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 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


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!