In 1650, St. Michael’s Alley, London’s first coffee shop, placed an ad in a newspaper. That ad — archived in the British Museum, and Internet-ed by the Vintage Ads LiveJournal — extolled the many Vertues of the newly discovered beverage. Which “groweth upon little Trees, only in the Deserts of Arabia,” and which is — despite and ostensibly because of its Vertues — “a simple innocent thing.”
What’s amazing about the ad — besides, obviously, its crazy claim that coffee can prevent Mif-carryings in Child-bearing Women — is how flagrantly its copyrighters flung the Vertues they extol. Per these 17th-century Mad Men, coffee could be used to aid and/or prevent: indigestion, headaches, lethargy, drowsiness, arthritis, sore eyes, cough, consumption, “spleen,” dropsy, gout, scurvy, and — my personal favorite — hypochondria. And they back up their claims by pointing out that Turkish people, those noted coffee imbibers, don’t have scurvy, but do have nice skin. QED!
What’s amazing as well, for better or for worse, is how familiar the ad feels. Sure, today we regulate our marketing claims; Starbucks wouldn’t get very far were it to announce the miscarriage-prevention properties of the half-caf soy latte. But we’re also, still, entirely familiar with ads that ramble on about the health benefits of particular products with a hilarious if occasionally dangerous disregard for reality — particularly on the modern-day pamphlet that is the Internet. (With Product X, you’ll be slimmer/bulkier/hairier/smoother/perkier/calmer … in just one week!). The main difference is that the caveat of 1650 — Made and Sold in St. Michaels Alley in Cornhill, by Pasqua Rosse, at the Signe of his own Head — has been replaced by a caveat that is all too recognizable in its modernity: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Indonesia’s self-proclaimed “King of Luwak”, Gunawan Supriadi, is having a hard time keeping up with demand for the beans excreted by his stable of pampered civet “cats”.
And he’s not alone. Demand for coffee brewed with beans plucked from the dung of the furry, weasel-like creatures — known locally as luwaks — is surging among well-healed connoisseurs around the world, exporters say.
About 40 civets at Supriadi’s plantation in West Lampung district, Sumatra, provide the intestinal machinery for his Raja Luwak (King of Luwak) brand of bean. Lampung is the undisputed capital of luwak coffee.
“My target is to have 150 civets soon because I have to meet the surge in demand,” Supriadi said.
“In 2008, I gathered about 50 kilograms of luwak beans and sold them to local distributors. In 2009, I sold 300 kilograms. In 2010, I sold 1.2 tonnes.”
The “golden droppings” of the luwak, or Asian palm civet, fetch up to $800 for two pounds in countries like the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
It’s another story altogether at retail level. Single cups of the world’s most expensive coffee have been known to sell for almost $100 in specialty outlets in London.
The civets play two roles. Firstly, they tend to choose the best berries to digest. Experts say wild civets are the most discerning, but their droppings are also the most difficult to harvest.
Having nibbled off the thin outer layer of fruit, the civets put their digestive juices to work. The enzymes penetrate the beans — usually arabica in Sumatra — and change their chemical balance in subtle ways.
The end product, after a good wash and light roasting, lacks the bitterness of ordinary coffee and has a unique, soft flavour.
“If luwak coffee is a car, then it must be a Rolls-Royce,” Supriadi said.
Marketing “energy” is big business. Many people are choosing “energy drinks” spiked with caffeine and other supposed energizers. Sadly, many energy drinks and pre-workout boosters provide little information about the amounts of caffeine and other ingredients because they are a proprietary blend.
As an alternative to consuming beverages with unknown levels of possibly harmful ingredients, why not have a cup of coffee? And, no, we are not subsidized by the coffee industry. The common 8-ounce cup of coffee provides about 100 milligrams of caffeine. The amount of caffeine, however, depends on the type of coffee and the strength of the brew. For example, just 1 fluid ounce of espresso can provide 65 mg of caffeine.
In attempts to find health problems caused by coffee, thousands of studies have been conducted. Many of these were looking for health risks and found none. Other studies actually found health benefits. Most research on coffee supports the concept that if coffee was recently discovered in a faraway location, coffee would be the hottest selling herbal beverage in the health food market.
Question: What potential health benefits are linked to coffee drinking?
Answer: Epidemiological studies that look for positive and negative associations with health have identified some encouraging links to specific health benefits. Although these results can’t prove cause and effect, they indicate those who drink coffee have a decreased risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease and colorectal cancer. Overall, the more recent well-designed studies have found no association between coffee consumption and cancers in general. There also is evidence that coffee consumption helps to prevent tooth decay.
Question: Why would coffee be beneficial to health?
Answer: Coffee contains many things besides caffeine. Two cups of strong coffee provide as much potassium as a medium banana and about 40 percent of the daily need for the vitamin pantothenic acid. In addition to these nutrients, coffee also contains compounds with names like chlorogenic acid, cafestol and kahweol. Finding potential positive and negative aspects of these compounds is an ongoing area of research. Chlorogenic acid may be the key component that contributes to the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Cafestol and kahweol, present mainly in unfiltered coffee, are thought to contribute to a small but significant increase in blood cholesterol levels, but also may help to prevent cancer.
Question: Is there a downside to drinking too much coffee?
Answer: Everything in life seems to have its diminishing point of return. A report from Health Canada concluded that caffeine intake up to 400 mg per day is not associated with adverse health effects in healthy adults. However, caffeine is a drug. And, like most drugs, individual sensitivity to caffeine can vary. For some, caffeine boosts blood pressure. Too much caffeine too close to bedtime can, of course, adversely affect sleep. The absorption of iron from foods can be decreased when coffee is consumed with the food. It is commonly recommended that women who are pregnant, lactating, or planning pregnancy do not consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day (about three 8-ounce cups of coffee). There is conflicting evidence that excess coffee consumption (more than four cups per day) during pregnancy can increase the risk of childhood acute lymphoid leukemia.
Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.
Uaka Kava of Hilo Hawaii have recently restocked ‘Awa (Kava Kava) powder they make from the dried fresh root of the Mahakea variety grown on the Big Island. This powder is for sale on their website:
There still continues to be a shortage of fresh root due to the disruption in planting caused by BfArM (German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices) erroneously linking fresh ‘Awa root to liver damage in 2001. This was subsequently disproved by UH Scientists:
A team of University of Hawai’i scientists may have solved the mystery of why some Europeans who used products containing kava extract suffered severe liver damage, prompting a number of nations to ban sales of the herbal supplement.
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When the supply is normal Uka Kava makes dried fresh root powder processed from these varieties:
‘Awa Hanakapi ‘ai
‘Awa Honokane Iki
‘Awa Papa ‘Ele’ele
‘Awa Papa Kea
‘Awa Papa’ Ele’ele Pu’upu’u
During fresh root shortages Uka Kava offers their “Hang Loose Instant Kawa” product which many people prefer anyway due to ease of preparation.
Why is there not more support for an expanded employer role in providing health insurance to all Americans? I sense a certain exhaustion among decision makers and employee benefit professionals as they grapple with costs that just defy control. I notice at professional conferences an increasing openness to the single payer model.
We have seen one cost control fad after another. More and more employers are dropping health benefits in order to stay afloat. In this game of Old Maid, those employers who do provide benefits struggle to maintain their social compact with their employees without footing the bill for the rest of the world.
The rest of the world? How does that occur? In a number of ways.