What’s Truly Brewing: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Coffee

Categories: Food & Drink
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Good Bad and Ugly Coffee

Coffee– the spirit of rational inquiry. It smells good, tastes better and for good or bad has shaped societies and altered individuals’ lives. Historically tied into global trade, coffee has played a role in bringing world cultures together. It represents a livelihood for some and an environmental or political point of contention for others, but for the majority of people who consume coffee, it is just a ubiquitous drink imperceptibly ingrained in their lives.

In some cases, maybe it is just a casual indulgence connected to a symbolically important gathering such as a holiday, but more commonly, coffee has become a daily necessity required throughout the day, throughout the world. From hometown coffee shops, to college campuses, Austrian cafés, to the tea lands of India and China, coffee is everywhere and growing in popularity. And why shouldn’t it? It’s an inspiring consciousness-altering substance that invokes clarity and has aided our capitalist world in production since the Industrial Revolution. Artists, inventors, knowledge workers– they all seem to swear by it. Hemingway drank copious amounts of it– among other things. While in Paris, Einstein said, “A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems,” and the Googleplex reportedly has about 25 cafés to support its staff.  But does it support us?

I will say outright I do not claim to be able to answer that, and I might even argue that our reductionist model of science may truly never understand the complete set of interactions that play out across the very nuanced variances of human physiology. What I am sure of though, is that popular blog posts abound about the ten reasons you should drink coffee, and we appear to be long past the days when coffee was deemed outright bad for you. It is now almost touted as a must have in our “healthy” hectic lives. Be it an antioxidant which protects against various neurological diseases, a performance enhancer, an antidepressant or most recently a memory booster, the list of purported benefits for drinking coffee seems to be growing.

But one thing coffee is not, is restorative. That is why we sleep. Of that much I am sure. The problem is that not all sleep is created equal, and caffeine, the famed stimulant in coffee, affects the type and quality of sleep we experience. Some of you coffee drinkers may instantly say, “I fall asleep just fine,” and that may be true; maybe you do not suffer from sleep latency problems. Regardless, the time it takes to fall asleep is only one part of the larger issue. Disrupting sleep in the restorative phases such as stages three and four ought to be your main concern, and caffeine consumption has a direct affect on this, and thus how effective you are in all aspects of your life the following day. With caffeine having a half life that varies based upon individual circumstances, it is hard to create a magical cut-off point in the day that a person should stop drinking coffee, but many western sleep scientists believe it to be between somewhere between six to 12 hours before you place your head on the pillow.

So drink a little coffee, but not too much, not too late in the day, to realize the healthful benefits and minimize the negative disruptions.
-Matt Artz