Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Coffee by the Campfire---and Medical News About Coffee’s Benefits in Hep C

At night, in the woods, when there is no wifi or temperature-control device available, you realize that your deepest, darkest fears are probably real. However, in the morning, when it’s sunny out and you wake up and stretch, you feel much better and reconsider your bleak thoughts from the previous night. Camping feels like a more extreme version of reality. The one constant, it seems, is the comfort of coffee in the morning.

Recently, I went with a group of friends and our kids camping. Oh, what an adventure! I was in charge of the coffee, but had the added challenge of not knowing whether there was a stovetop or electricity. Out of desperation, I purchased Maxwell House---something I haven’t done in years. (My friend also brought along Via from Starbucks).

We needed a robust supply of coffee, as every adult there was counting on the bitter brew to ease into the day. We used a stovetop powered by a propane tank visible from our window. We also used Styrofoam cups---an environmental faux pas of enormous proportions…but the cabin did not come stocked with china, so we did what we had to do. We boiled water in a frying pan and made cup after precious cup, which was drunk with a sense of sacred gratitude by each one of us.

…And now an important health update about coffee and liver disease: New findings from a study published in the June 2011 issue of Gastroenterology showed that in patients with hepatitis C treated with peginterferon plus ribavirin, coffee drinkers were twice as likely to respond to their treatment.

In the analysis, 46% of non-coffee-drinkers had an early virologic response; 26% had no detectable serum hepatitis C virus ribonucleic acid (HCV RNA) at week 20; 22% had no detectable serum at week 48; and 11% had a sustained virologic response.

In contrast, among coffee drinkers, 73% had an early virologic response; 52% had no detectable HCV RNA at week 20; 49% had no detectable serum at week 48; and 26% had a sustained virologic response.

There is a strong evidence base showing that coffee has positive effects in the liver, specifically, coffee is associated with a lower level of liver enzymes, reduced progression of chronic liver disease, and a reduced incidence of liver cancer.

Ironic but true, I drank Maxwell house in the woods with a group of friends and enjoyed it immensely. By doing so, I discovered quite by accident that coffee hubris is as misguided as any other type of excessive pride. Certainly, I enjoyed the Via and the cup of Sumatra I had upon returning home. But, when one is in adventurous situations---camping out with kids, at a lonely interstate rest stop, in a fancy hotel room with a broken coffee maker—it all comes down to getting a cup of coffee. And when you get it, you may even be tempted to say: “Good to the last drop!”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

As American as Apple Pie---Starbucks at 40

It’s the 40th anniversary of the incorporation of Starbucks…and in celebration of this seminal time, Starbucks has introduced the “Tribute” blend…which is incredibly bright, with nice bold overtones. I like it both hot and cold…In tribute to the 40th anniversary of Starbucks, this post is dedicated to them. Arguably, the Starbucks experience, which incorporates an appealing lexicon, pleasing physical lay-out, music-drenched ambiance, and access to world-class newspapers, embodies the highest ideals of bohemian culture. Yet, Starbucks is a well-run corporation, with CEO Howard Schultz, CEO, at the helm as a benevolent and savvy business icon. To its credit, Starbucks’ corporate governance has led to such widespread recognition that its good works are lauded throughout the business community.

The story of how Starbucks became “Starbucks” is legendary and interesting from both a cultural perspective and a business perspective. Howard Schultz became Marketing Director of Starbucks in 1982, when it was still a bean company. While meandering down a street in Milan during a break from a professional conference, he decided to stop for espresso at one of the more than 200,000 espresso bars in Italy. He was riveted by what he saw, heard, and felt. People were talking, laughing, reading, and otherwise productively engaged---and he himself found the atmosphere both relaxing and stimulating at the same time. The epiphany was immediate. His goal: To export this phenomenon back to the United States. In retrospect, that he succeeded is in some ways remarkable.

In the early 1980’s, the United States was not an obvious target for a nationwide coffee chain. There were a slew of negative reports about coffee and caffeine in particular being not only unhealthy, but associated with cancer and other diseases. The popular taste tended towards soft drinks and sugary juices, and there was no large-scale precedent---especially outside of large cities---for just hanging out, reading, and drinking coffee. But Schultz succeeded in taking the “mystery and romance” of the coffee experience and making it a tangible reality in the United States. One of the main marketing principles aimed at an aspiring middle class was the idea of acknowledging and elevating individuality by making individual espresso and coffee drinks specified to customers’ desires. Add to that the integration of Starbucks’ music, book, and film enterprises, all within the context of a comfortable, edifying atmosphere, and the appeal becomes readily apparent.

Day in and day out, we congregate at Starbucks--for business, for pleasure, for rest and stimulation; alone or with friends, partners, and children...these are the days of our lives. And where we spend them and how we spend them matters. That's why I choose coffee---every day!