“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.” — Talleyrand, (1754-1838)
Any substance so gently arousing and bewitching to the senses must be paired with adventure and romance. And the colorful story of coffee does not disappoint.
As legend has it, coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian goatherd, in about 800 A.D. The observant boy noticed that his flock became more frolicsome after eating the red berries of a certain bush. So he tried some. Soon, local monks were munching the berries to keep them awake during their hours of nighttime prayer.
For the next 900 years or so, the beans of this red berry, now roasted, ground, and boiled into a thick sweet beverage, became entwined within the social rituals of Arabia and Africa. And like another thick black substance, its distribution was tightly controlled.
With colonies in the New World, however, Europeans finally had the means to grow their own coffee and through knavery and intrigue obtained the coffee plants that would soon blanket hillsides throughout the Americas. It is said, for example, that the enormous Brazilian plantations sprang from a few sprigs of coffee plants hidden in a bouquet of flowers from a governor’s wife to her swashbuckling lover.
Here in the land of the free, we would still be sipping tea but for the fact that the tea became a symbol of our discontent and ended up at the bottom of the harbor. So, coffee—roughly ground and boiled until black as tar—traveled west in saddlebags and Conestoga wagons.
Now, despite occasional trashing in health magazines, coffee may endow its devotees with some positive side effects after all. Besides the mental kick (59 percent of coffee drinkers say it makes them more productive), it also has intriguing links to lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases.
Caffeine-rich coffee also may be the last legal performance-enhancer standing. According to a recent New York Times article, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, said, “It’s just unequivocal that caffeine improves performance. It’s been shown in well-respected labs…around the world.” A 4-ounce cup of coffee would be enough to improve the speed and endurance of a 176-pound man up to 25 percent in a lab situation or maybe 5 percent in the real world.
So, whether the marathon is a 5-K run or a major presentation in the morning, you can’t go wrong with a cup of joe.
By Kate Convissor
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“National Coffee-Drinking Trends 2009.” Brochure. National Coffee Association of the USA. 11 May 2009