Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coffee Prices Explode & Global Coffee Gratitude

At the end of the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of how grateful I am for coffee. Not only for its rich, soothing, energizing effects---but also because of its health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and depression. I am also grateful that increasingly the medical evidence is documenting these benefits with amazing contributions from European and American universities!

I am also grateful that most of the coffee-drinkers I know can still afford to drink coffee and enjoy its benefits. That is not insignificant, especially when you consider that coffee prices are at an all-time high for the past 13 years. In fact, coffee futures have increased 44%. According to pundits, a constellation of factors are contributing to coffee's sky-high prices, including bad weather in South America and low stockpiles in the United States. But, there's something else: Increasing demand from coffee drinkers in emerging economies. The largest increase in demand is coming from the burgeoning middle classes in China, India, and Brazil, which will soon become the largest consumer of coffee outpacing the United States. Increased wealth and ambition is indeed leading to a desire for the taste of coffee and the myriad social and physical benefits that accompany its consumption.

The net effect of all of these factors has been increased prices, especially among value-brand coffees, such as Maxwell House and Folgers--a 10% increase so far. There has also been an increase in the cost of brews served at independent coffee houses and Starbucks is considering increasing its prices, though they have been fairly restrained about doing so. Note, however, that we are still drinking coffee at a healthy clip. If you grab your coffee from a local kiosk in any city, it is likely that the kiosk owner is trying not to increase the cost of your coffee.

Plus, when you're talking about increases of 10 or 15 cents per cup, you're still well within the confines of an extremely inelastic demand curve. People who regularly consume coffee are just not going to step away from the coffee-counter over a 15-cent increase. However, experts suggest that people may very well start drinking lower-priced, lower-quality coffees.

I have discovered a new value brand! IKEA's Braggkaffe Mellanrost direct from Sweden, available at IKEA or online. At a cost of $5.99 for 0.25 kg, this UTZ-certified organic coffee, which is 100% Arabica and boasts a slightly sour, yet rich, taste is a really good buy. In fact, Sweden has the unique distinction of being the number-one coffee-consuming nation in the world. Per capita consumption is 10 kilos per person. That's a lot of coffee for 8 million people. I bet they're grateful for coffee. I certainly am. Drink up and be healthy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coffee: The Great Equalizer That Reduces the Risk of Stroke

The connection between coffee and the brain is taken for granted. Coffee is a major stimulant that speeds up reaction time and improves short-term memory, primarily by acting on the prefrontal cortex. But coffee’s effect on the brain goes beyond caffeine-induced stimulation. In fact, there is one brain-related benefit associated with all types of coffee---caffeinated, decaf, instant, or ground coffee. Regular coffee-drinking reduces the risk of having a stroke by about 27%. Researchers think that this is because of the antioxidants in coffee (the #1 source of antioxidants in the American diet), which can lower inflammation and improve blood vessel function.

In a 12-year observational study led by Dr. Yangmei Li at the University of Cambridge in England, the coffee drinking habits of more than 23,000 men and women (aged 39 to 79) were tracked. Coffee drinkers fared much better than non-coffee-drinkers when it came to stroke---the leading cause of disability and the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Stroke Association (NSA). By definition, a stroke is life-limiting and disabling. It is essentially “a brain attack” in which blood flow and oxygen to the brain is cut off due to a clot or sometimes due to bleeding in the brain. During a stroke, 2 million brain cells die every minute.

In 2010, there were almost 800,000 strokes and more than 135,000 stroke-related deaths un the US. The NSA recommends maintaining a healthy blood pressure, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, exercising, and controlling cholesterol levels as preventive measures. Stroke prevention comes down to lifestyle---and based on the data from this study, coffee drinking is another positive lifestyle measure.

Another interesting aspect of this study that was very surprising is that all coffee drinkers enjoyed the advantage of a reduced risk of stroke regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, social class, physical activity level, or smoking or alcohol consumption status. How democratic…Maybe coffee can help level the playing field in terms of accruing health benefits. One more reason to make drinking coffee a major public health initiative!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bump Alert: Embracing Coffee Moderation, Confronting My Addiction and Rediscovering Coffee

Several months ago I had to cut my coffee consumption way back. Though, on any normal day, I drink 4 to 6 cups a day, for the first few months of my pregnancy, I had to cut back, because according to the medical literature, coffee is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.

In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2007, 1063 women were followed by Dr. De-Kun Li and his colleagues. Their goal: determine whether there was a correlation between coffee intake and miscarriage. Women were divided into three categories: no caffeine; some caffeine, but less than 200 mg per day, and consumption of more than 200 mg per day. The miscarriage rate among the 200 mg-plus group was 25%, compared with 12% for the non-caffeine drinkers. So it seems that 200mg, or two cups, is the safety threshold. Note that the results were adjusted to take into consideration other risk factors.

For a long time, I was in deep denial about the correlation between drinking a lot of coffee and facing an increased risk of miscarriage. But I wasn't pregnant then. I also could not imagine that the very smell of coffee could send paroxysms of displeasure down my spine. So counterintuitive! But then, quite a bit about pregnancy is counterintuitive and quite honestly, not at all fun. Though the entire thing is quite worth it.

During the time I couldn’t drink coffee, I missed it and all of the paraphernalia that goes with it. I missed the hissing brew and the chugging of the coffee. I missed the morning ritual--- trying to decide between an oversize glass mug with blue appliqué flowers, or the mug from Mystic Seaport with an image of a seaman drinking an oily cup of hardcore 19th century java.

Because I have spent the past 5 years tracking the medical benefits of coffee, on one level I felt less healthy because I was not drinking it. I know, based on the data, that coffee significantly decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and depression. Coffee is full of health-bestowing chlorogenic acids.

Coffee has always been my favorite antidepressant. Mornings can be hard, and coffee is a trusted antidote. It works. Not all at once, but like a stealth bomber. Lying in bed in the morning, the list of things to do can seem overwhelming and completely discouraging, but coffee uncovers ambition for the quotidian. Coffee makes it possible to move forward and get everything done.

In contrast, coffee-free pregnancy felt like a prelude to death. A sad place without drive. I went approximately 1 week without any coffee. I became so completely de-energized that I existed like a vapor. When I came back to it, it was a very well considered decision. That is, the experts suggested that less than 200 mg per day (of caffeine) would be appropriate. That meant that 1 large steaming mug of coffee, with a little skim milk, would be safe. Less safe, I started to understand, was to consign myself to months of stunning depression and inactivity. Rather, it made sense to drink a much smaller than normal amount of coffee and feel better. And finally, I did.

So after a coffee-free week, I brewed myself a cup, and it was incredibly good. I was talking on the phone with a friend at that moment, explaining the depth of my depression.

“I would like it to end,” I said. “What?” he responded. “All of it,” I said. “I am sick of everything.” Then, between complaints, I mentioned, “By the way, I'm having a cup of coffee.”

“Good,” my friend said. Several moments passed—not minutes, but moments. “You know I am starting to feel better already,” I said more enthusiastically.

The conversation shifted away from my on-the-verge-of-wanting-to-die remarks to something different. Ambition and energy and a renewed sense of purpose---all thanks to the effects of coffee. Meaning, even if I have a bad morning, with lots of nausea, and whimpering on the sofa in despair and fatigue, in reality I can go to the gym. The gym always helps. Always.

Therefore, commitment to coffee and the gym---though definitely modulated and dialed back a bit during this pregnancy continued. Sometimes, less is more…

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Greek Coffee Drinkers Have Healthier Hearts, Less Hypertension, and a LOT More Phenolic Compounds in Their Bodies

A study that included a group of men and women on an island in Greece highlighted several beneficial results that appear to be associated with the consumption of coffee---and these results, including reduced hypertension in coffee-drinnkers, are statistically significant. The study's researchers (published by the European Society of Cardiology in August 2010) were especially rigorous in their analysis, because for a long time there has been a widespread misperception that coffee consumption is linked to hypertension.

Let’s look at the study: The 435 subjects in this study, who ranged from 65 to 100 years old, were evaluated based on how much coffee they drink. Those who consumed 1 to 2 cups a day were healthier, compared with those who rarely drank coffee. There were several notable benefits. Coffee drinkers compared with non-coffee-drinkers had:

• A lower prevalence of diabetes (22% vs. 34%, P>.02)
• A lower body mass index (28% vs. 29 kg/m2, P=0.04)
• Higher creatinine clearance levels (which means better kidney function) 70.2 vs. 65 mL/minute, P=0.05)
• A lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease (19% vs 26%, P=0.04)

Interestingly, this study confirmed many of the things we know about coffee, including its association with a lower risk of diabetes.

The question “What is it about coffee that seems to make people healthier in incremental, but meaningful and cumulative ways?” keeps coming up.

Researchers point to many factors, but phenolic compounds figure prominently. The phenolic compounds in coffee are health-bestowing entities that are found in plants and function in a number of ways.

Phenolic acids are essential for plant growth and protecting plants from pathogens. These compounds protect against oxidative stress. The ability to potentially incorporate these compounds into processed foods has become a hot topic lately. Everyone wants a piece of the phenolic action! The best sources of phenolic compounds are berries (blueberries have 85 mg/100 grams) and coffee, which has 97 mg/100grams.

Perhaps it is the phenolic compounds in coffee that make coffee-drinkers feel like Greek gods and goddesses, giving them the strength to run marathons and the perseverance to more effectively stave off the effects of aging. So keep drinking coffee....

Agapó̱ ton kafé (translation: I love coffee)!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

STARBUCKS Shows Up at Fashion Week: Doing it Their Way---See Live Reporting from Lindsey Murphy

It’s September in New York City and spring is in the air---and on the runways. From September 9-16, 2010, world-class designers are unveiling their spring/summer designs in a new venue: Lincoln Center. With over 70 shows and 250,000 attendees, Fashion Week is a world-class event. This show attracts luminaries from around the globe, including actors, business people, writers, artists, and a pantheon of fabulous people from every walk of life.

This year, in the interest of keeping everyone pleasantly caffeinated, Starbucks has a major presence. The Starbucks Frappuccino® Shuttle is coursing through the byways of the city making frequent trips to Lincoln Center and various destinations in midtown. One of the major product categories highlighted during the shuttle expeditions are the bottled Frappuccino® drinks, including Frappuccino® LIGHT, Dark Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino®, and Bottled Vanilla Frappuccino®Coffee Drink ---made with lowfat milk. Watch reporter extraordinaire, Lindsey Murphy, reporting onsite from the shuttle, surrounded by frappuccinos, Starbucks associates, happily caffeinated people, and disco lights.

While frappuccinos have been become an iconic summer drink since their introduction in 1994, 16 years of brand evolution has resulted in an array of options so vast that it has become an algorithm in and of itself. This trend towards super-personalized choice was formalized in spring 2010, when the However-You-Want-It-Frappuccino® was introduced. Literally, the choices are so numerous that you could order a different Frappuccino® for months on end without exhausting your options. Whether you want whole milk, skim milk, or soy; chocolate, vanilla, green tea, or java chip; venti or tall; with whip or without; strawberry or caramel; or maybe a pumpkin spice soy chai frappuccinno---there are still more sizes, types of milk, flavors, and toppings to choose from.

The good news about the brand evolution is that the LIGHT variation on the frappuccino theme is available in a wide variety of flavors and sizes---and it is HEALTHY. All the better to stay svelte for the top trends of spring 2011: hip-hugging sheath dresses, sexy loungewear, and the return of energetic, spring-like colors—both muted and bright. Here’s to CHOICE, fashion, and coffee!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lights, Camera, Sound, Coffee---and Action!

From September 1st to November 14th, 2010, visitors can come to the Montclair State University amphitheater to enjoy an outdoor sonic/light installation by Christopher Janney---a well-known architect, who installs different types of interactive exhibits in public spaces. This exhibit, "Everywhere is the Best Seat," features 36 columns with light sensors that are thoroughly interactive. Visitors are enveloped in lights and sounds---including the melodious calls of rainforest birds and atmospheric electronica.

Better yet, while enjoying the exhibit, grab a cup of coffee at Cafe Diem, which is less than a 2-minute walk away from the amphitheater. The cafe, which is open until midnight on weekends and 24 hours a day during the week and on Sundays, brews Starbucks coffee drinks. One of their best drinks is the pumpkin latte. They are generous with the espresso!

For the past couple of nights, my family has been compelled to walk over to the university and enjoy the magic of this exhibit. I, of course, have been compelled to have coffee! Between the walking and the coffee and the brisk September air, there is a feeling of overall good health. In fact, coffee aids exercise. It delays muscle fatigue and keeps you focused and energetic. Life is based on a series of minute-by-minute decisions....Should I take that walk? Should I drink a cup of coffee? How about experiencing a wonderful outdoor cultural/art installation with other people in an open-air setting? My answer: Yes, yes, and yes!

Here I am surrounded by the wonderful super-sonic, hypervisual, awe-inspiring installation drinking a cup of French Roast.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Drinking a Celebratory Cup of Beanstock Coffee

Sometimes, things don't go as planned. The first few days of our annual August vacation were cold, rainy, and dismal. Instead of opting for cool spritzers, I found myself craving hot coffee. I found great comfort in Beanstock Coffee, a remarkable line of beans brewed by a company that started roasting coffee in 1996 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Three days into our vacation, the sun came out. People swarmed the beaches, runners took to the streets, and there were glorious shouts of joy from the bike paths.

Like many others, we took to the beach to watch the sunset. I brought Beanstock along. It was satisfying on every level!

Here I am at Duck Harbor drinking combo hazelnut/Wellfleet blend, the best of all possible worlds--combined in one cup.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Happiness Is…Buying a New Coffee Maker & Getting a Refund for the Old One

About a week ago, the unthinkable happened. One mid-August morning, my Barista AromaTM 8-cup coffeemaker broke. It became essentially unusable. My first reaction was denial. The large rubber lip of the thermal carafe had become completely unhinged. I tried to meld it back together, but this coffee maker was almost 4 years old. Indeed, if ever there was ‘planned obsolescence’ this was it---because it was definitely NOT abuse. Over the years, I have loved that coffeemaker. On some cold winter mornings, I would practically coo at it as it competently brewed my coffee. I loved many of its features. It’s black and silver sleekness, the gold mesh flat filter, the fact that I could yank the carafe away from the case before it finished brewing in order to pour myself half a cup. I loved the shushing sound it made as it brewed, the strategically placed water canister, and the digital read-out. Ours was a warm respectable relationship informed by my primal addiction to coffee.

After I got through the denial phase, I jumped into action. I went online to attempt to replace the carafe. I encountered a few Web posts suggesting that my Barista had been recalled. That seemed really strange, so I physically walked to the Starbucks near my house to find out where to buy another Barista. When I arrived, I made sure to stock up on VIA--when it comes to instant coffee, VIA truly is best-in-class---to get me through the next few days. (I had originally purchased my Barista coffeemaker at Starbucks in 2007, but was well aware that Starbucks no longer retails coffeemakers in their stores. I have since found out that they don’t retail coffeemakers at all anymore….but, they do give EXCELLENT customer service.) The barista told me to contact customer service in Seattle . I did and less than 24 hours later, they responded suggesting I call using a specific case file number. Within 10 minutes on the phone with Daniel, my problem was resolved. My Barista had been recalled; Daniel promised to send me a shipping label and a full refund of $99.90. Now that’s what I call incredible service and accountability. Thank you, Starbucks!

Next step: I purchased a Black & Decker 8-cup Thermal Programmable Coffeemaker.

Tomorrow, I start my relationship with my Black & Decker 8-cup Thermal Programmable Coffeemaker. First, I have to buy filters! It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do that… and then there is the ceremonial hot-water cleansing. And this time, I plan to master the delayed brewing feature. So the question is: Is this the start of something special? Who knows---it may very well be a love match.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Calcium and Coffee---Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Very big news from the British Medical Journal. It turns out that calcium supplements can increase the risk of heart attacks. In a combined analysis of 11 clinical trials that included almost 12,000 people with an average age of 72, people taking calcium had a 2.7% risk of having a heart attack over a 4-year period, compared with 2.2% for those taking placebo pills. A slight increase to be sure---but that translates into an approximately 30% higher risk and potentially a lot more heart attacks.

This study garnered a great deal of attention---and rightfully so. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. A recent study about coffee and heart health has not been as well publicized, but the results are interesting and instructive. A study of 374 patients who had experienced an acute coronary event showed that if they had normal blood pressure and they drank 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day, they decreased their risk of left ventricular systemic dysfunction (LVSD) by 88%, compared with similar patients who did not drink coffee. This positive effect was not true for people with high blood pressure, however.
Sometimes, positive data about coffee goes unrecognized....Likewise, sometimes no-name coffee get a bad name. I for one like brand-name coffee---but the reality is good coffee lurks in improbable places--namely random delis scattered throughout NYC. I especially like the coffee from a deli on 28th and 5th. Good stuff. Smooth and deep and rich---but definitely in need of some mediation, generally in the form of skim milk. Still it's good.

So here's to drinking good coffee wherever you find it and thinking more about coffee and its potentially positive effects on our cardiovascular system.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Drinking Iced Coffee When its Hot, Hot, Hot...

Stultifying heat. Blazing hot. Mercury-popping temperatures....We can honestly say that these descriptions are no hyperbole. It was scorching caliente today! Really. The temperature hit a whopping 103 degrees in Central Park.

So...it was a perfect day for drinking iced coffee. Though that wasn't the plan at first. I started the day with a hot brew. However, when Lindsey came over for a mid-morning chat, we decided to pour the morning's brew---Ethiopiam Limu---over ice cubes in brightly colored BPA-free plastic goblets.

The result: delicious-slash-refreshing The coffee was bold enough so that even with ice, a little skim milk, and one sugar it was really festive and good. Yet, we did not turn it into some overly sweetened beverage that reminds one of coffee but is actually a soft drink wannabe. It was coffee pure and simple, and it was really, really good!

Ethiopian Limu is a seasonal summer brew from Starbucks. According to the branding, this blend "has a rich complexity with hints of exotic spices." Starbucks honors the widely honored Ethiopian coffee-drinking tradition. The label features a mortar/pestle motif, with clay mugs and an ornate ceremonial water jug.

According to Lindsey, this blend is "smooth and masculine". Indeed, I agree that this brew privileges yang over yin. Perfect for engaging forward motion, getting motivated to take a call, send an email, read to a child, and ultimately, hopefully---jump in a cool swimming pool! That was my day....perfectly caffeinated.

Drink up and stay cool!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another Reason I Heart Coffee So Much: It Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease!

Once in a while you see a movie in which someone is all hyped up on coffee. They are agitated and grimacing, and then suddenly they grasp their chest and proceed to have a heart attack on screen. If you see this type of movie, it should seem grainy and perhaps a little off-color and uncontemporary. Because anyone who is aware of the evidence surrounding coffee and cardiovascular disease is also aware that coffee is not associated with an increased risk of heart attack. In fact, coffee is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

So says a recent study published on June 18, 2010 in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association. In a study that included 37,514 subjects over a 13-year period, people who drank 6 or more cups of coffee a day reduced their risk of developing heart disease by 36%. Those who drank 2 to 4 cups per day had a 20% reduced risk. It's not clear exactly what the underlying mechanism is---but the numerous antioxidants found in coffee are clear contributors to this beneficial effect.

Researchers added that coffee drinkers also tend to exercise more and have a lower incidence of obesity. Plus (and this is IMO and the opinion of many others), coffee tastes good and makes you happy---especially the Italian Roast that I had at Starbucks today. It was bright and smooth and perfect with a dab of skim milk.

So drink another cup of coffee today if you can....it's one more way you can love yourself and improve your long-term health,

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Easy Breezy: Coffee of the Day, Seattle's Best Blend

On a warm, late spring morning, full schedules beckoned---and I, like many, many others woke up to a pot of coffee.

The coffee of the day was Seattle's Best Blend. According to the packaging, this blend is "uncommonly smooth." I enjoyed the first cup, but had to drink it quickly and head off to an event in my first grader's class.

Afterwards, my friend, Lindsey, Founder of SEO-ME, and I came back vowing to uncover the "uncommon smoothness" of Seattle's Best Blend. My second cup was rich and had perfect depth--but admittedly it needed a little kick.

Lindsey's take: "The flavor's definitely bright, but I would not say it's uncommonly smooth. It's definitely coffee, but I feel like there needs to be something happening, like nutmeg or cinnamon. The good part though is I don't feel like I have coffee breath.

That being said, the day was beautiful and the morning was full of laughter. We were light and breezy--despite the fact that we both had a full day of writing ahead of us. As Lindsey said, "Coffee is good to get you through the day, but it's really about the connection to others." Well said, Lindsey.

And next up to try from the Seattle's Best selection : Beach House Blend. If it's good, I'll drink it at the beach and the pool. It's going to be a great summer!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Today’s Coffee Review: The Organic Coffee Company

Never mind that coffee is good for you----it needs to taste good. In fact, that first morning cup should be mind-blowing.

Not so with the Ground Rainforest Blend from The Organic Coffee Company. It’s dank and bitter without any subtle traces of chicory or nuts or chocolate or even mystery.

Fortunately, it is utilitarian. Drink it and get the familiar morning jolt. But beyond that it’s all packaging and a nice story.

The package is based on a rainforest meets mountains motif: blue sky, royal purple on one side with little symbols of fecundity, tall trees with deep underbrush, and cool breeze mountains in the backdrop. There is a bright orange sticker on the front that boasts, “Fairly traded (responsibly grown) Rainforest Blend (A perfectly rounded blend yielding a medium bodied, complex flavor)”.

Though I am not a fan of this coffee, which is grown on farms in Central America, their ethics and sense of responsibility are laudable. In 1996, the Rogers family started the Source Aid Development Program that has built schools, started meal programs, improved housing, and established medical clinicas in struggling coffee communities around the world.

Perhaps then I need to rethink my dislike. Maybe if I steam the milk just so---or perhaps if I drink this coffee in January instead of June---or maybe I’ll simply try a different flavor.

There are after all many flavors to choose from----Breakfast Blend, Chocolate Almond, Fair Trade French Roast, Hurricane Expresso, and Guatamala Maya Lake Whole Bean. I’m sure to find something I like…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Coffee News Update: From Pop Culture to the Hallowed Halls of Clinical Research Labs

Recently, a headline made its way around the global media network in various exclamatory iterations. Composite results from 13 trials undertaken at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed that coffee significantly improves performance especially among the nigh-shift crowd.

The headlines were unequivocally upbeat: “Why Caffeine is the Perfect Addiction for a Worker Bee Society;” “Coffee Improves Productivity and Safety at Work;” Coffee Improves Work Efficiency;” “Coffee is Best Perk for Sleepy Workers;” and many, many more. News about coffee is big news---if only because coffee is a $60 billion-plus industry and the world's most widely consumed psyhoactive beverage worldwide.

The scientific community continues to study coffee seriously. One major recent development is the devotion of an entire supplement of The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. This supplement, "Therapeutic Opportunities for Caffeine in Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases," is devoted to exploring how coffee affects the cognitive decline associated with aging and with Alzheimer's disease. There are 22 articles devoted to this topic and related topic, but the quick takeaway is that “moderate amounts of caffeine are inversely associated with the cognitive decline associated with both aging and Alzheimer's disease.”

This issue of JAD is a byproduct of a meeting—entitled “Caffeine and the Brain” held in Lisbon a year ago in June 2009. The meeting, which was sponsored by the Associaci˜ao Industrial e Comercial do Cafe in Portugal, was widely heralded as a breakthrough research moment for coffee in which coffee was identified as a disease-modifying agent for Alzheimer's disease and possibly for an entire group of neurodegenerative diseases that involve an element of cognitive decline.

Coffee is the perfect antidote for the aging brain!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Drinking Coffee at Disney: When it Comes to Coffee, It's a Small, Small World

Disney World in late March is a dream come true---especially if you are between the ages of 5 and 7. Finally, I decided that my job as a mom was to indulge that dream. From the beginning, it seemed that this trip of a lifetime for my young daughter would be a test of endurance for me. My husband was staying home to work, so for the first part of the trip we would be on our own. However, we were excited that we would be meeting my sister and her family there.

From the very beginning, the challenges were rampant. The plane did not depart until 10pm, with an arrival time after midnight. Upon arrival in Orlando, we were told that our hotel rooms were suddenly “oversold” and that we were being “upgraded” to a hotel about 7 miles further away from Disney World.

When I got to the hotel, I had to forge a plan to compensate for the woefully inadequate shuttle service of the hotel. I immediately set up my 5-star coffee maker and made a quick pot of Colombian brew. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old pored blissfully over the map of the Disney World parks. It was 2 am in the morning, but I was energized and promptly called the desk demanding to be put on the shuttle schedule for the next morning.

By 7am later that morning, we were up, showered, and dressed. We packed a bag of sundry items to deal with a day at Disney, including sun screen, hoodies, almonds and fruit snacks---and Starbucks Via, just in case. A freshly brewed cup of coffee helped me get us out the door, down to breakfast and onto the shuttle. It was a super long ride, so being early was critical. Breakfast was good indeed, and the carafe of coffee that the waitress brought to us led to an increase in tip. It was going to be a good day after all.

Magic Kingdom was glorious. After we went on Splash Mountain and the temperature dropped, we opted for hot drinks---coffee and cocoa—instead of soda. We needed those drinks to ground us for the stomach-churning, exhilarated excitement that took half an hour to wear off. The day progressed, it became rainier, our little party of two grew as we met up with other family members, we watched parades starring smiling princesses and chivalrous princes, and we became hypnotized by the endlessly beautiful and grating melody of “It's a Small World.”

Then the downpour started. We hurried and purchased ponchos and tried hard to keep on keeping on---with rides and character sightings---until we just could not endure the rain any longer.

Back at the hotel, dinner came with coffee (very good coffee) and a bevy of tempting dessert options. We happily availed ourselves. There was another early morning in front of us, but we had a 5- and 7-year-old that were so hopped up on the magic of Disney that they would not even consider going to bed. It became a very, very late night. My sister and I were thrilled that the Starbucks in the lobby was open---in fact, we ordered skim cappuccinos for ourselves, which were foamy and lite and infused with just enough espresso to help us stay awake for all of the action that night. That action included jumping from the bed onto pillows on the floor, playing Webkinz, and channel surfing between Disney and PBS Kids.

The next day, the very pinnacle of my coffee experience at Disney came at Epcot. After riding the Nemo ride and taking photos in front of flower sculptures of Goofy, we happened upon a little cafe-kiosk, with ice cream and lattes---lattes that could be made with skim milk. I ordered a vanilla latte. After taking the first heavenly sip, I knew I had to sit down on a bench and bask in the glow of this wonderful beverage. I love Disney World (ironically enough) and I still love, love, love coffee!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Drinking Coffee With the Tiger and Reinvigorating Coffee’s Proud Tradition of Liberalism

Last month, the year of the Tiger came roaring in. Chinese New Year celebrations were held around the world---and though coffee is not traditionally a beverage widely enjoyed in traditional Chinese culture, there were lots of people participating in the festivities drinking coffee. I was one of them. En route to my mother-in-law’s house in Brooklyn, I made my husband stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. I love the young baristas there, who are constantly telling me that Dunkin Donuts is as good as Starbucks. “We have skim milk,” they exclaim. I smile and say, “Great. Please put a little in my large cup of coffee. No sugar…and thank you.”

I don’t need to be convinced. I have drunk coffee all over the United States and Europe. Though I like good coffee, I tend to be pretty broad-minded, especially when purveyors are willing to stand by their coffee. I also have a weakness for good copy. In fact, recently, while driving with my husband, we passed an Exxon where there was a mini-billboard advertising “Java for your journey.” I was desperate for gas, though I use very little in day to day life, and our tank was almost full. I wanted java for my journey—their java. Frankly, I want java for all my journeys, even when I’m walking around.

So how about Dunkin’ Donuts? Turns out, it’s been around longer than Starbucks. Dunkin’ Donuts was founded by William Rosenberg in 1950 in Quincy, Massachusetts, as a fast-food type coffee and donut shop. Each summer, while traveling back to New England for vacation, I give up Starbucks and happily embrace Dunkin’ Donuts, which is the predominant coffee chain in New England.

Dunkin’ Donuts is low-key and based on décor, somewhat lowbrow, but the coffee itself is good, if only because it is so evenly brewed and well tempered. In 2007, there were approximately 7,000 stores globally—and that number is expected to grow to 15,000 within the next 6 years. There is value in that cup, and in this economy, that's something that we can all appreciate.

Though I am not intensely political, I too am aware of economic, socioeconomic, and political concerns. So Annabel Park’s recent facebook post got my attention. Her exultation…

“Let’s start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. geez. ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss ‘em off because it sounds elitist . . . let’s get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.”

…has spurned a nascent movement. Who knows where it will go, but it’s another way for people to get together, to drink coffee, to be excited about ideas, and to be calm while discussing them. In reality, coffee parties are the continuation of an age-old tradition of using coffee to aid open-minded, well-educated discourse. Can’t wait to attend my first one!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Pile Up, and Let us Drink Coffee: Plus More Good News From International Coffee Researchers

"Happy February, fellow coffee lovers! February is a wonderful month, with lots of celebrations---Black History Month, Valentine’s day, Purim, and, at least this year, a flurry of snow days, with lots of sledding, get-togethers, and coffee-drinking.

I am pleased that my daughter has chosen to focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. as the subject for her Black History Project at her elementary school in Montclair, NJ. Making good use of a silver-metallic blendy pen, black poster board, and wikipedia, she has put together an interesting project focusing on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, his civil rights work, and the fact that he was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 1964. A month ago, when we hosted our annual MLK, Jr. coffee-drinking party, she was responsible for hanging up peace-signs everywhere (her idea). Not surprisingly, her MLK, Jr. poster is festooned with peace insignias and happy faces.

Apparently, Dr. King was a coffee-lover. That is a documented fact. I can imagine that during sit-ins, when waiting to be served at racist establishments in the deep South, he may have requested a cup of coffee. Whether or not he got that cup of coffee during a particular sit-in—he knew that his wife Coretta would gladly place a steaming mug of lovingly brewed coffee in his waiting hands when he finally came home and took off his suit.

This year’s coffee-drinking get-together was bigger than last year’s and the coffee and hot chocolate were well-received. Though we focused on a nice Starbucks Pike Place blend, we also brewed Sumatra for a smoother option. Some attendees chose a mixed blend. Nice choice….especially when they sat down in the front of the fireplace where eco-friendly Javalogs were burning and subtly emitting the smell of fresh-roasted coffee.

Our friends were generous with the lovely desserts and other treats they brought. We had a nice loaf of babka, gluten-free chips, a large fruit salad, blue chips, and an old-school yellow-cake-with-chocolate-icing fave that really went down well with the coffee. By the time we descended to the play room, we were feeling remarkably energized by chocolate, coffee, and sweet sundries...all the better to watch our children perform for us by dancing, doing flips, and (with the help of Lindsey) reading text from “I Have a Dream.” Then we came upstairs to eat more cake and drink more coffee.

To be quite honest, though we are all fairly fitness-oriented, the drive for sweet treats is so intense during winter months, that sometimes eating a granola/ dark-chocolate chip cookie almost feels like a predestined fate. Fortunately, there is a strong base of clinical evidence that shows that coffee consumption decreases the risk of diabetes.

In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in December 2009 (2009;169:2053-63), international researchers, including researchers from Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; New York City; and Utrecht, the Netherlands, conducted a meta-analysis of 18 individual studies that included data on 457,922 participants. It turned out that for each cup of coffee consumed the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was reduced by 7%. The data showing that coffee reduces the risk of diabetes is not new---what is new is the amount of available data. There is a great deal of funding and attention directed towards continuing to clearly eludcidate the pharmacologic benefits of coffee. That’s a good thing, a very good thing....

Oh how sweet it is!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Drinking Coffee in 2010: New Year, New Challenges, Good Things on the Horizon

Before you read this post, please allow me to mention the incredibly disastrous event that occurred in Haiti on January 12, 2010. The earthquake wrought a great deal of devastation. You can donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting "HAITI" to 90999. You'll see the charge on your phone bill.....

Happy New Year, Fellow Coffee Lovers! Largely due to the energizing effects of coffee, I have been very, very busy writing, traveling, parenting, working out, and hanging out drinking coffee. Now I'm back. Please note: One of my resolutions for 2010 is to share my coffee-related insights more frequently. I appreciate your readership. Thanks!

Speaking of resolutions, last year one of my resolutions was to go to Seattle to experience the city, its natural beauty, its cultural landscape, and its abundance of coffee-drinking experiences. So I went in December 2009, with my husband and little girl in tow. It was amazing. Over the coming weeks, I will be unfurling the experience in this blog. But right now, I want to focus on goals.

Anything is possible. Sometimes it can be difficult, but accomplishment and positive outcomes are accessible--even though it can seem pretty challenging sometimes. As northeasterners, we endure long, drawn-out winters year after year. It can be rough; sometimes the cold weather makes you want more food, more sleep, more time to chill out in front of the fireplace...But, with the exception of occasional weekend respites and vacations (which we all love, of course), the demands of life are incessant. And honestly, getting things done feels great! Thanks to coffee, we can stay alert and motivated---and even warm ourselves up.

Currently, in my house, we are enjoying the warm glow provided by clean-burning, environmentally friendly Javalogs. They make the entire living room smell like coffee. Burning a nightly javalog truly has become a treat.

Another prominent and evergreen New Years' goal is the goal of getting in tip-top shape. Coffee can help with that too, according to an article published in Physiology & Behavior. In fact, researchers have confirmed that the average metabolic rate of people who drink caffeinated coffee is 16% higher than those who drink decaf. On top of that, coffee decreases appetite. In fact, coffee is so good that Men's Health Magazine has extolled it as one of the top 10 weight-loss "foods."

Coffee Kinship

Finally, as we approach MLK day and our community gears up for a day of service, we are reminded of the need to be kind and generous---while continuing to be resolved, vigilant, and ambitious. To strike this balance, coffee is the drink of choice. As my friend Robert Green remarked to me when we ran into each other at the Montclair Art Museum, "Coffee makes the world go round!" And it's true. Coffee kinship abounds! For example, while touring Seattle with our guide, Jerry, we stopped for coffee at Zeitgeist Cafe in Pioneer Square and later for low-acid, full-flavor coffee at Caffee Appassionato in Ballard. Jerry remarked to me, "I love drinking coffee, especially mocha. It's a great thing to do on a cold, December, post-solstice morning in Seattle."

When we returned to Montclair, we had the pleasure of drinking coffee at our friends' house. Nan and Jess served Starbucks coffee in an elegant, silverplate serving-pot that elevated the post-dinner, coffee-drinking experience to the level of high tea in the afternoon. Finally, there is our friend, Rabbi Noach Shapiro, who has moved from Montclair to Israel with his family. I enjoy his yen for good storytelling and strong narrative--but never as much as when he talks about coffee. I'm so glad to know that coffee is a huge part of life in Israel, and is served not only after a good meal---but even at an out-of-the-way diesel station in Karmiel. Rabbi Shapiro also shows us that coffee can turn simmering frustration into a heartfelt, satisfied smile.

Smile everyone, drink coffee, and do good deeds! More on our Seattle coffee-drinking experiences in upcoming blogs. Happy MLK day!