Coffee river take my mind


T. S. Elliot once wrote, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” Elliot like so many of us must have begun his day with that inescapable deep brown liquid ritual. Coffee connoisseurs the world over are united by the energy-giving elixir.

Whether a Turk, puffing the nargile with a tiny glass of soot black, sugary kahve or a New York banker running to work with a cup of Starbucks tightly clenched, the world loves its coffee. Historians tell us that it’s been this way since the middle ages.

The 17th century writer Ibrahim Peçevi reported the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul. “Until the year 962 (1554-55), in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffeehouses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hâkem from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus, came to the city: they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.”

Interestingly, the 17th century was also an international turning point for coffee. During the sultanate of Murad IV over the Ottoman Empire (1623 to 1640), coffee got an unexpected cross-border boost. According to some historians, Murad liked to walk the streets of Constantinople in disguise — so he could hear public opinion uncensored.

On one such stroll he stopped at a tavern. In the tavern people were doing what they do — getting drunk, singing and otherwise carrying on. He then went to a coffeehouse. There he saw patrons having animated discussions about politics, social issues and the like. In particular, the coffeehouse customers were critical of Murad himself.

Murad’s take-home conclusion? Coffee must be banned. Ironically, he used the Islamic proscription on intoxicants as his basis. The coffeehouses were closed. Those found to be drinking coffee were severely punished. In some instances, offenders were sewn into bags and thrown into the Bosphorus. So zealous was Murad’s hatred of coffee, it is thought that thousands of people may have been executed for this “terrible” crime.

As an unintended consequence of Murad’s draconian purge, coffee merchants migrated to places like Italy, France, Britain and Austria — thus spreading the love of coffee to even further corners of the Earth.

On another geographic footnote, while most of us associate coffee with South America (justly so), the plant producing coffee beans is cultivated in more than six dozen countries and was likely Ethiopian in origin.

So, what does all this coffee lore get us? Doctors and scientists have debated coffee’s theorized effects for decades. Research on the matter is the focus of great dispute. Even so, a number of recent studies indicate that coffee might have some profound health benefits. A study published in the Lancet journal found that Dutch subjects who consumed seven or more cups of regular coffee each day reported lower diabetes incidence rates than those who drank two or fewer cups per day. A study performed by the Research Center for Military Health in Yaounde, Cameroon, found that regular consumption of coffee is associated with a reduction in the risk of a wide variety of different cancers, including liver, kidney, and colorectal cancers.

The study also found that coffee is unrelated to the development of prostate, pancreatic, and ovarian cancers. Another study noted that those who consumed at least four cups of coffee per day had lower rates of gout by nearly 40 percent. Coffee consumption helps reduce the body’s production of uric acid, the main culprit in causing this disorder. Still others list coffee’s role in staving off Parkinson’s Disease, fighting fat and increasing metabolism.

Of course there’s a catch — there always is — the studies considered the effects of black coffee, not mocha-frappa-caramel-whipped-sprinkle-topped-peppermint lattes!