Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Using coffee to combat SAD or why pumpkin lattes can make us happier in November

Who doesn’t love the fall? What’s not to love when turning leaves are providing a visual feast of saturated reds and yellows, and it’s absolutely fine to eat an apple cider donut once in a while? People put on their hiking boots, call in the chimney sweep and embrace the culture of harvest in all of its pumpkin-and-hayrides glory.

But there’s a downside for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). As the days get shorter, the lack of sunlight wreaks havoc on their serotonin and melatonin neurotransmitters. Roughly 6% of Americans suffer from SAD and another 14% experience the ‘winter blues,’ a less severe variant of SAD, but very real nonetheless.  

Seventy million Americans face a seasonal problem that wasn’t acknowledged as a real condition until 1984 when Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical psychiatry professor at Georgetown, laid out the diagnostic criteria for SAD.  The DSM-V categorizes SAD as a modifier—“with seasonal pattern” to recurrent major depressive disorder. Common treatments include phototherapy, antidepressants and melatonin supplements. 

Wellbutrin X—the only FDA-approved treatment for SAD
The only FDA-approved treatment for SAD is Wellbutrin XL (bupropion), which was first marketed by GlaxoSmithKline in 1985 and is now available as a generic.  In placebo-controlled studies, patients who had been diagnosed with SAD were started on treatment between September and November. At the end of treatment in late March, 84% of patients were depression-free---an important outcome because one of the major concerns around SAD is that it will escalate into a major depressive episode.

Full Prescribing Information from the Food and Drug Administration is available here

Because SAD usually occurs at the same time each year, starting in mid-to-late fall and ending in spring, it makes sense to anticipate it. Best to deal with SAD early in the fall, because one day you will wake up and realize that the sun will be setting at 4 PM, and all you really want to do is stockpile cookies and rev up the Netflix.

Data: The coffee-depression connection
I’ve reported several times on the link between drinking coffee and decreased depression. Ten-year data from the Nurses’ Health Study showed that drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day decreased the risk of depression by 15%, and a fourth cup led to even better outcomes. Another study with more than 86,000 women showed that drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day decreased the risk of suicide by two-thirds.

However, it really doesn’t take 3 cups of coffee a day to help you feel better. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy ofMedicine in 2015, the amount of caffeine found in one cup of coffee can improve mood, decrease sleepiness, improve memory and make it easier to deal with stress. 

Coffee as stress reliever
The takeaway: Just grabbing a cup of coffee can help combat the onset of moodiness for people with SAD. I am not suggesting that coffee is a replacement for pharmacologic support---that’s something best dealt with by a medical doctor. However, all evidence points to coffee’s utility as a mood booster and as a way to combat stress.  

Caffeine has a well-known mechanism of action: By blocking adenosine receptors, it short-circuits the body’s sleep-activation mechanism. The same MOA is responsible for improving mood and memory, while also making it easier to handle stress---the bogeyman that can ruin lives. Coffee stops the body’s natural deterioration mechanisms from kicking in.

I drink coffee because I like it and I know it’s good for me, but around this time of year, my coffee-drinking becomes more intentionally utilitarian. I like pumpkins and little goblins, and doing leaf-decoupage projects with my kindergartener. But I hate getting the blues and it happens almost every year. This year, however, I’m ready. Drink up!

Monday, October 17, 2016

A fresh perspective on a five-year-old indie coffee house or why Java Love is still the bomb---By Megan Wilt

Life as a mom in Suburbia can be a bit cookie-cutter.  Life as a stay-at-home-mom in Suburbia can be nearly surreal in its fulfilled expectation.  This is not the 1950s and it’s the rare SAHM who prides herself on a Donna Reed-esque tidy home and nightly roast.  We are modern women living out vintage lives in a modern world. 

Thankfully, for those of us living in the Manhattan-adjacent burbs, there are a few more opportunities that keep us tied to the real world.  It is just a situation like this that draws me to our town’s stand-in for the water cooler – Java Love.  While I have often spent an afternoon sitting in the reclaimed comfort of burlap coffee sacks and beautifully collaged wood, the café thrives as a setting for an afternoon of shop-talk--- getting acquainted with a local friend in a way our busy lives and Facebook banter cannot provide. 

Unlike the ubiquitously-branded Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts stores scattered about town, Java Love tends thankfully toward the adult – no middle schoolers flooding the space with too-large backpacks and too-small manners while on a Pokemon quest.  Nor is Java Love the harbinger of one-size-fits-all milky lattes or burnt-tasting espresso.  Java Love is a real coffee house.  They pride themselves on all things local and roast their own beans. 

Java Love’s offerings are like the old wedding day superstition – something old, something new, something borrowed, something…well, nothing blue, but 3 out of 4 is all you need.  The demand for something old is represented by the reliably consistent quality of your basic espresso drinks.  Java Love has staff that understands the difference between a latte and a macchiato (hint: if you’ve been getting either at Starbucks, you will be surprised by the real thing).  The espresso is always bold and well-rounded and never, ever tastes burnt. 

The “something new” is brought to the customer by the imaginations of the young, hipster-esque staff with seasonal menus and carefully-considered recommendations.  They love to add a unique twist, such as a dash of cayenne powder, squirt of lavender or rose syrup, or using the flavor of almond milk to enhance a nutmeg- and ginger-spiced drink. 

All that said, the shop knows that there will always be someone stopping in for drinks made popular by the big chains, so they’ve also developed some borrowed concepts, like the ever-present pumpkin spice latte (or PSL, if you’re basic).  Admittedly, I tend toward the “something old” side when drinking espresso.  I like my coffee strong and simple.

While the child-free coffee shops are ideal, let’s be honest – the majority of us are in the burbs because we have kids.  Although Java Love is not popular with the roaming tweens and teens, families are welcome.  When Java opened its second location on Church St last spring, I found my children rejoicing right along with me.  We are no longer forced to visit Starbucks after dance class at Sharron Miller’s dance school or trips to the library. 

My 8 year-old daughter is a bit of a Java Love connoisseur, typically choosing a decaf espresso drink while working her way through the flavored syrup choices.  The baristas make sure her drink is never too hot.  My 5 year-old son, on the other hand, chooses between hot chocolate and the regionally-produced apple juice varieties stocked in the cooler.  Our suburban experience would be lacking something essential without Java Love around to provide a welcoming respite.  It feels much like the comfort of your own home, but coffee-stocked and mess-free and, therefore, much more enjoyable. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Montclair welcomes the crazy dancing goat to the fold

Three weeks ago, there was a pleasant buzz about the latest coffee shop to open in town. Crazy Mocha, located at 491 Bloomfield Avenue on the ground floor of a 93-year-old bank building, is a Pittsburgh-based chain owned by Ken Zeff.

According to a brief convo with the super-friendly, attractive young baristas, Zeff’s brother lives in Montclair. Having spent a fair amount of time visiting his brother, Zeff decided that Montclair would be a good location for another Crazy Mocha storefront.

Because of its philosophy of locating its stores so as not to cannibalize the business of independent coffee shops (such as Java Love downtown on Church St.), its location on Bloomfield Ave. several blocks north of Trend Coffeehouse, is perfect.

Not only is there plenty of table seating, but there is a lounge communal area near the front windows replete with comfortable large leather shares, tables made for hanging out and other little seating nooks for those who are seeking a more relaxed experience. The wifi is reliable.

So how do you turn an almost 100-year-old bank building into a cozy café? It’s called adaptive reuse---a program that allows historic, unused buildings to be repurposed for contemporary uses. Were it not for the interior brick walls (original) and ornate fixtures, such as a large fireplace near the entrance, as well as other interior design features that ground the space, the high ceilings and large windows, might make a person feel that they are in a vault (the building was previously called Vault491). There is even a deposit slot in the door.

Fortunately, all of those architectural features have been leveraged in the interest of creating a nice coffee shop, while retaining the old Italian Renaissance charm of the original building.

The coffee itself is good—hot and well-priced. I had a latte and it delivered---smooth, bold and sufficiently caffeinated. On the food side, Crazy Mocha has the best selection of biscotti that I have ever seen. Sure, you can get plain, chocolate and hazelnut at Crazy Mocha (and everyplace else), but you can also get salted caramel biscotti, apricot-vanilla biscotti and mocha biscotti---with many other biscotti options available.

Traditionally, the chances that a new eatery or restaurant will make it in Montclair have not been encouraging. In fact, Mountie’s Eatery (which I recently reviewed) has already closed, less than three months after opening. I am sad to see it go. However, when it comes to cafés, the town’s appetite for coffee houses and cafés is strong enough to keep all of these places afloat. Welcome to town, Crazy Mocha.