I am in on Sunday morning supervising kennels. Nothing is more important than the animals getting taken care of. Because I am here, I can make sure the treatments are done and everyone is okay. I can also write my article in peace and quiet. It also means I get to drink my coffee while it is fresh and hot.
I drink a fair amount of coffee. And so do others. Coffee is the second most traded commodity on earth. (Oil is number one and half of the world’s coffee comes from Brazil.) I like to hold my coffee and feel the warmth sink into my hands. The smell warms my senses. Coffee is probably the closest I ever get to meditation for mindfulness and being all in the moment. However, my coffee drinking has been marred by the detrimental effect that coffee growing has on the environment.
In the wild, short coffee bushes grow under the shade of tall trees in the tropical rainforests. Legend has it that goat herders discovered coffee in Ethiopia about 800 A.D. They noticed the goats would appear to “dance” after eating coffee berry fruits. Supposedly a local monk made a coffee berry drink that it kept him awake at night. Hence the original cup of coffee was born.
By the way, coffee was originally a food. The fruit was mixed with fat to create an energy-rich snack ball. The pulp of coffee berries was also consumed as a wine.
Fifty years ago virtually all of our coffee was grown this way. Then for a long time, coffee was grown to the detriment of wildlife. When farmers found they could cut down rainforest trees, increase the sunlight and boost coffee production, the rainforest was toast.
Any time a single crop is grown on a property, the wildlife and land suffer. Corn fields, wheatfields, mown bluegrass lawns, pineapple plantations and coffee fields that are monocultures are all bad for wildlife. Monocultures do not provide a place for animal homes. Often other prey will also be absent from the area. This lack of bio-diversity is the reason that sun-grown coffee is harmful to the environment. Unfortunately, most of our coffee is sun grown now.
But I love the smell and taste of good coffee. (Just smelling coffee can alter the activity of some genes in the brain and help wake you up. Drinking the coffee puts caffeine in your bloodstream within 10 minutes.) Fortunately, coffee has many personal benefits. Two cups of coffee cuts post workout pain by almost half. A single cup adds 1.8 grams of fiber to the recommended intake of 20-38 grams. Perhaps it is the fiber that helps reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (26% reduction of risk).
I drink my coffee black. Added milk weakens the effects of caffeine, because it delays the absorption of the coffee. However, coffee stays warmer when you add cream. I often get busy and then will have to add hot coffee to warm my cup. Coffee with added cream cools about 20% slower than plain black coffee.
I prefer a light roast of Arabica beans. To me the flavor of a light roast is less bitter and cleaner, but the added cafeine may be part of my enjoyment. Light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast. Decaf coffee is not caffeine-free, but has less caffeine. An eight ounce cup of decaf coffee has 2-12 milligrams of caffeine compared to a regular cup of coffee with 95-200 milligrams. Most (70%) of coffee beans are Arabica. Robusta is slightly more bitter, but has twice as much caffeine and is insect resistant requiring less pesticides.
If you drink too much alcohol, coffee can protect against cirrhosis of the liver. The liver enzyme levels are lowered in coffee drinkers. Type 2 Diabetes is 22% less likely in folks that drink 6 or more cups per day. It seems that coffee drinking protects against Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. Coffee drinkers have less risk of heart disease and three or more cups a day tend to have less coronary artery calcification.
I know that coffee elevates my mood. The research links a reduced risk of suicide in coffee drinkers and a study found that women who drink 4 or more cups of coffee were 20% less likely to suffer from depression. You can overdose on coffee, but I do not think I will be drinking the 100 cups that it would take.
Coffee drinkers even have stronger DNA! The white blood cells of coffee drinkers had far less instance of spontaneous DNA strand breakage. Four cups of coffee a day may help protect against the development and reoccurrence of Multiple Sclerosis or MS. Perhaps coffee prevents neural inflammation that may leads to MS.
Besides the warm, positive experience of coffee, there are a lot of reasons to drink coffee. Luckily as bad as sun-grown coffee is for the environment, shade-grown trees have been shown to increase bio-diversity. (Bio-diversity is the number of different species that live in an area and is a measure of the health of a habitat.) The foliage of the trees around the shade-grown coffee plants makes for a great habitat for not only birds, but also butterflies and amphibians, adding to the evidence that shade-grown coffee is better for the environment.
One of the animals that lives under the large trees are the kopi luwak (sometimes known as a civet cat). This shy cat-like wild creature lives in the Sumatran jungle. Each night it goes onto the coffee plantations and eats the finest, ripest coffee cherries. The stone or coffee bean is indigestible and they are pooped out. The anal glands impart an elusive musky smoothness to the resultant roasted coffee. This is the most expensive coffee in the world ($600 a pound).
Like many things, people abused the system for money. Kopi luwaks were kept in cages and force fed coffee cherries to collect the coffee bean poop. This was exposed and the Indonesian government is working on a certification program for wild civet coffee. In the Gayo Mountains of Sumatra there are about forty coffee farmers in remote areas that boarder the rainforest. The luwaks prefer to nest in these trees. Luwaks are natural omnivores, but when the weather is cold and wet, just like us, luwaks seem to welcome the caffeine boost that eating ripe coffee cherries gives them. Even on the equator, at 1,500 meters above sea level it is often cold and wet. This means there is now a sustainable business model for genuine wild kopi luwak crap coffee with its certain repulsive charm. It provides another reason to protect the rainforest.
Coffee has not always been revered. There have been five attempts to ban coffee throughout history. In Mecca in 1511, leaders believed coffee stimulated radical thinking. In the 16th century Italian clergymen believed coffee was “satanic.” (Luckily, Pope Clement VII loved coffee and baptized coffee in 1600 and lifted the ban.) But in 1623, Ottoman leader Murad IV decreed that coffee drinkers be punished by beatings and being thrown into the sea. In 1746, the Swedish government made coffee paraphernalia, including cups and dishes, illegal. The last, and hopefully final, attempt was in 1777, when Frederick the Great of Prussia issued a manifesto declaring beer’s superiority over coffee. He believed coffee interfered with the country’s beer consumption.
With 80% of adults in the U.S. consuming caffeine every day and 400 million cups of coffee per day, we can bet coffee will not be banned anytime soon. The average worker spends $20 a week on coffee or nearly $1,100 annually.
While I may not drink civet cat coffee, I do try to drink fair trade coffee that is shade grown. (Fair trade means that the workers get a living wage for their work.) Our consumer choices have an affect on our environment. An added bonus to drinking shade-grown coffee is that some say it tastes better. Regardless, coffee makes kennel supervision on Sunday morning better.
Dr. MJ Wixsom owns and practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center on Bellefonte Road in Flatwoods, KY. 606.928.6566 and online atwww.GuardianAnimal.com and has her fourth book out.