Archive for the 'Health' Category

Post coffee

It’s been six months. Six months since I’ve felt a jug of milk heat up in my palm, watched the espresso drip out of a porta-filter and felt sweat glide down the front of my forehead trying to get ahead of the order.

It’s been six whole months since I made coffee and I miss it dearly.

I’ve had dreams of making coffee, thought about doing a trial and daily consider asking my local barista to shove across so I could take over. Ever since I joined the race I’ve been a little down frequenting the café as a consumer, not a producer.

After I finished my post-grad I went into full time work, 9-5 at a desk. It has taken me months to get over the guilt associated with sitting down all day, something unheard of in the field of hospitality.

But throughout this whole transition from working student to clockwatcher, coffee has been constantly in my thoughts. I am obsessed with it and given the lines I see on Saturday morning throughout Melbourne, so is everybody else.

So I am changing the direction of this blog – since I now stand in a very different place in the café. As a paying customer I’m curious as to why the coffee shop is probably the most frequented place next to the office and home.

I’m embarking on a social history of coffee in Australia, following the trends, the people, the influences, growth and how a love of beans became what it is today.

Although I’m pretty sure dreaming about coffee isn’t normal, I bet those that did in the past are the ones that transformed a popular foreign plant into a staple in society.

Kids and coffee

With one eyebrow raised, I stared down the parent that ordered his 12 year-old son a latte last week. I proceeded to debate whether or not to weaken the espresso shot but didn’t, roughly 80 milligrams of caffeine was the order to abide.

I felt uncomfortable serving such an adult drink to a minor, the same sort of unease met when a group of teenagers approach you in a parking lot asking you to buy them booze.

It’s strange as there is no minimum age requirement to drinking coffee, just a general consensus that coffee is a grown up thing.

The fastest growing coffee consumers at the moment are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, with 13 to 17 year olds consuming 20 per cent more products containing the drug in the past few years. I guess all those babycino drinkers finally grew up.

The common assumption that coffee stunts your growth and therefore shouldn’t be the preferred beverage of a growing child is actually a myth. Caffeine will inhibit some essential nutrient absorption, but it hasn’t been completely proven that calcium is directly affected.

It is merely a suggestion to cut down on caffeine for people that suffer from osteoporosis.

So what does that mean for the tweens and teens that idolize Twilight celebrities often photographed outside a café with a 20 oz cup full of caffeine?

Not much, in fact it may be beneficial. Research Scientist, Dr Tomas Depaulis of Vanderbilt University, US, has recently come out and debunked the downside to drinking coffee.

‘There recently was a study from Brazil finding that children who drink coffee with milk each day are less likely to have depression than other children,’ Depaulis went on, ‘in fact, no studies show that coffee in reasonable amounts is in any way harmful to children.’

Health Canada also condones consumption recommending a maximum daily allowance of 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, that’s a full shot of espresso for kids between the ages of 10 and 12.

A 250 ml can of Red Bull contains just as much caffeine as a shot of espresso yet tends to be thought of as a common drink amongst teenagers. However, it has about five teaspoons of sugar, added to the kick, and you would be hard pressed to find someone that puts that much in a coffee.

Moderation is the key and teaching kids at an early age that lesson is probably more beneficial than restricting something of curiosity.

My parents gave me a glass of wine with dinner to learn how to enjoy the beverage responsibly. Drinking too much caffeine will have detrimental effects and it’s much better to figure that out sooner rather than later.

Confessions of a former bitchy barista

This was first published in the National Times on 6 July, 2010

I did something crazy, something so un-Melbourne, anti-social and mood altering that I am a changed barista. No, I didn’t pick up a habit; instead, I got off drugs.

With dispensaries lining each of our main drags, we are consistently putting caffeine in our systems. I indulged with an espresso eight times daily. Teetering on addiction I decided to give up coffee for seven whole days.

I went cold turkey and took away what fuels my lifestyle. This included of course coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, coke and all teas except the herbal varieties. I have been making coffee for nine years and through that time have not gone more than a day without the stimulant.

It wasn’t completely on a whim. The University of Bristol in the UK published a study earlier last month that found that we build a tolerance to caffeine by consuming it daily. Our morning shots are not waking us up; they are merely bringing us back to “normal”.

This I’ve heard countless times but never believed it to be true as I thought I was getting a buzz from my morning ritual. Yet my week without stimulation garnered a new opinion.

I got the first headache the second day in. It was probably one of the worst migraines I have ever had, only bed cured the sharp sensation pulsating behind my half-closed eyes.

Then nausea followed. I was “flu-like”, experiencing how the body reacts without using the classified drug. I was out of it and feeling terrible but at least I wasn’t irritable.

In fact, I was the complete opposite to irritable, which was second to headache on the uninspiring withdrawal symptom list. I was completely unfazed by any problem I encountered, I had adopted a new personality.

As I said, I make coffee for hundreds of people that all seem to know how to push my buttons. This has made me a moody little shot-pouring demon quite capable of throwing change back at customers after it’s been scattered on the counter. Yes, I was that kind of hospitality worker.

Yet after a few frail days and about 11 hours sleep each night, I had become so calm most customers probably thought I had jumped on the Mary Jane bandwagon.

The fog eventually lifted and I gained clarity. Being spacey probably added to my mellow demeanour but, after sleeping and drinking litres of lemongrass and ginger tea, I became productive.

The attention age has taught me how to multi-task and open endless tabs to bask in status updates and tweets. Searching the internet for crap and data is where caffeine makes its presence in the system most noticeable.

So I single-tasked. I stopped stalking Facebook “friends” while trying to conjure up witty one-liners to feed my Twitter followers. I did everything one task at a time with more focus than a one-armed calligrapher. My mind stopped jumping.

So there I was a calm, slow-talking, unstimulated being capable of holding a conversation on one topic instead of following tangent after tangent. This was me off caffeine.

I didn’t realise the effect it had had on me. It had never occurred to me that my consistent mood swings were related to the eight shots I was consuming. I was able to manage stress better and not fly off the handle when something went awry.

When day seven rolled around I was hesitant to have the first one back. I had already stood up from my chair proclaiming caffeinalism and herbal tea rehab seemed to balance me out. Yet in the name of science I got all dressed up and went to my local.

The study was correct. I went from aloof to jittery after a strong latte and for the rest of the day displayed an erratic bout of productivity. I cleaned, exercised, Googled everything and talked to everyone.

Habitual use was keeping me at a level where I didn’t feel the effects anymore. I had to get it out of my system to see what it really did. It gave me more energy than I had had for nearly a decade as my tolerance was re-configured. I have since scaled back my habit to one a day, which seems to wake me up yet maintain my new laid-back trait.

Although the eight shots were aiding my jam-packed life, I was rarely in good spirits and no one wants to get a coffee from a bitchy barista.

For Smokers Only

Hot coffee and thick clouds of smoke usually line the entrance of our little establishment, some of our customers love to get high off of nicotine and caffeine.

I notice most smokers go for the stonger beverages.  A long black, short macchiato or perhaps a strong latte seems to get them moving through the day even if they do have to stop in a few more times to maintain their buzz.

The heavy nicotine addicts frequent three to four times a day to sip and puff away giving truth to the ‘smoking break’ debate. But if everyone else in the office is going out for a coffee, why not have a smoke as well?

Smokers, both nicotine and caffeine make your body create dopamine. Combing the two means twice as much of this natural chemical gets put into your blood stream. It’s released from the brain producing a euphoric state every time you light up and ingest espresso.

So cigarettes and coffee together will make you more alert and relaxed, I think students call this efficiency. Sounds great, but before you light up and turn on your kettle there is a teeny tiny catch.

Nicotine actually cuts the amount of time caffeine gives you energy in half. Instead of the normal 3-4 hour latte high, it’s about 2 and the need to consume more coffee and smoke more cancer sticks increases. All your addicted senses want to do is go back to that dopamine induced stage of productivity.

The mixture of nicotine and caffeine makes breaks more necessary. As you sit there tapping at your desk waiting for someone, anyone to call a coffee break, you’re thinking of that cigarette, not the coffee.

Smoking and drinking coffee don’t go together because it counteracts the one thing coffee so magically does, keeps efficiency in the workplace and moral high. The dopamine from caffeine lasts much longer than that of a cigarette and makes your breath much more pleasant.

Give up the double dose of chemicals in the morning. It’ll not only save you a ton of money but it will also stop the 10 am twitches that cause you to grab a ‘coffee’ with the delivery man.

Coffee Stains

“Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say!” Quoting Macbeth has become a regular part of my tooth brushing routine. You see coffee stains teeth and I drink a lot of coffee.

That yellow-ish, brown colour often seen on old men walking down the street with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth has crept onto my enamel and I am less than pleased.

I probably consume about three coffees a day. I skull the first cup and the second then slowly sip the last. Out of these two common ways to enjoy a coffee, only one slows down the eventual stain.

Coffee is a chromogenic food, which means that over time it will stain teeth. Basically, the dark colour in coffee works itself into your teeth making it harder to work itself out.

This kind of surface stain requires more money for teeth whitening. In order to truly get rid of those nasty spots a professional is needed.

Tannins, chemical substances found in plants, are the cause of what makes coffee such a dark colour. These plant polyphenols (technical word for tannins) have been used to dye leather and all sorts of goods for centuries. It is no wonder that they will stain your teeth.

Polyphenols also cause dry mouth which interferes with natural saliva production leaving teeth more susceptible to decay.

Yellow teeth and decay! That morning long black is beginning to look like a downer. So how do you fix a wilted smile and not give up coffee?

There is the straw option as it will get the coffee from point A to B without any need to touch the teeth. However, you will look like a wanker and might as well drink everything else with your pinky finger pointing straight up.

The second more desirable option is to have a glass of water once your coffee drinking is complete. This will wash away all the little scientific words I mentioned above and slow down the staining process.

There is, however, another way. You can chug. Sipping espresso is the worst way to drink coffee when teeth are concerned, it’s like soaking them in dye. By pouring your latte down the hatch, you may avoid too much of a stain, but then again how are you ever going to enjoy your coffee?

From Booze to Bean

alcoholOh bah humbug! You’ve drunken too much and therefore overeaten, overspent and over-embellished your yearly accomplishments to your relatives. Merry Christmas you’re hung-over.

Good morning coffee? Not so fast,  there is a lot of flip-flopping on whether or not coffee is the cure for the suffering that follows a litre of eggnog.

Alcohol dehydrates as does caffeine so how can that be the solution to a side splitting headache? Yet there is water in coffee which hydrates, oh dear what to do?! And the cyclical morning thoughts continue.

Well the good thing about coffee is that it’s a vasoconstrictor, which means that it decreases the size of blood vessels. Whereas Alcohol makes them widen. Drinking coffee will make the jackhammers quiet down, giving a whole new meaning to the song ‘silent night’.

Of course like alcohol, coffee is a diuretic, so you’re not keeping much of the water in and it moves fast through the system. The headache will return and the stronger the coffee the faster you’re back to square one.

I can see you reaching for the pot as I type. This is fine, there are some benefits to consuming a cup of joe after you’ve scraped the sleep and makeup from your eyes.

Putting sugar in it will assist in replenishing electrolytes; it will also help your poor shriveled liver. Alcohol breaks down the sugar stores in the organ which is what makes you feel so weak and dizzy when recovering. Nevertheless that headache still awaits your struggling metabolism.

If you are completely sure that coffee will turn you back into a more energetic being, go for it, but leave the milk out. Dairy will only aggravate the tummy leaving you nauseas when trying to plow into a bunch of greasy food.

Instant Health


Most people come in for a coffee at least twice a day. The heavy users come in about four times. Either they really enjoy the ambience in our little café or they have done some reading on antioxidants.

It’s all over the news, green tea this and coffee that, stop the evil oxidation process with one delicious 8 oz beverage.  CancerAlzheimer’sdiabetes and even certain strains of influenza can apparently all be managed with coffee.

According to a 2005 study, Americans get most of their antioxidants from consuming coffee. That’s rather amazing considering fruit, beans, nuts and vegetables are so high in these free radical fighting compounds. But what kinds of coffee are they talking about? And can you just eat coffee beans and get the same effect? Well yes, it just depends on the beans.

Robusta beans are roasted longer than Arabica beans, they are bitter to taste and therefore require more attention. However, Arabica beans are the most popular amongst connoisseurs as they take longer to grow giving them a more full-bodied taste. Arabica beans are used by most coffee companies, Robusta beans, typically used in instant brands, only make up 20% of the world’s coffee.

Since the roasting process dramatically increases antioxidant activity Robusta beans have a higher quantity. It doesn’t make them taste as good as Arabica beans but they do have more cancer combating agents. They are also darker than Arabica beans making them richer in antioxidants. Both will give you a healthy fix but the beans that taste worse are actually better for you.

Think of them as the broccoli left on the side of your plate, a little salt and you’re good to go, a little milk and sugar added to the Robusta and its flavour town.

Apparently 3-4 cups of coffee will get you over the recommended antioxidant intake level for the day. I guess my addicted customers are privy to the appropriate dosage and are leading the way to beating the flu. Just remember if you like your latte sweet four cups of sugar laden milk a day may have a heavy effect on your diet, like the Americans.



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