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Random Friday Fun Facts: Coffee and How it Works

 “As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle”
19th century philosopher Balzac

coffeeeeeBefore I had a kid I was never a big coffee drinker.  Oh, I knew coffee – when I was in high school one of my jobs was a barista at the Borders in our town and I was making foam sculptures on cappuccinos before the barista awards were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.  And vanilla lattes and I had a bit of a love affair.  But I didn’t depend on coffee to get me through the day the way I do now.  I wasn’t a coffee addict who needed my cup of joe to get going.

Then parenthood came.  The first time Jonathan and I went to Trader Joe’s after Hannah was born, I commented that it looked like our cart was the cart of college kids – all frozen entrees and coffee.  At the time I was breastfeeding, so I tried not to drink it too much, which is a sad irony considering that’s when you really need it.  But I would indulge in one cup of half-caff a day.  Now, even though Hannah is sleeping through the night pretty much all the time, I down more coffee than ever.  And peppermint mocha creamer has destroyed any kind of brewed coffee for me forever.

So now that I have a much closer relationship with coffee than I’ve ever had before, I got to wondering: first, how did 83% of Americans come to rely on a drink that comes from a bean, and second, how does the caffeine actually work?

The National Coffee Association has a nice history section of their site that talks all about the history and legends of coffee.  It appears that no matter where coffee is grown now, all the plants can trace their heritage to Ethiopia where there is a legend of Kaldi, the goatherd.  He discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.

“Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer.  Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread.  As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.

Coffee moved to Europe when travellers to the Near East brought back stories of the unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the ‘bitter invention of Satan.’ With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

Despite such controversy, in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication. In England ‘penny universities’ sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation.  By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.

Many businesses grew out of these specialized coffee houses. Lloyd’s of London, for example, came into existence at the Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.”  – http://ncausa.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=68

So, how does coffee work this magic?  From: http://sarkisfamilypsychiatry.com/why-does-coffee-keep-you-awake/

“Coffee can’t give us a fully charged battery. But it can trick our brain into thinking we have one. So when your brain takes a look at it’s battery meter, it sees 100% and so, turns off all the signals telling you to get back to bed right now.

But more than waking you up, coffee wakes you UP. After one cup of Joe your IQ shoots up 20 points and you suddenly you have the energy you used to have 10 years ago when Disneyworld was something you actually looked forward to.

You feel as if adrenaline is rushing wildly through your veins. Actually, that is because adrenaline IS rushing wildly through your veins. Coffee is not only a waker-upper. Coffee is an upper. An Adderall-like, pharmaceutical grade stimulant.”

140320_CROSS_BlueBottle_Cafe.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeExcept the affect can’t last forever.  Eventually it will wear off, and then you either need to sleep, or drink another cup, until eventually you wind up crashing.

And we all know how Starbucks started off small, became trendy, and now is the McDonald’s of coffee, right?  Check this place out – Blue Bottle, the third wave of coffee, or the Apple of coffee, they call it.  No wifi.  No power outlets.  No soft indie music or italian lingo.  Just freshly brewed coffee.  Next time I’m in the Bay Area I’m going to check it out.  Because these days, I can use all the caffeinated help I can get.