By Pat Klein, Yoga+
Coffee is the hot beverage of choice in Europe, the Americas, and the Arabic world, with tea occupying that position in Britain, China, and India. In Arabia, the oily coffee berries were used as a medicine and fermented to make wine almost 2,000 years ago. There are many legends about how the stimulating properties of coffee came to be recognized. One legend traces coffee’s first use as a beverage back to an Arabian monastery, where sometime around the 10th century a monk noticed a small herd of goats cavorting all night after eating berries from the coffee plants that grew wild in the vicinity. The monks brewed a concoction of the berries in hot water and found it helped them stay awake for their nightly prayers.
The practice of roasting the beans originated in Syria in the 13th century. Coffee arrived in Paris in 1643, and by 1675 the city had more than 250 coffee houses. By the 18th century the coffee bush had reached Brazil, which now produces more coffee than the rest of the world combined. Since then, coffee has become the national drink in many countries. It has been estimated that 25 percent of all adults in the United States consume more than five cups of coffee every day. They drink four times more coffee than beer, three times more than soft drinks, and millions of gallons more than milk.
Is this healthy? Countless studies have been done, yet medical science has come up with little that would persuade people of the need to find an alternative to coffee. Some studies suggest a possible relationship between coffee and pancreatic diseases such as cancer, though this is actively debated. Others suggest a mild aggravating effect on hypertension and irregularities in heart rhythm. Many people who drink coffee recognize that it irritates their stomach, and studies have shown that its tannic acid content interferes with iron absorption and aggravates iron-deficiency anemia. The same is true of black tea. Medical research has also focused on the link between coffee consumption and PMS, fibrocystic breast disease, insomnia and other sleep disorders, and decreased rates of calcium absorption, although none of the findings are conclusive.
But the upshot is that the evidence is not compelling enough to spark a massive retreat from a beverage that has become an integral part of the daily routine in many households. The reasons people drink coffee are many and often firmly held. Besides finding pleasure in the aroma and flavor, many of us sip it as part of a comforting ritual, accompanied by a newspaper in the morning or a chat with a companion later in the day. Some also find that it acts as a morning laxative. But probably the most universal reason for drinking coffee is that it gets us going first thing in the morning and keeps us going later in the day when our energy begins to flag. It banishes sluggishness after a meal or in the evening hours at the end of a hard day.