As you probably know, coffee beans come from the coffee tree, which is actually a beautiful tropical evergreen shrub. What makes coffee so interesting, other than its popularity and scrutiny, is its origin.
Coffee dates as far back as 800 A.D. in Africa and National Geographic tells the "goat coffee" story. It all started with an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi, who “noticed his herd dancing from one coffee shrub to another, grazing on the cherry-red berries containing the beans. He copped a few himself and was soon frolicking with his flock.” It turns out that a monk “witnessed Kaldi’s goatly gambol,” so the monk plucked berries for his brothers and that night they were “uncannily alert to divine inspiration.”
History tells us that coffee as we know it today kicked off in Arabia, where roasted beans were first brewed around A.D. 1000. By the 13th century Muslims were drinking coffee religiously. Seemingly, "the bean broth drove dervishes into orbit, kept worshippers awake, and splashed over into secular life."
For years, coffee has been under scrutiny, propelling much confusion. Is coffee good or bad for you? A featured article by WebMD says that coffee could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and colon cancer. There's also some evidence that coffee may help manage asthma, stop a headache, boost mood, and prevent cavities. Newsmax Health adds a few more “diseases coffee can benefit,” like dementia, liver disease, heart disease, gout as well as prostate and breast cancers.
While researchers believe it's the antioxidants (polyphenols or flavonoids) and possibly the hundreds of other compounds found in coffee that are responsible for coffee's health benefits, scientists are cautionary, adding the usual "more research is needed" line. Tomas DePaulis PhD, research scientist at Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts its own medical research and tracks coffee studies from around the world, summarizes it this way: "Overall, the research shows that coffee is far more healthful than it is harmful," and "for most people, very little bad comes from drinking it, but a lot of good."
Good news for us coffee lovers! So, when does coffee become bad? When it is your only beverage choice of the day, you don’t drink enough water, and/or consume excessive amounts of caffeine. While coffee does contain caffeine, it is not the only place you will find it –– caffeine is in tea, soda, energy drinks (an 8 oz. Red Bull has 80 milligrams of caffeine), candy and other food items as well as medications and so-called diet pills, which contain anywhere from 200 to 414 milligrams of caffeine.
As I stated in the intro of this "beverage expedition," coffee is not the problem so much as consuming too much caffeine. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater –– in this case the coffee out with the liquid consumption. Check to see what other sources may be contributing to your overall caffeine use. And caffeine is not all bad either; it actually has positive effects on physical performance, including sports and exercise routines.
Now that I have your attention, caffeine –– a central nervous system stimulant and diuretic –– exists naturally in the leaves, seeds, and fruits of more than 60 plants, including tea leaves, kola nuts, coffee, and cocoa beans. It can also be produced synthetically and used as an additive in food products. While research on the health effects of caffeine is ongoing, we do know that excessive caffeine intake can lead to a fast heart rate, excessive urination, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, anxiety, depression, tremors, and difficulty sleeping.
Another way many of you turn your "cup of java" from good to bad is when you add sugar and cream or buy pre-made coffee drinks, which adds extra calories and fat to your diet and eventually unwanted weight to your body. The big tip here: before you take that trip to your local Starbucks or coffee shop and order everything on the beverage menu, take a look at the caloric content. That grande caffé mocha has 330 calories, 33 grams of sugar, a whopping 15 grams of fat, and 175 mg caffeine, while the same size low-fat caffé latte has 190 calories, 17 grams of sugar, 7 grams of fat, and 150 mg caffeine. On the other hand, a 16-oz plain cup of coffee has 5 calories, zero sugar, zero fat, and 330 mg of caffeine.
For those of you who are not among the 54 percent of Americans who drink coffee –– not “your cup of tea” –– our next beverage stop is TEA, one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the world, offering many health and fitness benefits! Maybe we'll see some more goats –– they are so cute –– or off to another amazing part of the world grasping a tiny glimpse of another intriguing culture. China?