Jun

12

CoffeeA few years ago, I read "The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug" (Weinberg & Bealer). I took a few pages of quotes, which is a good thing too, because I can't remember a word of it. Following a re-read, here's a selection of quotes:

Hahnemann argued that, though caffeine allows you to burn energy more quickly now, you will suffer a corresponding letdown later, initiating a debilitating cycle that is ultimately less productive than staying on an even keel by abstaining from caffeine altogether. As he states, coffee engenders an "artificially heightened state of being…Presence of mind, alertness, and empathy are all elevated more than in a healthy natural condition." These apparently benign effects, he says, disturb the natural cadence of the biological system, which depends on the alternating rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness.

Coffee and tea have given rise to a great duality. …Coffee has become associated with all things masculine and with the artist, the nonconformist or political dissident, the bohemian, even the hobo, as well as the outdoorsman. It is often considered a vice, its consumption linked with frenetic physical and mental activity, intense conversation, and with other indulgences that threaten health and mental balance, such as tobacco, alcohol, and late nights of hard partying or excessive work. Tea, in contrast, is associated with the feminine and with the drawing room, quiet social interaction, spirituality, and tranquillity and is regarded as the drink of the elite, the meditative, the temperate and the elderly. These differences between coffee and tea are easily seen by comparing the rough and ready institution of the coffeehouse with the decorous traditions of the Japanese tea ceremony and the English afternoon tea. An acknowledgement of these differences must underlie the fact that, although coffee has been the subject of many bans and opposed by many temperance movements, tea has rarely, if ever, appeared on anyone's list as a substance that ought to be put beyond the pale of law or morality. The more it is pondered, the more paradoxical his duality within the culture of caffeine appears. …It is true that coffee is generally brewed to a caffeine strength over twice that of a typical cup of tea, yet, because more than one cup of the beverage is commonly consumed, there is no doubt you can get a full dose of caffeine from either one.

In the 1970's, largely as a response to reformational grumblings stirred up by concern over an unsubstantiated link between caffeine and pancreatic cancer, Coca-Cola and other purveyors of dietary caffeine set up an funded the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and its public relations arm, the International Food Information Council (IFIC), both based in Washington D.C., to help forestall any efforts to regulate or ban caffeine.

Because caffeine is water soluble and passes easily through the cell membranes, it is quickly and completely absorbed from the stomach and intestines in to the bloodstream, which carries it to all the organs. This means that, soon after you finish your cup of tea or coffee, caffeine will be present in virtually every cell in you body. Caffeine's permeability results in an evenness of distribution that is exceptional as compared with other pharmacological agents; because the human body presents no significant physical barrier to hinder its passage through tissue, the concentrations attained by caffeine are virtually the same in the blood, saliva, and even breast milk and semen. … One of the secrets of caffeine's power is that caffeine passes through this blood-brain barrier as if it did not exist.The maximum concentrations of caffeine in the body…is typically attained within an hour after consumption of a cup of tea or coffee.

Because caffeine passes through the tissues so completely it does not actually accumulate in any body organs. Because it is not readily soluble in fat, where is might otherwise have been retained for weeks or even months, as are other psychotropic drugs such as marijuana. For most animal species, including human beings, the mean elimination half life of caffeine is from two to four hours, which means that more than 90 percent has been removed from the body in about twelve hours.

Cigarette smoking doubles the rate at which caffeine is eliminated, which means that smokers can drink more coffee and feel it less than non-smokers.

Caffeine eventually devastates the plants that produced it, for as caffeine-bearing bushes or trees age and the soil around them becomes increasingly rich in caffeine absorbed from the accumulation of fallen leaves and berries, it eventually attains a level toxic not only to microbial enemies but to the plant itself as well. It is partially because of this toxicity that coffee plantations tend to degenerate after ten or twenty five years.

And from an Economist article: "Coffee Houses", December 2003

According to custom, social differences were left at the coffee-house door … and anyone who started a quarrel had to atone for it by buying an order of coffee for all present. Richard Steele, the Tatler's editor, gave its postal address as the Grecian coffee house, which he used as his office. In the days before street numbering or regular postal services, it became a common practice to use a coffee-house as a mailing address. Regulars could pop in once or twice a day, hear the latest news, and check to see if any post awaited them. That said, most people frequented several coffee houses, the choice of which reflected their range of interests. A merchant, for example, would generally oscillate between a financial coffee-house and one specialising in Baltic, West Indian or East Indian shipping. The wide ranging interests of Robert Hooke, a scientist and polymath, were reflected in his visits to around 60 coffee-houses during the 1670s.

(And here are a few pictures of spider web construction after the spider has been exposed to various drugs, including caffeine).


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