Friday, November 6, 2009

Glad to be Back, Living Life with Via (TM), and More Good News About Coffee


Very nice to be able to blog again after a longer-than-appropriate absence due to travel, remarkable opportunities, and a myriad of personal reasons...needless to say during that time, coffee kept me aloft. But more on that later. Now, I'm all about ViaTM---or at least trying hard to be an enthusiastic supporter---it's definitely not Sanka or Folger's. Starbucks' introduction of their new “instant” coffee on October 2nd was advertised as a significant event in coffee history. Admittedly, the “taste test” was a great way to roll out their latest brand innovation. And from a branding perspective, the early execution was perfect. In the great tradition of “Coke vs. Pepsi,” “Tide vs. the leading competitor,” and “Apple vs. PC,” the baristas handling the taste test used suspense, ironclad methods to guarantee blinding, and lots of hype to entice people to partake. Brewed vs. instant---which is which. I'm happy to say that I identified the Colombian brew in contrast to the Colombian instant. The instant had a little more bite---a not entirely unpleasant, but somewhat bitter, aftertaste. So I was happy to drink little paper espresso cups of free instant coffee, but honestly, I have not purchased it yet.


At face value, it seems that I am the ideal target. I love coffee and I travel a lot. In fact, I recently put it in my carry-on en route to Minneapolis. Never drank it. Opted for the standard faire Gourmet Bean that Marriott provides in its hotel rooms and hit every Starbucks I saw for a misto, skim chai, or grande coffee. Talk about being stuck in a rut. Except it's a gilded, happy rut. Anyway, 10 days later, I noticed the same two “vials” of Via in my carry-on as I headed to San Diego. Still no interest...I was perplexed. Why did I sit on the plane and request a cup of coffee—when presumably I could reach into my carry-on for the gold-standard, king of all instant coffees---the one and only Via? Because, there was turbulence and I liked grasping my mug full of mediocre airline coffee. At that moment, Via seemed a little too aspirational for my anxiety, which was heightened when the pilot announced that the turbulence would only get worse as we headed back to the northeast.


Fortunately, we landed safely and I rushed home to brew a pot of Starbucks Breakfast Blend---just what I needed in order to recover from a 3-hour time difference and an unusually turbulent flight. Anyway, the recovery was a little difficult, but my good health prevailed....Speaking of health, there's more good news about the health benefits of coffee. In a study of more than 60,000 Swedish women, published in the International Journal of Cancer on November 15, 2009, researchers found that women who drank 2 or more cups of coffee were significantly less likely to develop endometrial cancer than those who consumed less than 2 cups per day. Overweight and obese women, who have the highest risk for endometrial cancer, were most likely to benefit from the “coffee advantage.” After all other variables were factored out, each additional cup of coffee consumed per day decreased overall risk by 10%. Like many other studies, researchers were not able to pinpoint precisely how or why coffee conferred specific health advantages in an at-risk population. Their theories focused on the effect that coffee has on blood sugar levels (coffee is also associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes), fat cells, and estrogen. Or perhaps the positive effects of coffee could be due to chlorogenic acids (4% of coffee is comprised of these healthy acids) or phenolic polymers (8%).



Additional health-related news. After a long history of being falsely associated with cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, researchers confirmed that coffee is not associated with an increased risk of heart failure. A study of 37,000 middle-aged and older Swedish men, who were regular coffee drinkers, found that they were no more likely to develop heart failure than those who drank less coffee. These findings, published in the American Heart Journal in October 2009, suggests that earlier studies, which did not factor out confounding variables, such as smoking, were misleading and seriously muddied the waters...Anyway, now we know better.


Despite my intense satisfaction with coffee's good, solid reputation, I can't shake my interest in the brand potential of Via. I am not 100% satisfied, but I want to be. I simply adore their branding. From the orange and brown color scheme, to the traveling lady silhouette, I am smitten. That lady is all sleek lines and efficient carriage, with a smidgen of sensual, retro-fashionista dominatrix. So I was already falling and wanting to want Via. Then this morning, after my work out, I walked into Starbucks and there was a Via book. Free! Burnished orange and brown, with hints of tangerine and the ubiquitous white silhouettes. I want to love Via! I will love Via! If only because the copy and the graphics and the marketing is amazing.



Marketing Analysis of Via Advertorial---by Nicole Gray


“How Starbucks VIATM READY BREW Can Change Your Life.”


Cover graphic: Silhouette man with outreached arms against a brown-earth background, with a quiet Via watermark, and a burnt sienna sunrise on the horizon. The guide divides users into “beginner” “intermediate” and “advanced” users...Beginners are encouraged to use Via for 'the meeting,' 'the red-eye,' or 'the morning freak-out.'


Check out some of the copy: “You think airline food is underwhelming? Try generic airline coffee. On second thought...don't. Until we start building Starbucks locations in the sky, fly with Starbucks VIATM.” I should have seen this mini-advertorial before my last trip...then I would have had a context for making a different coffee-related decision.


Intermediate users, according to these marketing geniuses, include the soccer mom or dad, who puts Via into their chilled bottled water; teachers who hand it out to their colleagues in the lounge; travelers who reject the non-Starbucks coffee in the room; and “Aunt Harriet” who will stay too long if you brew a pot...


Nice archetypes, but tell me about the “Advanced” Via drinkers. They are: The SUPERHERO—amazing professional life, great family, active kids, good-looking...largely due to the energizing effects of instant coffee, specifically instant coffee from Starbucks---I mean ViaTM of course!; The Lighthouse Keeper—or those who live in climates that tend to get cold, like us, and can use the comforting effects of instant coffee (not sure that's advanced, but if you say so...); and finally “The Guest Chair on a Late-Night Talk Show”--because you, a Via-consuming individual, have become a cultural icon.


Coffee and cultural iconography. Now that makes perfect sense. This week's goal: Drink more Via.



Saturday, August 8, 2009

Drinking Coffee in the Summer----Bittersweet Reveries & New Cafe Venues



Whether you're sipping mistos while on vacation or hunkering down for a home brew, drinking coffee in the summer can be just as satisfying as it is in the winter.

This has been a bittersweet summer of drinking coffee, with a real emphasis on value blends ($10.99 for 24-ounce, 365 gourmet blends from Whole Foods, including my favorite Pleasant Morning Buzz). Starbucks is now offering $2 afternoon cold-coffee drinks, with presentation of a receipt from an earlier purchase. As always, coffee facilitates getting to work, trekking to the pool, showing up for tennis lessons, sitting down for a friendly chat, or simply being awake in order to rise to the demands of daily life.

Coffee not only stimulates and energizes, but it soothes, as well. Coffee-drinking is a fallback ritual that makes it ok to sit down and do nothing but contemplate life and the things that life brings. Honestly, that is a lot to do---often harder than being in constant whirring motion. Earlier in the summer, I caffeinated myself with lots of Starbucks and New England Breakfast Blend Coffee to take on the tasks at hand. Camp drop-offs & pick-ups, lots of exercise, including swimming, tennis, and garden-variety fitness classes, and writing. While writing about health care reform, pain management, biotech patent legislation, and acute liver failure from OTC drug overdoses, I stayed alert largely thanks to coffee and chai. Health care reform, in particular, was a tough beast of a topic to wrestle onto the page. Coffee by day & coffee by night. Often, around 10pm, when things had quieted down, I listened to the first drips of brewed coffee being pushed through the Barista's extrusion device. The smell came after that and brought happy, dark, mellow images. I relied on a very large cup given to me by my friend Liz for my birthday...and I drank pot after pot. Initially, the completion of that article was anti-climatic---I was too tired to feel celebratory and there were other things to check off of the to-do list.

And then, there was the backdrop against which day-to-day living in summer 2009 was taking place. While drinking coffee, I thought intensely of Michael Jackson. From Dancing Machine to Man in the Mirror, I drank solemnly in his honor, and watched more television in a week than I've watched all year. I needed the mainstay of coffee to fully come to terms with what happened, which clearly I have not done. And then there was Farrah Fawcett, and the idea, which came to my inbox as an email missive from a doctor who pushes probiotics as the cure-all for every physical malady. Her take on things: probiotics can help prevent cancer of the bowel, intestines, and colon. Although I am a medical writer, it would be inappropriate to comment on that idea. Nonetheless, I will say that probiotics and coffee give me the feeling of weightlessness. And I will also say that it is sad that Farrah Fawcett died.

Amidst this sadness, there was thoughtful provocative commentary on blogs and other media outlets. I saw some of the most beautiful coverage of MJ's situation in places like the New Yorker and on The Defender's Online, which has become a go-to destination for me. And then, the Gates incident happened in Cambridge, not far from my high school. Despite being positively dyspeptic over the entire thing, especially the visually disturbing image of Dr. Gates being arrested, I drank two cups of Zabar's and kept my gaze steady, while I took it all in.

And then came a little vacation! While in Mystic Seaport, I especially enjoyed the dark-hued Admiral's Brew (available at the Bake Shop in Mystic Seaport Village), with a stray cup of Black Dog Coffee in the afternoons. But my best cafe experience in the Mystic River Valley was at Bartleby's Cafe on Main Street. The mugs are so big that they have bowl-like dimensions and require that you commit your hands fully to the mechanics of drinking coffee. I committed and brought my soul along for the ride. It was worth it. In was bold, with hints of nutmeg. The baristas were super-nice and very into baseball--especially Meredith. Apparently, the owner, Ross Mandel, is a big fan of Melville's story, "Bartleby the Scrivener." The word/name "Bartleby" syncopates well, has nice rhythm, and brings to mind the romance of 19th century New York and New England, but it a sad, sad story.

In short, Bartleby is a depressed scrivener (copyist for lawyers) in the mid-19th century working for a downtown NYC lawyer, who is both type A and a nice guy a the same time. When pressed to do anything beyond the most basic scrivenly task, Bartleby says, "I would rather not." Soon it becomes apparent that he would rather not do even basic work. He also has no interest in hanging out in his boss's nice home, or having a solid meal, or even leaving the building. Soon he lives where he works and dies of self-imposed starvation. The lawyer describes Bartleby's appearance on his first day of work as "pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, and incurably forlorn." His appetite for life is diminished to nothing, presumably because he senses the pointless cruelty of existence....I say, yes, maybe, but perhaps a cup of coffee would help to ease the distress. The lawyer comments that he "had never seen Bartleby reading---not even a newspaper. His pale face clearly indicated that he never drank beer, or tea or coffee even (gasp!?)--and never went out for a walk." What then is the point? Sometimes it's hard to keep going. But we still need to find joy everyday, anyway we can. Coffee almost always helps. Drink up!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drinking Coffee While Ruminating on Spring, Community Updates, and an Interesting New Publication about Coffee's Connection to Reduced Risk of Cancer



Spring played very hard to get this year. We talked about how "brutal" and "relentless" the cold weather was, but little by little, spring arrived. There were days of radiant sun and clear blue skies---quickly followed by plummeting temps and brisk winds. And there was always the unspoken threat of snow, which at this late date brought no delight, not even for the kids... So what did we do (besides burrow inside)?

We drank coffee!

We've been drinking coffee non-stop since February. While it was cold, we drank hot coffee with dollops of skim milk to warm ourselves, and when it warmed up, we gulped it down---hot and iced---with a zeal that only exists when the weather gets warm in normally cool climates.



Coffee-drinking in the spring is pure celebration---and for me, this was the spring of drinking coffee for every occasion---Columbian on Passover, Maxwell House on Easter, Pike's Place during Light's Out Earth Hour in Montclair, and Sumatra on Mother's Day.


We drank coffee in a spirit of rejuvenation and felt ourselves come alive more fully to the world in bloom all around us. In fact, coffee-drinking is intensely rejuvenating. In the morning, coffee strengthens us physically and reawakens our intellectual drive and curiosity. Things suddenly become clear and focused. Coffee readies us for the day ahead!

Fortunately,caffeine is absorbed very quickly into the body, reaching peak levels within an hour. From the very first sip, everything speeds up, muscles become stronger, the cortex of the brain is stimulated, and the airways to the lungs open up.

There is also evidence, recently published in Cancer Letters (2009; 277:121-25), that coffee has properties that can help prevent cancer-causing processes from unfolding in our bodies. Specifically, cafestol and kahweal are known to be anti-carcinogenic. These two molecules, in addition to chlorogenic acid, which contributes to coffee's antioxidant effects and increases insulin sensitivity (helps prevent diabetes), are thought to be the reason why coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, including colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, and liver cancer. Note that the reduced risk is moderate. In addition, the same article did not show an association between coffee-drinking and an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, or breast cancer. So while this is not medical advice, at least while drinking coffee, we can allay our fears that we are increasing our risk of developing cancer.



A couple of updates from Montclair: Alma Schneider of Take Back the Kitchen wrote the folks at Bialetti, who promptly sent her a new coffee pot (see post on Alma's coffee tragedy (March 4, 2009). Kudos to great customer service and a continuing coffee tradition in the Schneider-Saltzman household! Today was one of those bright blue beautiful May days. My daughter and I hung out at Starbucks on Church Street, watching all of the foot traffic coming from the shops and the gym (and working on homework). We marveled at the new brick pavers put in to demarcate the pedestrian cross-walks and we breathed deeply as the baristas ground the fresh coffee beans. She then asked me when she would start drinking coffee...the answer was challenging. All of the evidence points to the fact that students who drink coffee perform better in school---more to come on that in the future---but for now, as a kindergarten student, it is still too early. So I will model good, solid coffee-drinking habits for her, until she is old enough to make her own choices around coffee. To all of the coffee-drinking adults out there: Drink up and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Coffee, Fitness & Hip Hop: The Evolution of Dance (in Montclair)


It’s a crisp, bright, spring morning in Montclair, New Jersey. Angel Williams (pictured in the front row on the right) stands in front of the students in her hip-hop class at New York Sports Club. She starts demonstrating a series of moves that evoke the rarefied world of hip-hop glamorama. Suddenly, forty bodies are moving in sync—and it is energizing, enchanting and downright funky. In fact, it is hard to articulate how much fun it is to hip-hop with Angel. The class, in its exuberance, diversity, and intense love of dynamic movement, is in its own way a metaphor for life in Montclair. By way of full disclosure, I will say that I’ve resisted hip-hop dancing, leaving it to people like those in the video posted here (from the hip hop class at NYSC), but it’s been in my world forever and I love to dance---especially when I drink coffee! Today, after several cups of coffee, I went to hip-hop and now there’s no turning back.

Many days, I’ve had the privilege of drinking coffee with Angel and others from the gym after step class or simply during a lull in the day when we’re not writing or painting or teaching or being lawyers or taking care of kids or cooking meals or being corporate executives or having play dates or going to cultural events---because we’re all there in Angel’s class, and many, many of us drink coffee before and/or after we get there.

Of course, we are in good company. People everywhere work out and drink coffee! Many people say that they find it difficult to work out without first fueling up with coffee. They suggest that coffee enhances their motivation, their energy, their endurance, and their enjoyment of physical activity. The impulse to drink coffee before heading to the gym or going out for a run is not purely psychosomatic. In fact, data from well-designed clinical trials and respected researchers suggests that coffee improves exercise-related outcomes and makes it easier to exercise for longer periods of time.

According to toxicologist, James R. Coughlin, M.D., “Coffee…increases alertness, vigilance, and arousal…and reduces fatigue. Caffeine increases the body’s capacity for muscular work and exercise. It also slightly increases your metabolic rate and increases coronary blood flow, as well as the force of cardiac and skeletal muscle contraction.”

The Australian Institute of Sport reports that “there is solid evidence that caffeine enhances endurance and provides a small, but worthwhile enhancement over a range of exercise protocols.” This range includes high-intensity exercise (1 to 5 minutes); prolonged high-intensity exercise (20 to 60 minutes); endurance events (90+ minutes); and ultra endurance events (4 hours).

For one thing coffee is energizing—it changes the perception of fatigue---and helps motivate people to keep exercising until they reach their exercise goals---whether that’s a 5-mile run along the pier, completing a 1-hour kickboxing or hip-hop class, or an ambitious lunchtime work-out on the elliptical machine, rounded off by stretching. For mind-body devotees, coffee aids deeper breathing by relaxing the bronchial smooth muscles and can therefore help gym yogis hold poses for longer intervals.

Note that it doesn’t take a pot of coffee to prepare for a successful work-out; even a single cup of coffee, with a moderate amount of caffeine (50 mg to 80 mg) works. Plus, there’s the mental component. Coffee can definitely help you handle tasks like learning new hip hop moves, putting the entire routine together, and listening as Angel deconstructs the underlying meaning of each move. Some moves reference the Charleston, or a locomotive train, or spiritual ecstasy, or simply shaking your booty. It’s really a beautiful pastiche of intellectual stimulation and physical exhilaration.

Whatever your goals: running, hip hop, a brisk walk in the park, a leisurely walk to your local caf├ęs or museums, kite-flying with your kids, going to the gym for a hard-core, disciplined work out with weights, doing ashtanga yoga, or any other activity, don’t forget to drink coffee. Even one cup will do!

Are you into fitness? How about fitness with a little coffee thrown into the daily routine? I would love to hear about your work-out routines and how coffee makes you feel great every day!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alma's Coffee Tragedy & Building Community One Cup at a Time



Most of us know what it feels like to be desperate. It's an uncomfortable, breath-stifling feeling that can take hold with an uncomfortable intensity. Henry David Thoreau famously wrote about desperation in "Walden" which was published in 1854. "Most men (and women) live lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation..." He then repeated his sad observation that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

On a day to day basis, there are many ways to overcome a sense of desperation or an uncomfortable feeling that something is not right. One way is through community. There is nothing like sharing coffee to abet any sense of gloom and doom. A well-made cup of coffee, rounded off with edifying and meaningful conversation, can uplift us and prepare us for the tasks at hand. Beautiful, wonderful coffee!

So it came as a surprise during a visit to my friend Alma Schneider's house that it was hard to get a cup of coffee. Alma, Founder of Take Back the Kitchen, has written convincingly about how important it is to know how someone takes their coffee---it signals more than a good memory, but a sense of respect and caring. But on that day, coffee was hard to get. Alma related to me her "coffee tragedy".

Here's how it happened. Until recently, it was possible to to enjoy a nice cup of coffee made in Alma's 4-cup Bialetti. This machine is an icon of Italian design that boasts a stunning profile. It consistently produces a cup of smoothly brewed coffee and a scent that lingers and envelopes Alma's gorgeous kitchen. Unfortunately, one day, a very dear friend burned it while making coffee. "This can't be," Alma and her husband said to each other. But it was. Finally, after four bouts of acute denial, they figured out that that Bilaetti would be no longer...So, there was another Bialetti--a small, 2-cup espresso maker. It just so happened, that when they went to use it, the handle broke. They took it to a local coffee-bean merchant, known for carrying high-end European coffee makers, and it could not be fixed.

So...on to the next option. Alma's Presto percolator, circa 1940's, inherited from her grandmother---a cherished heirloom with a graceful sloping spout. A coffee maker that can make a super-hot robust cup of coffee---for at least 25 to 30 people...Even for coffee-lovers like us (Alma, our friend Dennis, and myself), it was too much. So finally, Alma found the solution. The Melitta fall-back. In this case, a red, molded, elegant sturdy plastic model with rounded edges. Alma put her plastic Melitta on top of a cup and voila---there was coffee. We waited patiently while she boiled the water and finally the coffee--a robust Kirkland Brand brew from Costco---was in front of us. It was perfect. Our coffee desperation was eased and we had a very productive and fun conversation!

Note: Special thanks to Dennis Dawson for photography (without the benefit of a cup of coffee beforehand).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drinking Coffee in Bali & Waiting Patiently for Spring to Arrive




Some days, it feels like spring, but clearly---winter is still here. Inevitably and mercifully, spring is coming. So why not enjoy the last few weeks of winter 2009? Steamy, nourishing coffee drinks are one of the best ways to stay alert, happy, and warm inside….and new coffee options are always appreciated!

Enter Kopi Bali coffee. Indonesian Coffee is famous worldwide for its depth, its flavor and its smooth taste. Kopi Bali, which is nicknamed “the legend” based on its longstanding reputation since 1935 as a reliably delicious coffee, has finally made its coffee available on the Web at kopibali.com.

Kopi Bali is a third-generation family business owned by the Tjahjadis. As a family, they are constantly seeking to improve their coffee by modifying the processes and methods of cultivation and production. Kopi Bali can be found at 5-star hotels throughout Indonesia, at duty-free shops, and of course, on the Web site. The Tjahjadis take pride in the precision of how they cultivate their coffee. They also run Bali Coffee House, where they sell a variety of coffee from Bali, Java, Toraja, Mandailing, Columbia, Kenya, and Italy. True, they have faced formidable marketing challenges, but coffee commitment and sheer coffee-fueled intelligence keeps Kopi Bali moving on up…

Seeing photos of coffee beans being cultivated is humbling. The single man standing in a field of beans gently raking the drying beans seems almost yogic in his focus. The roasting machinery is nuanced and sophisticated specifically because it captures ancient methods and distills them into a reproducible, mechanized art. All of these images come to us from Bali.

 All told, images of Bali coalesce in the mind’s eye like one beautiful dreamscape. Bali is a place where coffee is available all day long, and many sweet dreams can be nourished. The InfiniteWishes Bali Retreat, scheduled for June 2009 will feature workshops and spa treatments, and offer participants a chance to nurture dreams and bring power to personal goals. Mornings will start with Indonesian coffee----fresh and fragrant. Coffee not only supports and bolsters pragmatic activity, but also stimulates our ability to dream, to envision the life we want, and to work together to achieve specific goals. For more information, contact Deb@MyInfiniteWishes.com.

Here’s to drinking coffee in Bali….and everywhere else!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

He Died Carrying a Tray of Coffee


When I think about how Joseph Lunetta died on Monday, January 26th, the fact that he was struck by a van is front and center , as is the fact that he was on his way home to meet his friends. I am struck by the idea that given what we have learned about Mr. Lunetta from the Montclair Times, his thoughts were probably focused on the beauty of the morning. When Mr. Lunetta's untimely death was reported in the Thursday hard-copy edition of the Montclair Times, snippets of his poetry revealed more. It turns out that he wrote poetry---like so many others in Montclair, he loved the power of language. Based on snippets alone, we learned that he liked seeing “falling snow” and enjoyed “quiet mornings”.


We also learned that he liked coffee very much---and that he liked sharing coffee with his friends. In fact, the thing that sticks with me is that Mr. Lunetta died carrying a tray of coffee. Adam Anik's front page photograph captures the quiet pathos of how that gesture of goodwill was perverted when he was hit by that van. So many cups of coffee lying on the ground, for hours and hours, symbols of an ongoing investigation.


Now it is left to us to wonder how Mr. Lunetta liked his coffee. How much coffee he drank each day. Whether he needed coffee in order to write. By focusing on his life, his penchant for quiet mornings, snowy days, and drinking coffee with friends, we can envision Mr. Lunetta---and quietly mourn him and wish him the best.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coffee Can Make You Smarter Now---and Later: New Dementia Study From Sweden




The National Coffee Association has reported that 61% of coffee drinkers say that coffee makes them more mentally focused.

Many of us feel that coffee makes us more alert and happier too.

And now a group of researchers have published an article in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reporting new data on the coffee-mental health link: Drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of developing dementia by 65%. These statistically significant results are based on data compiled over a 21-year period on 1,409 middle-aged adults.

The Study was conducted in Sweden by Dr. Miia Kivipelto, an associate professor of Neurology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Like the rest of Scandinavia, Sweden has a robust (and, in my opinion, enviable) coffee-drinking culture. Average per capita consumption per year is 7.9 kg, compared with 4.2 kg in the United States.

Like other researchers, Dr. Kivipelto is not 100% clear on why coffee has positive effects on mental health. She does, however, have three well-formulated guesses:

1. Coffee reduces the risk of diabetes, which has been associated with an increased risk of dementia.

2. In animal studies, coffee has been shown to reduce the formation of amyloid plaques--the physical hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (generally found during post-mortem examinations).

3. Coffee may have an antioxidant effect in the bloodstream, reducing vascular risk factors for dementia.

Clearly, there is a link between what we consume and how well we function both physically and mentally---but, there is some disagreement among experts about the precise mechanisms.

John Zeisel, PhD, author of I'm Still Here: A Breakthrough Approach to Understanding Someone Living With Alzheimer's Disease, features a discussion of the latest news that fast food causes Alzheimer's Disease on his blog.

Dr. Zeisel, president of Hearthstone Alzheimer Center in Woburn Massachusetts, developed the Artists for Alzheimer's program.

The study in question was also conducted at the Karolinska Institute. Scientists fed mice a high-fat, junk-food diet for 9 months---and the mice started to develop brain plaques and chemical changes characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. The study design is imperfect, but the results are clear---poor nutritional choices lead to less than optimal outcomes.

Coffee, it seems, has proven to be a good nutritional choice for many---myself included. The continued accumulation of positive data is again leading us back to the idea that coffee is good for us!

Drink up, enjoy, and think hard!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Drinking Coffee (and Cocoa) in Honor of MLK, Jr.





For two cold, snowy days in mid-January, groups of friends gathered together to drink coffee (and cocoa) in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Moms, dads, grandparents, friends, and kids got together to raise a cup in honor of a man, who enjoyed comfort, community, and coffee as much as any of us.

We honored him by energizing ourselves with coffee (and cocoa).

The history of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK Day), which was established in 1983 and then implemented in 1986, reflects a long struggle for recognition. In fact, it wasn't observed in all 50 states until 2000. In 2007, only 33% of employers gave the day off.

With President-Elect Obama coming into office on Tuesday, January 20th, the 2009 take on the holiday is certainly different---and in many ways the same. Some people will be home from work. Many people will need to or choose to work. In our community, all schools will be closed, but that's not the case everywhere. We are fortunate to live in a well-educated and super-tolerant community in which much of the day will be focused on recognizing and celebrating MLK's life and legacy...But honoring MLK and choosing to work or study are not incongruous. In fact, in addition to other things, I will spend part of my day writing. And before that I will drink coffee.

I will work happily, because my ability to do the work I love so much is largely a byproduct of Dr. King's efforts and those who worked alongside him, and have continued to work. The way to honor MLK on a personal level is by understanding the quiet power of intention. If there is work that needs to be done, then there is joy in doing it. Results follow from intentions.

I have read that MLK drank coffee. He drank it in the mornings, he drank it while writing his famous speeches and he happily drank it when he came home exhausted, and at times ravaged, and his wife put a warm steaming cup into his hands.

Our lives are infinitely different and better because Martin Luther King, Jr. lived. Honor him today by drinking coffee and remembering his work and the joy he took in his life---intellectually, spiritually, and as a man who loved a good cup of coffee.

Notes: Special thank you to photographers--Lisa (Watchung mom); Stephanie Drenka; and Nick Bosco.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coffee and the Wayback Machine: Drinking Coffee in the 1970's


At this very moment, we are all deeply and beautifully mired in one huge "historical moment" also known as "a time of historical significance" and it is really wonderful. It feels very good. It's as if you want to capture it and then pause and replay at will to keep this feeling that anything is possible. That is not to say that there aren't terrible, harsh reminders of an equally disturbing reality---just that right here, we will soon be celebrating the inauguration of a new President.

Pondering the notion of thousands of years can be depressing and maybe even disorienting, but when I find myself in that space, I brace myself with a cup of coffee. Coffee itself boasts a history that is long, vivid, and celebrated. This august beverage was first "discovered" by the Ethiopian goatherder Kaldi in 850. Starting around 1000, the Turks took over by cultivating coffee and by 1475, there were signs of a burgeoning coffee shop trend when Kiva Han was opened in Contsantinople. At that point, the trend spread to Italy, England, and the rest of Europe. Although there wasn't a lot of coffee shop action in the early days of colonial America, at least people were able to drink coffee at home starting in the early 1600's.

Taking a future-forward, back-in-the-day look at coffee culture can be fun. And thinking about coffee-drinking in the 1970's can be a blast. In 1975, the New York City-based journalist, Sonny Klein, wrote an article for New Times. The cover featured a woman who reminds me of Gloria Steinem (but probably isn't) drowning in a cup of coffee. Although her hands are signaling, "help me I'm drowning" the expression behind her sylish owl-frame glasses is oddly alert.


To open his article, Kleinfield created a little coffee check list, suggesting that coffee is "as addictive as cocaine" and "harmful to people under stress". He also added that coffee is "good for your chess game" and the fourth largest commodity in the world. Thirty-three years later, coffee is the second largest export in the world---and is no longer classified as a harmful vice.


But Kleinfield's coffee expose is not terribly anti-coffee. New Times was a NYC-based publication, chock full of cigarette ads. The coloration is fascinating---various types of 2-color print efforts, as well as a sepia-like coloration in most photographs. The writing is right-on. According to Kleinfield, "The beverage's place in American social life is unassailable." He also calls it "symbolic of the American way of life". He asks rhetorically, "How many couples have begun an acquaintance and how many businessmen have consummated a deal over a cup of coffee?"


Though Kleinfield describes a zeitgeist that feels familiar to coffee lovers, there are some references that are wholly out of date, and totally fascinating. For example, the idea of coffee wagons that used to go up and the down the halls of offices---definitely way before the glorious advent of Starbucks onto the scene. Mr. Kleinfield's article roams far and wide, describing coffee drinking during the Renaissance, cultivation of coffee in 55 countries mainly in Latin America and Africa, and the fact that on a typical winter day in 1962, 74.7% of Americans drank an average of 3.1 cups of coffee (an average daily consumption, by the way, that has not changed.) He notes that electric-drip makers were the fastest growing segment of the coffee-brewing market in 1975 and that coffee houses were "sprouting like weeds" around the United States. The medley of facts is very prolific and engaging, but once he moves onto the topic of health, the completely misguided alarmist, coffee-as-vice approach becomes evident.


Kleinfield discusses the notion of "caffeinism" which he describes as a set of awful symptoms---insomnia, palpitations, fever, weight loss, and upset stomach. Experts weigh in and everyone wrings their hands over this evil vice. Finally, there is the coup de grace statement: "Accumulated suddenly, the amount of caffeine in 100 cups of coffee would be lethal." Well, yeah, that is not completely unthinkable---but even I can't drink 100 cups of coffee "suddenly".

Mr. Kleinfeld is an excellent writer and from his fine article---with its charming, retro views of coffee, one gets the sense that he's a fatalist. He will drink his coffee no matter what. His closing lines resonate with deep coffee love, but he is sadly unaware of the numerous health benefits of coffee. He concludes, "Pour coffee into a cup. Firmly clamp your left hand to your right wrist to calm the caffeine tremors. Forget about your kidneys. Forget about your bladder. Forget about your heart. Swig it and enjoy it."


Now---future-forward to the 21st century. President-Elect Barack Obama is one week away from being sworn in. There are no cigarette ads in magazines (at least not that I'm aware of), and coffee is good for our health and may even help us live longer!


Can you dig it?