I slipped again this morning. I woke with every intention of drinking green tea for breakfast. As far as coffee was concerned, I was officially on the wagon. But something about the combination of the play of early morning sun on the grass, the slight chill in the spring air, the late night before, weakened my resolve. My wagon went around a turn too fast, and off I fell, right into the line at the local coffee emporium. There I stood, eager as a child, shivering in anticipation at the heady aroma of coffee brewing, the reassuring “bzzzzzzz” of a burr grinder, the “whooossshhhh” of a short espresso pull.
Why do we love our morning brew? Maybe it’s a simple habit, ingrained by years of filling our Mr. Coffees with Maxwell House the night before, already eager for the scent of coffee at 7 a.m. Maybe it’s the pleasurable taste and mouth feel of a hot, creamy latte or a potent, bittersweet espresso. Or maybe it’s just the gratifying jolt of an immediate infusion of stimulants.
Caffeine is key; a quick hit of the stuff increases mental acuity, stimulates heart rate and respiration, and has mild psychotropic (mood-altering) effects. We are, at heart, a nation of stimulation junkies: electronic media, big-screen TVs, video games, cell phones, chocolate, food, sex–and caffeine. It is, quite simply, our favorite drug.
What’s your relationship with coffee? Is it a simple love affair, or an unhealthy obsession? It’s a question worth examining. When love turns into an obsession, caffeine has a dark side. Drink too much of it, and you’ll dehydrate your cells, burden your liver, increase your blood pressure and stimulate your central nervous system into what approaches a fight-or-flight response, leaving you jittery, anxious or high-strung.
If your relationship with coffee is a healthy one, it should leave you feeling fulfilled, not tense. And, like any good affair, quality, not quantity, is what counts. The prevailing wisdom holds that, unless you have some kind of predisposing condition–insomnia, anxiety disorders, stomach sensitivities, high blood pressure–a cup is just fine for most people.
Next: Does your relationship with coffee parallel your love affairs? Find your coffee lover profile.
But that means an eight-ounce cup, not the Big-Gulp, tachycardia-inducing size common to most coffee shops. If you find yourself craving more than that, your current brew may be leaving you unfulfilled. Does your relationship with coffee parallel your love affairs? It’s a fun question to ponder. See if you’ve found your perfect match with these coffee lover profiles:
Light roast coffee. These beans are subjected to a very brief roasting process, yielding a pale, reddish-brown hue and an aromatic, mellow flavor. The smooth quality of light roasts belies their caffeine content; most have as much caffeine as dark roasts. They’ll wake you up just as passionately, but they’re more subtle. They’ll whisper in your ear, instead of screaming in your face. Perfect if you like your love affairs nice and smooth.
Medium roast. These beans are baked a bit longer, yielding a rich-brown coffee with a deeper, fuller flavor than light roasts, but with less edge than darker varieties. They’re complex, fragrant and flavorful, and lacking in the bitter qualities that can spoil any romance. If you like a robust but low-drama love affair, this one’s for you.
Dark roasts. These beans are cooked to a deep, glossy brown or black; this is the roast most often used for espresso. Dark roasting must be done with great attention and care; it’s easy to go from a deep, rich flavor to burned beans. Finely crafted, though, dark coffee is a passionate choice for those who like their relationships intense, edgy, even a little explosive.
Varietals. For many years, coffees were made almost exclusively by blending beans from many different regions. Like wine or chocolate, coffee varietals are unblended selections hailing from a single country, region or crop. Some of the most popular of these are Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona. Are you a discriminating, refined and very choosy lover? This is the brew for you.
Decaffeinated. Met with mild derision among some coffee lovers, decaf has its place in the coffee world. A good brew will retain all the rich coffee flavor, but none of the slap-in-the-face qualities that make an after-dinner espresso verboten for some of us. This is brew for those who crave gentle, soft-spoken and tender affairs.
Flavored coffees. For some folks, a hint of mint or a layer of almond improves the flavor of coffee, enhancing its natural sweetness and complex undertones. For others, flavored coffees taste like hot ice cream. If you like a little novelty in your relationship with coffee, choose those made with natural vanilla, ground nuts, cocoa beans or other natural flavorings, rather than artificial flavorings that leave a cloying, unpleasant aftertaste–a very bad sign in any affair.