Journalist Murray Carpenter has a new book out next week titled Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. As Scientific American summarizes, “His book examines the caffeine industry, the coffee and other products it churns out, and the complex effects the chemical has on our bodies.” Kirkus Reviews says that “Carpenter blends intriguing historical episodes with interviews, accounts of treks to caffeine-related locations and a multitude of test results.”
For a preview of some of the book’s themes, Maddie Oatman of Mother Jones interviewed Carpenter. Take the following as just one example of the lessons learned in his research:
There’s no standard amount of caffeine in each cup of coffee—even within the same brand.
“Starbucks gives an approximation of 20 milligrams per ounce. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks puts you at about 320 milligrams of caffeine. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks is for many Americans a good daily dose of caffeine.
“One researcher found that a 16-ounce cup had 560 milligrams of caffeine. The researcher, Bruce Goldberger, went to the same Starbucks and ordered the same blend of coffee for six days, and found that the levels varied more than twofold. He’s not the only one to have found those things. Even espresso shots, which are much more regimented, can vary.”
Check our her full post here.
Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine featured a great article by Daniel Bergner about the Good African Coffee company and its founder and CEO, Andrew Rugasira. It’s a really interesting piece, well worth a read, so I won’t quote it much, hoping instead that you’ll check it yourself.
One thing that I took away from this was a new vision of a possible future beyond fair trade. Rather than coffee growers selling their beans as a commodity to companies in the developed world for “value added” roasting—even to folks as amazing our house fave Kickapoo Coffee (who got another nice write-up last week, this time in Isthmus)—Rugasira’s model for his company is coffee grown, processed, roasted, packaged, marketed, and sold on the world market entirely by an African (in his case, Ugandan) company.
[Rugasira] brought simple pulping machines, knee-high metal contraptions, turned by hand crank, that free the bean from its thick red skin. Over time, he gave out 200 of these, which the farmers carry on their backs from hamlet to hamlet and share across the area. His staff taught the farmers to soak the skinned beans as a way of culling those that are damaged or unripe, while also removing an inner sheath. And Rugasira impressed upon them the benefit of drying the beans in the shade and off the ground, on platforms of wire mesh that the company hired carpenters to construct. These methods would enrich the taste of the coffee down the line, he explained, and in turn enrich the price he could pay them for their beans. The new equipment and methods allowed the growers to liberate themselves from the prevailing local system of selling their raw commodity cheaply to traders. Instead, Rugasira paid 70 percent more — about 60 cents a pound, as his company got under way — for a product that could go on to satisfy elite markets and that he planned to roast and sell in a sector, he pointed out to me repeatedly, worth billions.
The story’s a lot more complicated, and fraught with setbacks, than that brief excerpt might suggest, so check out the article for the full story.
I didn’t become a regular coffee drinker until this past year. Way back when, I was caffeine-free. Later, my mornings started with Diet Mountain Dew, which was replaced by organic, fair-trade English Breakfast tea — quite a shift, huh? — which eventually gave way to coffee. J., on the other hand, has been a coffee drinker for as long as I’ve known him.
Our house brew the last couple years has come from Kickapoo Coffee, which is located about 2 hours from Madison in lovely southwestern Wisconsin. Kickapoo had the distinction of being named Micro Roaster of the Year in 2010 by the trade publication, Roast. (Click here to view the nice magazine excerpt about them as a PDF.) The Kickapoo website describes their organic and fair-trade approach: “In our search for the perfect roast, we team up with small-scale farmers who share our vision for quality. As these partnerships deepen over time, our farmer partners earn additional income while our coffees get sweeter and more delicious.” It’s a win-win-win situation: good for the growers, good for the roasters, good for the consumers.
J. likes bright, east African coffees, while I tend to favor less-sparkling brews from Latin America. To compromise, we generally rotate what beans we buy. (J. also likes to make his coffee strong but has dialed the strength down to medium for my sake, since I was getting jittery from just one cup of his rocket fuel.) Lately, we’ve been letting sale prices at the grocery store make the bean selection for us, so we’re currently drinking the Kickapoo Organic Honduras. Prior to that it was their Summer Solstice blend. Regardless of the variety, Kickapoo coffee is always delicious and a marvelous way to start the day, especially for a non-morning person like myself.
In the past, when I used to occasionally drink coffee, I always took it with cream or milk plus sugar. Once it became part of my morning ritual, my veganish ways led me to try it without any dairy. (I love unsweetened soy milk over my cereal, but can’t stand soy in a beverage.) It turns out that I actually prefer my coffee dairy-free now. I haven’t been able to give up sugar, so I put in a small amount that gives just enough sweetness for my palate.
What’s your coffee (or alternative morning beverage) of choice, and why? How do you take your coffee?