Tuesday, June 5, 2012


     I have been using the Keurig machine lately. Do you know what a Keurig machine is? I didn't until this last Christmas. Our son got us a Keurig machine to make fresh coffee a cup at a time. He did it because my husband usually makes a cup of coffee at a time by putting a teaspoon of Folgers instant into a mug and using our hot water heater faucet to fill the cup. Voila! a cup of coffee instantly. Well, my son has his own Keurig and he doesn't think our way of ;making coffee is very tasty. Indeed, when we are visiting his home, I must admit that that coffee tastes pretty darn good in the morning. So, now we can have this instant delight. Granted the little individual cups (called K-cups) of coffee needed in this machine are a bit expensive -- about 50 to 70 cents per cup. Still some people spend $4 or $5 a cup when they go to Starbucks for a fancy latte.

     There is something about this machine that goes against my current feelings about making a smaller carbon footprint. To package the coffee powder to make a single cup of coffee seems excessive and I question whether this machine is very efficient in heating the water and in its power usage. But when I consider that I often made a whole pot of coffee by the French press method and then it sat there and went to waste because neither my husband or I could drink the whole pot, maybe this is not so bad. I do know that the coffee really tastes good.

    Is anyone else curious about the origin of coffee as a beverage? Coffee originated in about 850 C.E. in Ethiopia  The first written reference to coffee use occurs in a 900 C.E. writing in which a Sufi sheik describes his use of the substance even though more conservative imams in Mecca forbade its use. But shortly thereafter, coffee drinking became so popular that even the Islamic rules moderated. Its cultivation spread throughout Arabia and the Yemenites guarded its secrets carefully from the rest of the world.  It became well known in Turkey and spread further. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church frowned upon its use, but by 1600 Christianity under Pope Clement VIII, coffee use had become common enough to no longer just be regarded as a Muslim drink. Monks who were assigned to copy religious manuscripts began to use it keep alert at this never ending task. The Dutch were the first Europeans to begin to cultivate it in small amounts. It came to the Americas in 1723. Now South America is responsible for 45% of the world's coffee exports.

   Voltaire was noted to drink 40 cups of coffee per day, often at Le Procope (the first cafe in Paris). "I've been drinking coffee for over 50 years. That it is poison, I am convinced, but its ill effects have yet to have any bearing on my health," he said. Benjamin Franklin also frequented Le Procope when in France and wrote this about his favorite beverage: "Among the numerous luxuries of the table.... coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication, and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions... is never followed by sadness, languor, or debility."

     All of this talk raises the question:  Is coffee harmful? Should we even be drinking this brew frequently? Well, the medical literature over the years has tried and tried to prove that coffee is bad for you. They have not succeeded there. And sometimes a medical study done entirely to investigate another question has found something good about the use of coffee. What is really the latest in medical studies about this potent, perky potation?  Well, here are some Science Daily summaries of recent scientific medical journal articles. 

ScienceDaily (June 7, 2011) — Advanced hepatitis C patients with chronic liver disease may benefit from drinking coffee during treatment, according to a new study in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute. Patients who received peginterferon plus ribavirin treatment and who drank three or more cups of coffee per day were two times more likely to respond to treatment than non-drinkers.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2012) — Caffeine consumption has long been associated with decreased risk of liver disease and reduced fibrosis in patients with chronic liver disease. Now, newly published research confirms that coffee caffeine consumption reduces the risk of advanced fibrosis in those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Findings published in the February issue ofHepatology, a journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, show that increased coffee intake, specifically among patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), decreases risk of hepatic fibrosis.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2009) — Patients with chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease who drink three or more cups of coffee per day have a 53% lower risk of liver disease progression than non-coffee drinkers according to a new study led by Neal Freedman, Ph.D., MPH, from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The study found that patients with hepatitis C-related bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis who did not respond to standard disease treatment benefited from increased coffee intake. An effect on liver disease was not observed in patients who drank black or green tea.

ScienceDaily (June 18, 2010) — Coffee and tea drinkers may not need to worry about indulging -- high and moderate consumption of tea and moderate coffee consumption are linked with reduced heart disease, according to a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association.

ScienceDaily (Jan. 14, 2009) — Stockholm, Sweden -- Midlife coffee drinking can decrease the risk of dementia/Alzheimer's disease (AD) later in life. This conclusion is made in a Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia (CAIDE) Study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

ScienceDaily (Nov. 22, 2011) — Long-term coffee consumption may be associated with a reduced risk for endometrial cancer, (cancer of the lining of the uterus) according to a recent study inCancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

ScienceDaily (May 10, 2011) — Recently published research shows that coffee drinkers enjoy not only the taste of their coffee but also a reduced risk of cancer with their cuppa. More detailed research published May 10 in BioMed Central's open access journal Breast Cancer Research shows that drinking coffee specifically reduces the risk of antiestrogen-resistant estrogen-receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer.

ScienceDaily (June 15, 2010) — Women who drink Scandinavian boiled coffee, which chemically resembles French press and Turkish/Greek coffee, more than four times a day run a lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who drink coffee less than once a day. This is shown by Lena Nilsson and her associates at Umeå University in an article in the journal Cancer Causes & Control.

ScienceDaily (June 16, 2008) — A new study has good news for coffee drinkers: Regular coffee drinking (up to 6 cups per day) is not associated with increased deaths in either men or women. In fact, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption is associated with a somewhat smaller rate of death from heart disease.

ScienceDaily (May 17, 2011) — Men who regularly drink coffee appear to have a lower risk of developing a lethal form of prostate cancer, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. What's more, the lower risk was evident among men who drank either regular or decaffeinated coffee.

ScienceDaily (June 22, 2010) — Data on the effects of coffee on cancer risk have been mixed. However, results of a recent study add to the brewing evidence that drinking coffee protects against cancer, this time against head and neck cancer.

A few other studies suggest it reduces the frequency of gallstones and gallbladder disease, Parkinson's disease, again dementia, dental cavities, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. It increases short term memory, and reduces specifically the incidence of these cancers: breast, esophagus, pharyngeal and prostate. It may reduce the risk of stroke but this study was not a clean study, though it does appear to achieve this reduction in women. 

   Of course being a physician, I know the ill effects of coffee. Stained teeth, nervousness, and insomnia are well known. The problem we physicians dealt with the most was its affect on the stomach acid and its propensity to aggravate ulcer disease or cause gastritis (an irritation of the stomach lining). Of course, who would have thought that most ulcer disease is actually due to a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori.  Since we have been treating ulcers with a combination of anti bacterials, the frequency of ulcer disease has dramatically reduced and many people are able to return to their use of coffee without ill effects on their stomach.

   Baylor College of Medicine did find in one study that coffee use can increase LDL, the bad cholesterol. And heavy coffee drinking pregnant women (4 - 7 cups a day) in Denmark were found to have a higher risk of stillbirth.

   We visited a small coffee farmer while in Central America and learned about its production. He was a very proud Costa Rican whose daughter served as the tourist guide. He told the coffee story in Spanish and made his daughter translate, though he clearly understood and spoke English beause he would greet his visitors and would understand their needs perfectly. I understood this stubborn stand was because of his pride in his heritage. He explained that the word coffee bean is really a misnomer as it is really the seed of the coffee berry. The coffee can be made in one of two ways -- removing the pulp of the berry first and then drying, or drying and then removing the dried berry remains. In either case the seed is then roasted to varying degrees to create its brown color and the flavor of the roasted coffee seed that we are used to in our beverage. Here are some photos from our visit to the coffee plantation.

The roasted coffee bean. Ready to be ground up.

The coffee farmer, his daughter and granddaughter.

The coffee tree, they bear fruit for 5 - 10 years, then
must be replanted.

The flowering of the coffee tree

The dried beans before roasting.

The pulp of the berries when removed shortly after picking.

The berries all ripen at different times, so that they must be hand picked.

   This coffee farm was very small. The farmer in his older age was acting a little bit like a gentleman farmer or hobby farmer, but he knew his business and was quite effective at showing us the process. And his little farm with its fruit trees interspersed among the coffee trees from which he cut mango and fresh bananas and fed us -- this place was like a heavenly oasis, cool and green and relaxing. His granddaughter even spotted an owl among the trees near the little creek on his property. That was an added gift for this birdwatcher. Now, whenever I fire up my Keurng machine and enjoy a cup of java, I will think of this little coffee farmer and our very pleasant visit to his home and farm.


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