Coffee is a mysterious beverage. Some people hate it, others love it. Many abscond it for being so caffeine-rich, and just the same amount of people praise it for the same reason. It’s a statement, a cultural context, perhaps even a rite of passage.
If you’re like me, coffee has been a bitter drink to swallow, quite literally. For some reason, I can only take it in very small doses. Too much of the stuff and I get turned off. This is unlike my dad (who might as well have it intravenously injected). But I totally understand why millions of people around the world celebrate their morning cup(s), and afternoon cup, and so-on cup, of joe. It probably has something to do with the caffeine…
Caffeine is actually pretty cool if you understand how it works and why people look to it for energy.
You have to think of caffeine like a poser, a fake. See, it’s something called an antagonistic molecule, a compound that inhibits the effect of another molecule by possessing a nearly identical structure. The molecule in particular that caffeine inhibits is called adenosine. Adenosine is produced by the body to help one ease into a relaxed state. When adenosine binds to its receptors, it causes drowsiness because nerve cell activity slows. However, when you ingest caffeinated beverages, your nerve cells think that those caffeine molecules look a whole lot like adenosine. Caffeine is able to trick the body into allowing itself to latch onto adenosine receptors, hogging up those specific sites. Adenosine is left with no place to go, and caffeine is able to put its effect into play. It speeds up neural firing and causes a cascade of effects in the body, like an increased heart rate and heightened alertness. Because it hosts bodily changes like these, it can indeed be called a drug!
It’s not always sensible to take advantage of these bodily reactions in excess. Too much caffeine has been associated with an array of adverse effects, like heightened cortisol and sleep deprivation. But the jury is still out on whether you should nix caffeinated beverages all together, because caffeine has been associated with some positive benefits as well, such as reduced risk of certain diseases and even cancers. According to Dr. Mercola, coffee can even improve your circulation, reduce pain, preserve muscle, improve endurance and even memory. For more information, click here!
But coffee isn’t simply a neurotropic drug, used solely for its’ biochemical effects. No! It’s so much more. In fact, it is estimated that coffee beans is composed of over 800 different compounds. Here are some of the other reasons why cultures around the world can’t seem to part with coffee.
- It’s actually made from a fruit. Did you know that coffee beans are the seeds of the Coffea plant?
- It’s surprisingly complex, and can take on a whole new flavor depending on where it was grown and how it was roasted:
- While Coffee Arabica is known for its low levels of bitterness and acidity, making it an excellent candidate to be dressed up with all kinds of flavoring oils (see 4), Coffee Robusta is a hardier cultivar, with a more concentrated and strong taste. It’s used in instant coffees, espressos, and to bulk up ground coffee blends.
- Kona coffee, grown on the slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano, has a “rich, aromatic, medium-body;” Guatemalan is described to be “complex, spicy, and almost chocolatey;” and Kenyan is well-known and liked for its “sharp and fruity acidity,” “full-body” and “rich fragrance.” (These, again, are just a few. More countries and flavor profiles can be found here— give it a read, so fascinating.)
- There are so many different variations of the beverage, such as:
- Drip brewed (filtered) coffee
- French press coffee
- Turkish coffee
- Cold brew
- Espressos, which come in all variations like Café Americano (diluted espresso, but with a similar flavor profile to filtered coffee); café crema; doppio; breve; cappucino; latte; and the list truly goes on…
- Coffees with milk, known by different names like cafe con leche and milchkaffee
- Coffees with alcohol, prepared by blending different alcoholic beverages (whiskey, rum, etc.)
- There are different ways that coffee can be prepared, but the beans themselves can have all kinds of notes and flavorings. How does that work? Manufacturers will introduce a flavor oil to a freshly roasted batch of beans as part of a “post-roast” process. The oil gets infused with the natural oils in the bean.
- Latte Art! Here are some super amazing masterpieces made of frothy milk, if you can believe it.
- Coffee tasting is a thing– really! It’s called coffee cupping. Professional coffee tasters will measure the aspects of the coffee by inhaling its’ aroma and taking a loud sip. Taste is deciphered by the coffee’s texture or mouthfeel, called body, its acidity, and balance of different flavor notes (e.g., caramel or floral or nutty).
- Coffee is a social thing, for sure. As an example, in Swedish culture coffee breaks are so integral that they have their own name, fika. Taking a coffee break has become symbolic for relaxation and rejuvenation with our friends, family, and co-workers.
- All used up coffee can be put to good use! With its high nitrogen content, coffee grounds make excellent fertilizer.
Forgive me for the lack of personal pictures, but coffee isn’t exactly my cup of tea (tea is my cup of tea…) but I do think it is a fascinating thing. Whenever I go to relax at a cafe with my family or friends, it is hard not to get drawn into that lassitude, that blissful feeling that I can’t help but associate with coffee culture. I understand why people go crazy for their cappucinos and their flat whites or mochas! It’s comforting and energizing and a way to connect.
Tell me, do you like coffee? How do you like it prepared? Do you like it infused into another food, such as coffee-crusted steak (yes!) or cake or even yogurt (I’ve tried it, and yes, I like it)?