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!

1 comment:

Joe the Novelist said...

If I weren't a coffee drinker already, I'd want to become one now. This is coffee writing you can believe in.