over a year ago), the Dow hit 14,164
  • The national budget is financed by taxes and fees for public services
  • From 1845 to 1945, the typical boom or bust lasted 21 months. Since World War II, expansions have averaged 50 months and contractions have averaged 11 months.

At the moment, the intensity of economic news is counterbalancing the surge of joy around the recent election. Despite the economy, Starbucks continues to be a destination. During the tediously long, and equally enthralling election cycle, Starbucks kept us cozy and caffeinated, while encouraging us to VOTE. Then it made good on its promise to give voters a tall cup of coffee based solely on their announcement of having voted.

Overall, the demand for coffee is relatively inelastic….Americans are spending about $18 billion a year on coffee (according to the National Coffee Association) with the average consumer spending about $165 a year, though many, many people exceed that and spend hundreds, if not $1,000+ on coffee.

A friend recently sent me an article that provided yet another angle on the while coffee/economy connection. Apparently, in Colombia, home of “Juan Valdez” coffee, when demand for coffee declines, resulting in price dips, children fare better. Colombia is a huge coffee producer, responsible for 12% of the world’s coffee. In fact, coffee contributes 3.7% of Colombia’s national income. Yet, when coffee prices decrease, there is more time to care for children and attend to health-related needs--so young children benefit. According to Grant Miller and B. Piedad Urdinola, authors of “Time Vs. Money in Child Health Production: The Case of Coffee Price Fluctuations and Child Survival in Colombia,” the extra time allows parents to deal with five, critical time-consuming needs:
  1. Bring pure water from distant sources
  2. Breastfeed
  3. Forage for cleaner household fuels
  4. Practice good hygienic practices
  5. Travel to distant health facilities for highly beneficial vaccines and other health services

It would seem that this idea might turn the fair trade coffee issue on its head. But not really. True--- Starbucks bought more than 12 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee at above-market prices, which would seem to support the economic incentive to work in lieu of huge investments in the well-being of children. But Starbucks’ commitment to building schools, health clinics, coffee mills, and other projects in coffee-producing places like Colombia takes into consideration human needs beyond simply exchanging resources for capital.

Coffee is such a valuable, life-giving resource that its sale generates enough energy and surplus capital to make sure that the children of Colombia are getting a better shot.

Making sure everyone gets a shot
Seems to me that this is the new prevailing ethos! When you can, take time to protect your health and the health of those you love…and to sit down for a good read and a good cup of coffee.

Please look forward to upcoming coverage of “The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper---currently available at Starbucks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Education is "Good" and Coffee Can Help

Good”—the publication available at your local Starbucks is continuing to tackle the challenging issues. Its format aims for maximal communication in a simple, to-the-point way.

Looking at the issue dedicated to “Education” is a great by-the-numbers way to understand the issue that rocks us to the core and literally drives almost all real estate decisions among those who have children. There are, for example, a total of 98,905 public schools in the United States, with the largest enrollment in California and the smallest in Wyoming. New Jersey boasts the highest total annual expenditures per student ($14,954), while Utah ($5,464) spends the least amount per student. We also learn that on average 56% of students in the U.S. go on to college. That percentage is highest in South Dakota where 69% of students go on to higher education after high school.

What would a conversation about education be without weighing the pros and cons of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the idea that became a law in 2001 under the watchful, hawkish eyes of President George W. Bush. State governments must create math, science, and reading standards and test against those standards. Federal funding is tied to performance. Proponents suggest that testing improves accountability, while critics point to the huge disparities between tests in different states. Detractors also suggest that creativity is shunted and different learning styles are not nurtured or even acknowledged.

The net net of all of this is the same thing: Education is the foundation for life. And yes, creativity matters. At the most fundamental level, exposure bolsters confidence, which makes room for creativity, which supports persistence, and can eventually lead to a happiness of sorts---intellectual curiosity and drive and the ability to translate intellectual gifts into activities in the world, including professional pursuits, art, writing, child-rearing, and even being a good conversationalist.

And in this midst of this all, there is a role for coffee! Meta-analytical data shows that coffee trumps placebo when it comes to enhancing executive functioning and planning. Researchers have shown that in young people with attention deficit disorder, a median dose of 150 milligrams of caffeine enhances attention. (They do not suggest larger doses.) Plus, caffeine improves problem-solving and logistical reasoning skills and has an overall positive effect in people with attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders, precisely because it decreases aggression.

Most adults know that coffee has a focusing effect---and when those effects are considered in the academic setting, their impact can be profoundly positive.

Another day to learn… another day to drink coffee…another day to engage with other people in a transformative, open, and meaningful way. Have a great day!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Election Day Poem by Nicole Gray (note the coffee love & rock the vote)

FALL 2008---Waiting for the Election

By Nicole Gray-Chan



It’s fall.

Skaters head west past the brunching swarms

The sun is bright, but not too warm

On 45th Street, the horses and their coaches

Amble gamely---Election day approaches

The annual renaissance of cultural forays

Heralds longer nights and shorter days

A season to view recent oils and the masters you know

Fashion forward with pleats and a-line stitching---

It’s all about flow.

Bikram yoga to soothe your soul

Natural elixirs help you stay in control

Apple and lavender, coffee and jazz

Now joy, peace, and comfort---at long last.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Honoring the Starbucks Barista, Improving Dental Health, and Weighing in on the Issues Like It's 1705

In July, the news that Starbucks closed 600 stores rocked the coffee-drinking community (and stockholders). But, Starbucks is still a go-to destination. I was grateful that none of the locations in my community closed. We are surrounded by Starbucks and they are always busy. Starbucks is an important part of our community, and I was grateful that none of the locations in my community closed. I love my local baristas---they are some of the most incredibly friendly, well-educated people I’ve ever known. Between them, they are planning trips to Japan, waiting to hear about early-acceptance applications to NYU, traveling to Oregon to work in other stores, raising children, exercising strenuously at NYSC, developing their yoga practices, pursuing professional dance careers, quietly nurturing their dreams, and generally being exceptional human beings.

Starbucks is a consistently good experience. The service is top-notch, the communication is upbeat and straightforward, and the coffee drinks are really superb. And despite complaints about prices, the prices are consistent and not necessarily exorbitant. You sit as long as you like for the price of a cup of coffee (or a chai latte, misto, or whatever you're drinking). People complained about Pike’s Place---but it’s a decent cup of coffee. Now more than ever, we need a place to go, a place to read, a place to chat, a place to socialize. Starbucks is that place. It’s all about community. Starbucks is a direct descendant of the first London coffee houses, which were opened in the 1650’s. The London coffee houses are direct descendants of the coffee houses in Istanbul, which made their first appearance in the 1500’s.

Writing in the journal, Language & Communication (2008), coffee historian, Markman Ellis describes the London coffee houses of the 1700’s as a place “built upon principles of friendly and discursive sociability”. He describes groups of men hanging out, drinking coffee, reading, and engaging in energetic discussions about the topics of the day. Fast forward 300 years---and you’re at Starbucks, circa 2008. Starbucks recently introduced a new publication to help jump-start conversations about hot topics. The latest issue of Good focuses on HEALTH CARE. The layout is intuitive, clean and soothing---a palette of light chartreuse, cornflower blue, and black on clean, off-white recycled paper.

There’s a lot to learn here. A few of the big points:
  • The U.S. spends $2 trillion a year on health care
  • $559 billion of that is government spending on Medicaid and Medicare
  • 47 million people are uninsured (16% of the population)
  • 60% of employers offer health insurance
  • Antidepressants are the most frequently prescribed pharmaceuticals
  • 70% of money spent on healthcare treats chronic conditions
  • Obama endorses coverage based on the current plan for members of Congress, no exclusions for preexisting coverage, insurance portability, subsidies for the poor, and having employers who don’t provide insurance pay a fee or tax
  • McCain endorses health savings accounts, short-term tax breaks to offset the cost of coverage, no exclusions for preexisting coverage, and insurance portability.

Health care is a hot topic and staying healthy is an evergreen goal. By the way, coffee is also good for dental health. Italian researchers at the University of Ancona, led by Gabriella Gazzani, Ph.D, collaborated with researchers at the University of Pavia to analyze roasted coffee beans and how they might affect health. Amazingly, they discovered that coffee has antibacterial effects against certain microorganisms, particularly Streptococcus mucans---the main bacterial culprit that leads to cavities. The Italian researchers were pleased to discover that coffee reduces potential cavity development by inhibiting the adsorption of the offending bacteria by up to 98.1%. Apparently this antibacterial activity is not caffeine-related; rather, the researchers suggested that a water-soluble component of coffee, called trigonelline, which is largely responsible for the taste and aroma of coffee, contributes to coffee’s anti-adhesive activities.

Smile…You’re drinking coffee!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Apples, Coffee, Jazz---Embrace the Struggle, Feel the Joy

In the early fall, New Paltz, New York, one of the coolest Hudson Valley towns, is pure joy---apple-picking, mountain-gazing, and serious coffee-drinking. 60 Main-New Paltz Cultural Collective is the quintessential new-school-meets-old-school café. It’s really right there---energy, diversity, Obama buttons, great sofas, old-school games like Connect 4, and a huge space right in front of the window where bands can play, people can do yoga, and drummers can sit and drum for hours. As the night goes on, the percussive buzz becomes hypnotic. There’s always something going on---education night, movie night, yoga on Tuesdays, open mike, live music, and jazz---serious jazz.

When the owner Mario Torchio serves coffee, you choose your mug size. Each mug is its own creation. When I was there the last time, I had the best mug. It was large, terracota and gravely on the outside, with a tactile, touch-me, drink-coffee-now vibe that made the coffee so good. There was a young guy who smiled and wore a strange, beautiful quasi-formal military outfit every day and hung out with another guy with dread locks. There were so many girls and boys rocking it as if it were still 1993. The best of SUNY New Paltz. But seriously, there is good stuff going down here.

The politics are real. They really are embracing the struggle. It seems that many people are struggling. Birthdays are more bittersweet, the news is more nerve-wracking, and unbridled grief pops up all around, especially considering the onslaught of mortality. Economically, the fact that 60Main continues to exist seems like a minor miracle.

Mario, a SUNY New Paltz graduate, says, “We’re operating the business from a human perspective.” The price points for coffee and the yerba mate and other drinks he serves are pretty reasonable, and it can get rough sometimes. Last year, when another coffee shop opened up right next door, 60Main faced a crisis and launched a huge counter-offensive. It’s all about spirit and community and coffee. In fact, 60Main got serious press. In March 2007, an article in the New York Times recognized their struggle saying---“The shop wears its politics like a badge of honor.”

According to Mario even in a place where bars are known to do well, 60Main is becoming a “go-to” destination---as are coffee houses in general. Thank you to the Beats for helping get the tradition going. It all started in October 1955 at the Six Gallery Coffee House in San Francisco when Allen Ginsburg read his epic poem “Howl”. Mario continues in that fine Six Gallery tradition (last I heard Six Gallery was a furniture store). It’s a struggle though.

His take on it: “The times when I received the most fulfillment in life was right after periods of intense struggle. I found out that many of the great leaders and philosophers came up with the same conclusion. Happiness comes with embracing the struggle.” Thank you, Mario. Keep the coffee flowing...Be happy, embrace the struggle, drink warm drinks…

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Smiling Through It: Honoring David Foster Wallace

Today was soggy and gray. The perfect fall-day prototype. A full-house day at Starbucks, and a day in general that demanded hot drinks and some type of brisk exercise. In one way---a very romantic, potentially productive day. On the other hand, this was also a day when, with only a little inclination, it would not be difficult to give into gloomy feelings or even existential despair.

Before hearing about David Foster Wallace's death earlier this month, he wasn’t on my radar. But after reading about him in the New York Times twice in one week, I find myself pondering the nature of the depression that led to his suicide. He enjoyed early fame (at age 24). As a writer, he reaped the benefits of his massive talent combined with the ability to produce. His prolific output was aided by hyper-intense, anxiety-laden discipline. Photos of Wallace evoke a sense of tender familiarity. Already he was somewhat iconic---a troubled, sensitive, admittedly depressed creative person, whose literary genius produced a strong body of nonfiction essays, reportage, and fiction, including Infinite Jest. For the record, Infinite Jest is out of stock just about everywhere. It is more than 1,000 pages of intensely rendered humor, sadness, insight, and intelligently considered contemplation of the blithe pursuit of entertainment and passive pleasure in the United States...Maybe he read Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television along the way.

David was burdened with intense depression and a sense of longing and sadness that seemed to have no center, no readily identifiable cause. For a long time, medication worked for him, until he stopped taking it. He found some of the side effects unsettling, but probably not as much as the depression that came back with a vengeance when he tried to function without drugs on board.

The lesson: Even experiencing the success of our wildest dreams won’t save us from feeling what we’re inclined to feel. I honor David today. I would have liked to drink coffee with him. I would have asked him how many cups a day he liked to drink. I would have asked him if it made him feel better, if its energizing effects helped fuel his writing. I also would have admitted to him that coffee lifts me up when I feel like I’m slipping.

Interestingly, researchers who looked at the medical records of 86,000 women over a 10-year period found that women who drank 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were 66% less likely to commit suicide, compared with non-coffee drinkers. Even more surprising---they were also less likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Certainly, I would not tell a friend to substitute coffee for prescribed medication, but I would say, “Coffee often makes people feel much, much better.” And it’s not just the utility of it, it’s the comfort of the smell, the ritual, and the coffee-love itself.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coffee & Optimism

The only way to contemplate the hard-to-fathom sum of $700 billion, especially while listening to the unbelievable early-morning good humor of Adaora Udoji and John Hockenberry on NPR’s “The Takeaway,” is with a strong cup of coffee. In fact, contemplating anything profound or mind-engaging or challenging often requires coffee. At least it does for me. The National Coffee Association reports that I am in good company----82% of Americans drink coffee. And in this respect, we are decidedly global, international, cosmopolitan---we help consume the 400 billion cups of coffee that are consumed each year worldwide.

And, of course, coffee is overwhelmingly good for us---significantly decreasing the risk of suicide from depression, diabetes, colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and liver cancer (especially if you are an alcoholic). And apparently, there are other, more subtle physical benefits that over time have a largely positive impact on us biologically.

For those of us who depend on coffee to stoke our productivity and fuel our creativity, coffee drinking is serious business. Coffee is a liquid prism through which we view the events of our lives—drop by drop, cup by cup, pound by pound. It’s important to be awake for the critical moments in life---and even seemingly mundane moments can be critical when each moment builds towards something better. Coffee is the drink of optimism. Drink coffee, be happy.