10 Things You Need to Know About Coffee

1. Caffeine Can Kill You
But you’d have to drink 80 to 100 cups in a hurry, health experts say. We advise not trying.

Absolutely — but don’t lock up your coffee pot just yet.

Experts say you’d have to drink 80 to 100 cups of coffee in quick succession, which equals about 6 gallons (23 liters) of coffee, or 10 to 13 grams of pure caffeine. And even if you could drink that much coffee, the excessive amount of water trapped in your body would kill you first by diluting essential nutrients in your bloodstream.

In spite of the low likelihood of coffee sending you to your grave abruptly, there have been popular close calls. While it takes a lot to kill, it can take significantly less to cause ill effects, and long-term effects of caffeine remain somewhat unclear.

This month, according to news accounts, a young United Kingdom woman drank seven double-shots of espresso in four hours. The barista binge sent her gasping for breath with a racing heart on the way to the emergency room. She fully recovered within a day from the overdose, and doctors explained she had ingested three times the safe daily amount of caffeine (about 300 milligrams or two to three coffee cups worth of caffeine).

If our espresso-fanatic woman was a man, however, the situation could have been more dire, as females can break down caffeine 25 percent faster than males (sorry guys).

But how, exactly, can the world’s most popular drug kill?

Like other stimulants, caffeine raises blood pressure, boosts heart rate and temporarily shrinks blood vessels. In excess, the effects can be deadly by causing a heart attack, stroke or other cardio-vascular-related problem.

Researchers think daily caffeine intake can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, but the results so far have been inconclusive.

2. Coffee Can Be Good For You
A study shows that Americans get most of their antioxidants from their daily fix of java. One to two cups a day appear to be beneficial. Or, if you don’t like coffee, try black tea, the second most consumed antioxidant source. Bananas, dry beans, and corn wrap up the top five.

The popular cold-weather drinks of old included wassail, mead, negus and bishop. This holiday season Americans will drink a lot more cocoa, tea and coffee. The shift is likely improving our health, studies suggest.

New research shows these popular drinks not only warm the body but could heat up the immune system and possibly prevent certain ailments.

The key is their high levels of antioxidants, which help counteract the damaging effect that oxygen can have on the body’s tissues. Oxygen is important to basic cell function, but inside tissues, it strips electrons from molecules, leaving behind “free radicals” which are part of the chemistry that causes heart disease, cancer, strokes, and other problems.

“People in general are responding to beverage products with health and wellness benefits,” John Sicher of Beverage Digest told LiveScience. “The trend is unmistakable and is going to gain traction in the years to come.”

Coffee is No. 1

Health officials of course recommend moderation and a well-balanced diet. That in mind, what’s the science behind our favorite winter beverages?

Researchers at the University of Scranton found that a cup of coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet. “Nothing else comes close,” said study leader and chemist Joe Vinson. “One to two cups a day appear to be beneficial.”

Beer came in second. Potatoes were a strong third.

Research led by Cornell University’s Chang Yong Lee found that hot cocoa, on a per-serving basis, has four to five times more antioxidants than black tea, two to three times more than green tea, and almost two times more than red wine.

“A cup or two of hot cocoa every once in a while can provide a delicious, warm and healthy way to obtain more antioxidants,” Lee said.

Tea for two weeks

Subjects in another study drank a cup of chamomile tea daily for two weeks. Higher levels of the compounds hippurate and glycine and lower levels of creatinine were found in subjects’ urine at the end of the test.

The glycine increase showed up especially in females, suggesting the tea helped with reproductive activity, such as during early pregnancy, said study leader Elaine Holmes at Imperial College London.

The declines in creatinine could have been the result of antioxidant activity caused by the chamomile tea, Holmes and her colleagues say.

Microbes in our gut control the excretion of hippurate. Chamomile is known to have microbe-killing capabilities. So the authors figure increased hippurate after drinking chamomile tea was a result of disruption of disease-causing microbes in the gut. Such disturbances could improve health by helping to fight off infections.

The cocoa and chamomile research papers were published recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Other good stuff

Dates have the most antioxidants based on serving size, but few people eat them frequently enough to pack the antioxidant punch most Americans get from coffee.

Fruits and vegetables remain highly recommended sources of antioxidants in part because they also have many other nutrients and fiber.

3. Caffeine Might Boost Female Sex Drive
It worked on rats anyway. But researchers say in humans, coffee might enhance the sexual experience only among people who are not habitual users.

Caffeine motivates female rats to have more frequent sex, a new study suggests. But don’t start guzzling more coffee just yet.

Scientists gave 108 female rats a moderate dose of caffeine. The caffeine shortened the amount of time it took the females to return to males after a first romp, indicating they were more motivated to do it again.

Loading up on more caffeine is not expected to improve human sex drive in most cases, however.

“These rats had never had caffeine before,” said study leader Fay Guarraci, an assistant professor of psychology at Southwestern University. “In humans, it might enhance the sexual experience only among people who are not habitual users.”

The research could help scientists better understand sexual motivation, however.

“Understanding the circuits that control this behavior will help us understand how the brain works and what part of the brain mediates motivation because sexual behavior is a motivative behavior,” Guarraci said.

The research will be detailed in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.

4. Caffeine Might Cut Pain
Moderate doses of caffeine — the equivalent of two cups of coffee— can cut post-gym muscle pain, a small study found. But the research was done on people who were not regular coffee drinkers.

Forgo the after-workout massage for a cup o’ Joe?  Moderate doses of caffeine—the equivalent of two cups of coffee—can cut post-gym muscle pain, suggests a new but small study.

The findings have particular relevance for people new to exercise, since they tend to experience the most soreness.

“If you can use caffeine to reduce the pain, it may make it easier to transition from that first week into a much longer exercise program,” said lead researcher Victor Maridakis of the University of Georgia.

The results

Maridakis and his colleagues studied nine female college students who were not regular caffeine coffee drinkers and didn’t exercise on a regular basis. One and two days after an exercise session that caused moderate muscle soreness, the participants took either caffeine or a placebo. Then, they completed two thigh exercises, one requiring maximum muscle effort, and the other sub-maximal effort.

Those who consumed caffeine one-hour before the maximum force test had a 48 percent reduction in pain compared to the placebo group. Students who took caffeine before the near-maximum force test showed a 26 percent reduction in soreness.

Anyone who has needed a pick-me-up knows caffeine can increase alertness. Past studies have shown it also boosts endurance, and one experiment found caffeine reduces pain during moderate-intensity cycling.

The researchers suggest the caffeine likely works by blocking the body’s receptors for adenosine, a chemical released in response to inflammation.


You might not want to rush and pack a thermos of coffee in your gym bag, however. For one, for some people too much caffeine can cause jitteriness, heart palpitations and sleep disturbances. Also, the results might not apply to regular caffeine users, who might be less sensitive to caffeine’s effects. Plus, the researchers only studied women, and men could respond differently. To verify the results for the general population, the study will need to be replicated with more participants and also with men.

Still, the scientists said caffeine appears to give more relief than found with conventional pain and soreness relievers, such as naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve), aspirin and ibuprofen.

“A lot of times what people use for muscle pain is aspirin or ibuprofen, but caffeine seems to work better than those drugs, at least among women whose daily caffeine consumption is low,” said Patrick O’Connor, also of the University of Georgia.

The research will be detailed in the February issue of The Journal of Pain.

5. Caffeine Can Indeed Keep You Up at Night
Health experts advise avoiding it for 6 hours before bedtime.

Improved sleep behavior and attitudes do more good than sleeping pills for the treatment of insomnia, experts at a recent National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference agreed, says Daniel Kripke of the University of California, San Diego.

The changes Kripke recommends:

* Do not take sleeping pills. This includes over-the-counter pills and melatonin.
* Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. If you have trouble sleeping, try going to bed later or getting up earlier.
* Get up at the same time every morning, even after a bad night’s sleep. The next night, you’ll be sleepy at bedtime.
* If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, get out of bed and return only when you are sleepy.
* Avoid worrying, watching TV, reading scary books, and doing other things in bed besides sleeping and sex. If you worry, read thrillers or watch TV, do that in a chair that’s not in the bedroom.
* Do not drink or eat anything caffeinated within six hours of bedtime.
* Avoid alcohol. It’s relaxing at first but can lead to insomnia when it clears your system.
* Spend time outdoors. People exposed to daylight or bright light therapy sleep better.

6. Decaf Coffee Has Caffeine!
If you drink five to 10 cups of decaffeinated coffee, you could get as much caffeine as from one or two cups of caffeinated coffee, a study found.


7. Decaffeination Uses Chemicals
Beans are steamed, so that dissolved caffeine rises to the surface, where it is washed off using an organic solvent called methylene chloride.

For those who like the taste of java but can’t stand the jitters, scientists have devised a variety of ways to extract caffeine from coffee beans. In the most common method, called “solvent extraction,” the beans are steamed to raise their moisture content. Dissolved caffeine rises to the surface of the beans and is washed off using an organic solvent such as methylene chloride. The neutered beans are then dried off and ready to go. Makes you wonder who’s drinking the runoff.

8. Caffeine Is Not The Bitter Culprit
Caffeine is not the main bitter compound in coffee. Rather, the pungent perpetrators are antioxidants.

Chemists have figured out why dark-roasted coffees are so bitter, a finding that could lead to a smoother cup of java.

Using chemical analyses and follow-up taste tests by humans trained to detect coffee bitterness, the scientists discovered the compounds that make coffee bitter and also how they form.

“Everybody thinks that caffeine is the main bitter compound in coffee, but that’s definitely not the case,” said study leader Thomas Hofmann, a professor of food chemistry and molecular sensory science at the Technical University of Munich in Germany.

Just 15 percent of coffee’s bitter taste comes from caffeine, said Hofmann, who presented his findings today at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Hofmann and his colleagues found two classes of compounds give coffee the bulk of its bitterness. Both pungent perpetrators are antioxidants found in roasted coffee beans, not in the green (raw) beans.

One class, called chlorogenic acid lactones, is present at high levels in light- to medium-roast brews. Dark roasts, such as espresso, showed high levels of phenylindanes, which form when the chlorogenic acid lactones break down and give a more lingering, harsh taste than their precursors, Hofmann said.

“Roasting is the key factor driving bitter taste in coffee beans. So the stronger you roast the coffee, the more harsh it tends to get,” Hofmann said. He added that prolonged roasting leads to the formation of the most intense bitter compounds found in dark roasts.

How the beans are brewed also affects bitterness, the scientists found. The high pressures and temperatures used for brewing espresso-type coffees produce the highest levels of bitter compounds.

“Now that we’ve clarified how the bitter compounds are formed, we’re trying to find ways to reduce them,” Hofmann said.

9. Great Coffee Depends on Roasting and Brewing
When it comes to great flavor, coffee chemistry boils down to roasting and brewing. During roasting, oil locked inside the beans begins to emerge at around 400 degrees. The more oil, the stronger the flavor. Caffeine content goes up as the water spends more time in contact with the grounds, so regular coffee often has more of it than espresso or cappuccino. Darker roasts also yield more caffeine.

High-end coffee is suddenly seeping into fast-food restaurants faster than you can ask for fries with that.

McDonald’s started offering organic coffee roasted by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters at 650 locations in New England and Albany, New York, this month. Burger King now lets you order coffee brewed one cup at a time, so you avoid that burnt taste.

The fast food chains are acknowledging America’s love affair with quality java.

Coffee that’s not rot gut is called specialty coffee in the industry, which means a higher grade of bean is used and the roasting and brewing is treated as a “craft.”

In 2004, 16 percent of U.S. adults drank specialty coffee daily, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America. This slice of the market, which involves cafes, kiosks, coffee carts and retail roasters, at a total of 17,400 locations, amounted to $8.96 billion by the end of 2003.

The United States imports and consumes more coffee than any other country.

How it’s done

When it comes to great flavor, coffee chemistry boils down to roasting and brewing.

When the inside of the bean reaches about 400 degrees, it begins to turn brown. Oil locked inside the beans begins to emerge. This is when the flavor takes shape. The more oil, the stronger the flavor.

Roasted coffee is a perishable food. The flavor peaks a few days after roasting and fades once the coffee is exposed to air, light or moisture. For this reason, aficionados keep their beans or fresh grounds in an airtight container at room temperature.

If you’re one of the many people who drink coffee for the pick-me-up, you might think an espresso or cappuccino would be most effective. Not necessarily so. Caffeine content goes up as the water spends more time in contact with the grounds. Espresso brewing takes 25 seconds. Other methods take several minutes. Darker roasts also yield more caffeine.

Flavor is the combination of aroma, acidity and body.

Body is the sensation of heft or viscosity, something like oil, on the palate. Longer roasting yields more body. But that also decreases acidity, the tingly taste on your tongue. So there’s a trade-off between body and acidity.

Acidity isn’t bitterness though. Bitterness comes from skimping on grounds when you brew, brewing for too long, and brewing in a pot or machine with residual grounds left from hours, days or weeks ago.

The Starbucks way

So you want to know how Starbucks does it?

First, they discard opened bags of beans after one week. Second, hot coffee is stored in thermal carafes, not on burners.

Third, they use two tablespoons of ground coffee for each six ounces of water. (The more standard recipe is one to two tablespoons per six ounces of water).

The company roasts at four plants, located in the U.S. and Amsterdam. Roasted coffees are immediately sealed in packages that let carbon dioxide gas out but keep air, light, water, and heat from getting in, Starbucks spokesman Chris Gimbl told LiveScience.

As Starbucks brews on, competition in the specialty coffee realm is expected to increase from outlets once known for the blandness of their coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts, on to the idea and offering specialty brews for years, claims to have sold nearly a billion cups of coffee last year, more than any other retailer in the country.

10. Coffee Was Discovered by Goats
A millennium ago on a mountainside in Africa, a herd of goats kept a shepherd up at night after feasting on red coffee berries. The shepherd took his animals’ discovery to some monks, and very long prayer sessions ensued. It’s a good story, anyway.

Did you hear the one about the goat, the monk and the Indian pilgrim?

There’s no crass punchline to this story, just a punchy drink that is the world’s second most important commodity, after oil.

Discovered more than 1,000 years ago by goats roaming the hills of Ethiopia, coffee today employs 500 million people, from the workers toiling in the fields of Kenya to the teenage baristas at your neighborhood Starbucks.

In a world of more than 6 billion people, enjoying a good cup of joe is one of the few fixtures of everyday life common to cultures on every continent.

Buzzed goats make important discovery

It is only fitting that the history of a beverage so associated with good conversation starts with a storybook-like tale. Native only to parts of subtropical Africa, the stimulating effects of wild coffee beans are said to have been first discovered in about A.D. 800 by an Ethiopian shepherd named Kaldi, whose goats kept him up at nights after feasting on red coffee berries.

The shepherd shared his find with the abbott at a local monastery, where monks first brewed the beans into a hot drink, reveling in the way it kept them awake during long hours of prayer.

Romantic exaggeration or not, by A.D. 1000 the bean with a buzz was a favorite among those needing a boost in East Africa as well as across the Red Sea in Yemen, where the crop had migrated over with slaves.

If Ethiopia was the birthplace of coffee, Yemen was where it grew up. The brew first took hold among clerics there too, but spillover into the secular crowd didn’t take long and skyrocketing demand soon led to the world’s first cultivated coffee fields there in the 1300s.

The entire Arabian peninsula became a hotbed of coffeehouse culture, with cafés – called kaveh kanes – on every corner.

By the 15th-century, Mecca resembled a medieval incarnation of Seattle, men sipping steaming mugs over games of chess and political conversations. Coffee houses were such an important place to gather and discuss that they were often called Schools of the Wise.

Coffee had much the same effect in Europe when it was introduced there in the 1600s. Cafés were the center of social life, where people with similar interests could gather and talk. The British insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, began as a café popular with sailors who often discussed insurance matters.

Caffeine becomes a cash crop

Arabia controlled the lucrative coffee industry for several centuries, exporting only roasted, infertile beans to their new trading partners in Europe and Asia. Caffeine junkies the world over were hooked, but couldn’t grow their own crops or buy beans at reasonable prices.

It took one intrepid Mecca pilgrim to break the Arab monopoly, according to legend, by smuggling some intact beans back to his native India, initiating an agricultural explosion. The Dutch also managed to get one plant back to Amsterdam and began cultivating in their Southeast Asian colonies in the 17th century. Europe now had a new, direct source for its daily coffee fix.

Coffee plants went everywhere that European empires did, taking root in such famous bean-growing regions as Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the Kona district of Hawaii, Indonesia’s Java Island and the rainforests of Brazil, which remains the world’s biggest producer.

The coffee industry is the main source of income for 25 million small farmers, it is estimated.

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