It ought to arrive as no surprise that 85% of Americans drink at least one caffeinated beverage per day. In addition to coffee stores packing our cities and out-of-the-way cafés calling to us with their flat whites and lattes, it certainly isn’t a secret that we love our coffee—as well as our tea, cocoa, cola, and energy drinks.
And yet, how many of us know much about coffee and caffeine, besides the buzz it delivers?
Here are 10 surprising facts about some of the world’s most beloved beverages, and how, exactly, they impact our lives and bodies:
1. Dark Coffee Roasts Have Less Caffeine Than Lighter Brews
Stumble into a Starbucks jonesing for an electrifying cup of java and you might be tempted to go with their darkest, richest roast.
Looks, however, can be deceiving. Light roasts—such as Light Blonde, Light City, and Cinnamon—supply a bigger jolt of caffeine than their darker cousins.
Because light roasts see less heat and, as such, they’re left with more moisture inside their beans. This makes the coffee bean denser and will furnish you with more caffeine than that French Roast you may be eyeing.
Keep in mind, though, that lighter roasts—which generally have more delicate tones than dark roasts—have a thinner body, and may taste to some like strong, black tea.
2. Coffee is the Fourth Most Popular Drug in the World—and the Most Socially Acceptable
Alcohol tops the list of the most widely used substance around the globe, but coffee and caffeine don’t fall far behind: According to the Global Drug Survey, buzzy beverages are the fourth most prevalent “drugs” on the planet. Sandwiched between booze and caffeine? Tobacco and marijuana; and while the former is frowned upon (for obvious reasons) and the latter is growing in terms of social acceptance, coffee remains the world’s most conventional and embraced psychoactive drug.
Happen to depend on your coffee for, well, life? Know that because caffeine passes through human tissue so thoroughly, it doesn’t accumulate in body fat, as, say, marijuana and other psychotropic drugs do.
3. Caffeine Withdrawal is a Mental Health Condition
Drink coffee on a regular basis and you’re likely well-aware that its lows are as miserable as its highs are fantastic.
Modern mental health recognizes this. In the latest edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5), caffeine withdrawal is identified as a mental health issue. Anyone who has ever experienced the symptoms that frequently arrive with cutting out or curbing caffeine would probably agree that the throbbing headaches, fatigue, irritability, and depressed mood does seem like an illness. (In fact, quitting coffee cold turkey can result in headaches that last up to nine days.) If this is a recurrent problem, consider minimizing your intake. Your brain and body will thank you in spades.
4. We’re Presently in Coffee’s Third Wave
So far, there have been two major waves in the evolution of coffee—and we’re presently riding on the third.
In the first wave, coffee—a crop that is believed to have been discovered by a goat herder who noticed the energetic shift in his animals after they grazed on a particular red berry—was an accessible and economic commodity where every cup more or less tasted the same.
In the second wave, coffee shops—such as that aforementioned Starbucks—took coffee to a new level with sweet flavorings, fancy heads, whipped cream, and other customizations.
Now, in the third wave, we’re watching coffee increasingly become an artisan product, with a distinct flavor that reveals its story and origin (or, as some put it, it’s all about handcrafted coffee and sourcing transparency).
According to the Paulig Barista Institute, the fourth wave will be defined by the science of coffee, accurate measurements in brewing, a profound understanding of the properties of coffee, water chemistry, and the further development of brewing equipment. Can you imagine what sort of taste such sophistication will bring?
5. Finns Consume the Most Amount of Caffeine in the World
Think Americans are seriously hooked on their coffee? Think again. At 12kg per capita of coffee ingested per year, Finland is the world’s leading coffee consumer. America, meanwhile, hovers on the list in the 22nd slot, while residents in the Philippines drink the least amount, with 1.2kg per capita.
6. Coffee is Chock Full of Health Benefits
While coffee once had a bad rap, a mounting body of evidence has shown that it has stellar health benefits. This is thanks to coffee’s high content of antioxidants—compounds that work to protect you against free radical damage and the aging and health complications that arrive with it. What’s more, data published by the National Institutes of Health has demonstrated that coffee can decrease one’s risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.
7. Humans Aren’t the Only Species Lured by Caffeine’s Intoxicating Buzz
A number of flowers contain low levels of caffeine that draw bees to its blooms. Even more fascinating? Science has shown that caffeine enhances the memory of the insects.
8. We All Metabolize Caffeine Differently
Ever watched a friend consume cup after cup of coffee with little effect on their mood and behavior?
A host of factors contribute to our ability to synthesize coffee. Women, for example, metabolize coffee roughly 25% faster than men, Asians metabolize coffee more slowly than Caucasians, and smokers process it twice as quickly as nonsmokers. Those on birth control, meanwhile, metabolize caffeine at approximately one-third of the rate of women who are not on the pill.
As Bennet Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer put it in their book, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug, a nonsmoking Japanese man drinking his coffee with an alcoholic beverage would probably feel buzzed “about five times longer than an Englishwoman who smoked cigarettes but did not drink or use oral contraceptives.”
9. Your Career May Determine Your Caffeine Consumption
In a survey conducted by CareerBuilder and Dunkin’ Donuts (yes, those of the quick and creamy coffee fame), one’s profession decided their dependency on coffee and caffeine. Scientists and lab techs capped the list, followed by marketing and PR professionals, education administrators, and writers and editors. What’s more, 60% of those interviewed said they drink at least two cups of coffee per day and almost half confessed that their job productivity would be affected without their daily cup of joe.
10. Caffeine Genuinely Does Wake You Up—and Make You a Happier Person
Depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, the effects of coffee (or another caffeinated beverage or food) can hit your brain within 20 minutes of consumption—and your alertness will hit its pinnacle about 30 to 60 minutes later, when it reaches its peak level in your blood. Your wake-up call is due to the fact that caffeine blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits arousal and, in short, tells your brain it’s tired. At the same time, coffee stimulates the production of dopamine—another neurotransmitter that elicits feelings of gladness and elation. Is it any wonder why, second to water, it’s the most popular drink in the world?~
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