Saturday, September 16, 2006

Coffee, With Occasional Science

I SHUFFLE OVER TO the coolerator and scrounge a bottle of water. I pour it into the carafe of my coffeemaker. The lines denote the quantity as 5 cups. In my math, that's two mugs, with milk. That's my dose.

Coffee contains caffeine, an addictive alkaloid. Caffeine causes racing heartbeats and spreads jitters across the finer nerves. Caffeine is a stimulant and fosters weight loss. Caffeine has no ill long-term side effects. Caffeine is a crutch for those who shun sleep. Coffee is the axis around which home and office morning socializing turns. Coffee contains more than 100 mg of caffeine per cup. Few people drink what used to be considered a "cup," instead choosing double-dose ceramic or travel mugs. Coffee should be avoided. Coffee is harmless in moderation. Everyone should drink it. Nobody should.

From a Starbucks bag, I scoop 2 tablespoons of glossy brown beans into my grinder. The aroma wafting from the bag makes me salivate. Starbucks beans are fine as long as you don't get the extra-dark ones, as they tend to over-roast them. In particular, the straight coffee served at the stores often tastes burnt. I have also selected beans from Whole Foods, which are roasted daily and bear freshness dates.

Starbucks has become a shared space in many communities. Starbucks is an all-devouring corporate octopus whose tentacles drive local indie coffeehouses out of business. Starbucks creates a space where people can work, chat, or listen to music while enjoying an inexpensive and satisfying indulgence. Starbucks rivals Anheuser-Busch as one of the country's biggest legal drug pushers.

I press the grinder button and watch the beans disappear into a cloud of brown grit. I tap on the lid of the grinder with a spoon to keep the grounds from gathering therein. Grabbing the gold-plated basket from my coffeemaker, I delicately shake the grounds out. A swipe of the spoon clears any remaining grounds from the grinder. No stragglers are allowed.

Starbucks partners with local coffee growers across the globe to forge fair-trade agreements that justly compensate impoverished agricultural regions. Starbucks could bankrupt wide swaths of the developing world merely by ceasing to buy that area's beans for a single season. Starbucks is evil. Starbucks is a corporation and has no emotions. Starbucks employs tens of thousands across the world. These are McJobs in green aprons.

I pour the water into the maker's reservoir and click on the power. The machine burbles for a second, then begins to cycle the water through the basketful of grounds. While I retrieve sugar and soy milk, the kitchen fills with that familiar, rich scent. Ask the average person what smells remind him or her of breakfast, and you're most liable to get "coffee" and "bacon" as your responses. Both can lure you from a deep sleep and into the dining room like a smoke hand from a Warner Bros. cartoon.

Sugar is safe when used in moderation. Sugar is an insidious additive to more foods than most folks realize. One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories. Sugar contains little else than calories and should be shunned. Sugar in soft drinks and other sweet foods has largely been displaced by high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is still abused by, among others, coffee drinkers, who typically pour 2 or more packets into their joe. Sugar in low doses amid a balanced diet is harmless. A balanced diet requires nothing that sugar provides: calories, withdrawal symptoms when denied, and greater vulnerability to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

A soft click from the coffeemaker alerts me that the brew is complete. The mere thought of the coffee brewing has awakened me from my post-sleep languor. I scoop the last of my Sugar in the Raw into the mug, follow it with about half of the coffee in the carafe, and lighten it with a stiff shot of soy milk.

Soy has backboned the Asian diet for millennia. Much commercially available soy is now genetically modified. Organic soy can be found easily and is a staple of a healthy vegetarian diet. Soy is rich with phytochemicals and healthy fats that fight cancer and promote heart health. Soy estrogens grow bosoms on me. Soy estrogens are plant based and leave men flat chested. Omega-3 fatty acids in soy are less effective than those from fish in fostering proper serum fat levels. Eating protein and fat from soy is, pound for pound, healthier than eating the same amount in animal protein.

I sink into the warm mug of coffee and pull a deep draught. Science slides away, unneeded in this quiet weekend moment.

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