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The java jolt



Coffee… the cheapest legal excitement money can buy

Jim Watts is a self-described coffee snob. He’s always had a coffee grinder and a French press – even before it was cool to do all that. In fact, before he morphed into a parking lot mogul, he opened Whistler’s first B&B – imaginatively called Student Bed & Breakfast – with his old pal Stewart Muir. It was cheap (as in, bring your own sleeping bag), but breakfast was always a big deal, especially the French press coffee.

Coffee brings us to our knees… We look for the perfect beans. We grind them the perfect way, then brew them up just so. We fill our ritual cups and add our ritual embellishments. If we’re out of the house for more than two hours, we’ve got a flat-bottomed travel mug of coffee on the dashboard, or we’re walking down the street sloshing a cardboard cup of carry-out.

Why are we all so addicted to coffee?

About one-third of the people on planet Earth drink coffee, either hot or cold (it was deemed "intoxicating" and prohibited by the Koran, but it still spread amongst Arab people). More coffee is drunk than any other drink.

Caffeine is the primary compound through which coffee works its magic. But it’s not the only ingredient responsible for physiological effects – the green bean itself contains hundreds of active substances; some good chemicals, some not. Another 200 active compounds are formed as coffee beans are roasted.

But unless you’re speedy from drinking a cup right now, it’s enough to consider what the caffeine alone does to us. First, it excites the cerebellum in the brain, which controls muscular co-ordination. Then it hits the medulla, which regulates respiration and heartbeat. Large doses – we’ll get to those later – excite reflexes in the spinal cord and over-stimulate the entire nervous system.

No doubt you’ve also noticed that caffeine stimulates kidneys and bowels, and it increases metabolism and blood flow (useful if you have cold hands and feet). It’s also known to relieve hypertensive headaches and strengthen voluntary muscles. So if you have workmen coming over to do some heavy labour, you won’t be wasting time by giving them a cup of coffee.

In moderate doses (200-250 mg, or two to three cups of coffee) caffeine increases alertness, helps problem-solving ability, and improves reactions by stimulating the speed and clarity of thought flow. But you can get too much of a good thing. More than 250 mg of caffeine (three to four cups of coffee) in one day may cause nervousness, restlessness, tremors, headaches and irritability. Around the seven-cup mark, the average coffee drinker starts to hit caffeinism syndrome, with its symptoms like depression and anxiety.

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