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 cafĂ©. 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…