THE BUZZ ABOUT COFFEE
WORDS: CINDY BOTTOMLEY
IMAGES: SHIRLEY LE GUERN
Why is it that, when we stumble out of bed in the morning, one of the very first parts of our wake up ritual is putting on the kettle for our traditional wake-up drink? For most of us, that’s the first mug of coffee for the day – and, as soon as you take that first sip, you find that, voila! you’re bright eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to face the day.
Well…almost!! And if you’re not, then surely another cup will do it.
Let’s be honest, it usually does. It’s probably that lovely warm familiar smell and taste that is the perfect wake up call.
But is this really the healthiest way to start the day? Or even keep going throughout the day?
COUNTING ON CAFFEINE
The magic ingredient that gives you that ‘let’s rock this thing’ feeling is caffeine.
Caffeine in coffee improves mental alertness and therefore helps you focus. It stimulates the central nervous system which boosts your production of mood elevating hormones. It’s believed that it can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and various liver diseases. It may even help prevent Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In moderation, it can even offer benefits towards heart health. It boosts physical performance and it is said that it can help you burn fat. (That’s if you don’t include milk – or horror – cream! Not to mention a lump of sugar or two …)
If you look a little more closely at the magical coffee bean, you’ll find that there are also a lot of other benefits apart from the caffeine. Coffee also contains magnesium, potassium, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) and antioxidants which help protect your body from free radicals.
BUT, all this is well and good. Just remember that all this caffeine magic is said to happen when coffee is consumed in moderation. Moderation also depends on who you ask and can be anything from as little as one to two cups a day to up to three to five cups a day.
The general rule should probably be that your body will tell you when enough is enough. If you are having five cups of coffee a day and you find you are just a little bit ‘hyper’, super alert and jittery, then it’s a good idea to lower your daily consumption.
Unfortunately, for those of us who enjoy regular coffee breaks each day, caffeine has a bit of a bad rep when it comes to health.
Admittedly, most of the disadvantages to drinking coffee come from consuming too much. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can cause insomnia, headaches and may even raise blood pressure.
So, if you have any underlying health condition, it is probably best to check if you should limit your caffeine intake or avoid it altogether – or even switch to decaffeinated. This applies especially to those who suffer from nervous disorders like anxiety or panic attacks. If you can’t think of life without coffee, then it may be worth changing to decaffeinated coffee so that you can still enjoy the warm smooth taste without the side effects.
THE COFFEE CONNECTION
Whether we are honest about it or not, what we’re probably after most is the caffeine kick.
However, it is hard not to like coffee for its rich, creamy taste and that gorgeous smell that hits you just as soon as you enter a coffee shop. That’s probably why most of us associate the smell of coffee with comfort and good experiences. I mean, there’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee to ward off the cold of winter and nothing quite like a frothy cappuccino to warm up a good conversation with friends at a coffee bar mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
That’s probably why locking down coffee shops during Covid is so harsh. Coffee brings people together and it is that feeling of isolation and loneliness that is causing a lot of the mental health issues that have been associated with the pandemic.
The good news is that coffee is a great take-away and nothing stops you swinging by for a cup and then meeting up with a friend in the good, healthy fresh air for a quick catch up (all social distancing requirements in place, of course).
Given that coffee is regarded as everything from sexy to exotic, it comes as no surprise that coffee has also become something of a culture in itself. You can enjoy it served in a number of different ways – latte, Americano, Espresso, Affogato – to mention a few. It’s often fun when visiting an unusual restaurant (yes, they’ll open again) to try different options like Turkish or Vietnamese coffee too.
That reminds me of the danger of coffee snobbery and even that crazy ad that was on TV way back when. The husband rolls out all these names of variations of coffee and his wife gets all dreamy eyed and says she luuuv’s it when he talks foreign!
The truth is that coffee is foreign with very few regions in South Africa good for growing the bean. That means that most locally produced coffees are home roasted and ground rather than home grown. So, if you are buying the real deal to use with your coffee machine at home, make sure that it is sourced responsibly as there is a great deal of skulduggery that goes into buying beans from poor regions of the world.
BEYOND THE BREW
It is also worth knowing that there’s a lot more to coffee than meets the lips.
Being rich in antioxidants, coffee is now added to skincare products. If you are preparing your own coffee (and not cheating with those little pod thingies a la George Clooney), then use the used coffee grounds in a bit of coconut oil for a great exfoliator for the skin.
You can also use the grounds as fertilizer for your plants as they are full of the nutrients that plants require.
The important thing is that your relationship with coffee is inevitably a deeply personal one. Whether it is your morning wake up brew, is drunk with milk, no milk, cream, froth or even a shot of whiskey on a cold evening, here’s to you and the coffee crew!