Saturday, December 27, 2008

Caffeinism? Nay!

I do not know when it began but kick-starting the day with a cup of coffee has been a ritual for me for a long time.

I was surrounded by coffee drinkers since young and I have since discovered what sweetness the dark beverage can bring. Today, coffee is no longer a simple drink but has grown in its sophistication.
If I were to pull back more than 1000 years, it is interesting to note that coffee was first discovered by goats, at least, that is what the legend says. According to the folklore, Ethiopian shepherds were the first to notice that their goats appeared to be 'dancing' after eating wild coffee berries.

Coffee was first consumed in the 9th century when it was first discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia. From there, it spread to the Middle East where they began to roast and brew coffee in a similar way as today.

No coffee seed was sprouted outside Africa or Arabia until the 1600s. Once it was introduced to Europe, it soon became a popular drink and one of the much sought after trade commodities.

The first European coffee house is believed to have opened in Italy in 1645. Today there are thousands of them. The regular players in Singapore are the Coffee Club with 22 outlets, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf with 45 outlets, Spinelli Coffee with 23 outlets, Starbucks Coffee with 62 outlets, Gloria Jeans with 5 outlets, Pacific Coffee at 8 outlets. The list goes on...

A coffee drinking culture was brewing into a rich aroma over the past two decades in Singapore. While the traditional kopitiam or neighborhood coffee shops are still very popular, sipping coffee in slightly up-market outlets is now seen as an urban lifestyle. Along came with this evolution is a little known profession in the coffee drinking community - barista, which I only came to know in the last few years.

A Barista is a professional who is highly skilled in coffee preparation with a comprehensive understanding of coffee blends, espresso, roast degree, coffee making equipment and maintenance and latte art. It is akin to a sommelier who has good knowledge of wine.

Last year, Singapore sent the winner of the 2007 Singapore National Barista Championship to take part in the 2007 World Barista Championship in Tokyo. Our representative came in 30 out of 45. Although not coming anywhere near the top, it was a respectable achievement for a profession that is rarely known here.

There has been ceaseless debate over the effect of coffee on health. There are numerous conflicting reports and it depends on your pre-conceived idea about coffee, one side will always sound more convincing than the other to you.

Indulging in a few cups too many could result in symptoms such as restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, nausea, vomiting and a flushed face. The symptoms of a serious overdose include delirium and seizures. The question is: what amounts to 'too many'?

Caffeinism or addiction to coffee is a health concern. It is thought to occur if you have an intake of above 600mg to 750mg of caffeine a day. That's roughly five to six cups of ground coffee or eight to 10 cups of instant. Looking at how coffee is consumed by people around me, I do not see caffenism as a big issue.

There are also concerns about the fattening effect of coffee. A nicely brewed coffee lashed with cream and milk can scale close to 400 calories. Typically, one mocha coffee easily deliver 300 calories before you even chomp your favorite sandwich. Just a cup of such coffee in the morning will take up a fourth or a fifth of your daily recommended calories.

On the other hand, there is no lack of supporters who say that there are health benefits in coffee. It is reported that drinking one to three cups daily may reduce the risk of liver diseases in heavy liqueur drinkers. One study has also suggest that it could protect against the onset of Alzheimer's. Recently, another report said it could help protect skin from the sun.

It has come to a point where I am totally confused by the onslaught of health debates. There is one thing these reports seem to be able to agree: drinking coffee in moderation is okay. Let's accept it, coffee will always be 'black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.'

I will stick to my daily dosage of one to two cups of neat coffee with a little dash of milk.


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