Lets talk about coffee. Wonderful, vibrant, sharp coffee that has got us through exam periods we thought would never end; deadlines we thought we’d never make and lunch with parents who never notice that we still haven’t slept from the night before. Coffee is loved by all old and young, whether it’s the suits who need it to function at 6am starts or the pretentious hipsters who reveal in pointing out it’s ‘ warm acidic body with caramel undertones’ while wiping coffee granules off their ever-growing beards.
People have even come up with a test to psychoanalyse your coffee preferences. It’s definitely total crap but still fun to do in a buzzfeed-y kinda way.*
* Turns out my coffee personality test got me spot on so maybe there is some truth in it – but still take it with a pinch of salt (…or milk and sugar)
With such a widespread fan-base, it seems strange that no one seems to know the real benefits or consequences of our beloved coffee. Actually, our nation is dangerously dependent on caffeine, beating even nicotine for the title of world’s most addictive drug.
Now I could ramble on about the links between caffeine consumption and depression, anxiety, cancer, heart disease and all the other scary things that we are constantly warned will inevitably occur. But I won’t because we NEED coffee to wake us up and makes us feel more alert right? Doesn’t coffee improve cognitive function and turn us from lazy slobs into productive humans in one sweet sip?
WRONG. There are pretty much no studies that have significantly proven coffee has any influence on cognitive functioning. Furthermore, caffeine hasn’t even been shown to increase alertness beyond natural levels. It is suggested that coffee consumption only makes us feel more alert because we tend to be in withdrawal when we drink it. When caffeine and non-caffeine consumers are compared in the withdrawal stage, non-consumers are obviously more alert. However, when the two groups are compared post-coffee consumption, the levels of alertness are the same. What this means is that the only effect of caffeine is reverse the effect of withdrawal by increasing alertness to the level it would naturally be if there was no addiction in the first place.
So the new lease of life we feel after that a cup is simply our functioning being returned to normal levels, rather than an enhancement above the normal state.
After learning this last year, my housemate and I (heavily addicted coffee-drinkers) decided to give up coffee. After a week of horrible withdrawal symptoms, all I was craving was the sweet sweet nectar. But then I started to be concerned about the potent effects of caffeine if I was getting headaches and shakes from not drinking it for just a few days. We persevered and the effects were rather glorious. I woke up feeling naturally fresher and less blerry-eyed. My usual 4-o’clock wave of tiredness (usually combatted by a strong black americano) was no more. I really couldn’t believe how different it felt. I had spent my whole life thinking that coffee was an upper, when actually it was a downer – only making me feel temporarily better because of the way not drinking it was making me feel. Coffee isn’t the hero that saves us from collapsing with exhaustion, but the villain that makes us need it to stay standing.
So my advice is not to stop drinking coffee altogether, it definitely has it’s place. I still have a few cups a week, but only when I really need it. The best way to reap the benefits of caffeine is to have it in moderation, so it’s alerting effects can be felt without the accompanying withdrawal symptoms.
Coffee is often used in desserts, but i thought I’d try it in a savoury dish – It’s bitter flavour bought both me and the dish to life!
Coffee marinated steak on a bed of spinach:
1 cup coffee
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 clove chopped garlic
1. Mix the olive oil, coffee, mustard, balasmic vinegar, pepper and garlic
2. Coat steaks in the marinade. Season with salt and pepper and leave for 1 hour
3. Sear on a hot pan for 5-10mins until cooked to your liking.
4. Rest for 10mins before slicing. Serve on bed of spinach and garnish with chopped parsley