Category Archives: Science

Caffeine: The Dirty Truth

Will that ink black cup of coffee really get you on the straight and narrow after you’ve seen the bottom of a few too many shots of Patron? Or is your daily cup of joe really dehydrating you while perking you up?

WebMD examined 8 different common beliefs about caffeine and compared them against available studies to determine if they were fact or fiction. If you’re wondering if you’re working under any misconceptions about the brew, check out their opinions.

Oh, and that sobering up bit? Sorry…no:
Actually, research suggests that people only think caffeine helps them sober up. For example, people who drink caffeine along with alcohol think they’re OK behind the wheel. But the truth is reaction time and judgment are still impaired. College kids who drink both alcohol and caffeine are actually more likely to have car accidents.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Pregnancy – Part Two

The most often used mood-altering drug around the world, caffeine has nearly an equal amount of advocates as it does detractors — it’s even moving into the holy ‘anti-oxidant’ status, previously reserved for the likes of broccoli and pomegranate.

But up for debate is how much should be consumed by pregnant mothers, and we found this interesting article that highlights different studies and their findings, with an overall recommendation that coffee consumption be either avoided or greatly reduced while pregnant.

Decaf Coffee Secrets

If you’re like us, you might regard decaffeinated coffee as a disturbingly man-made mutation on the bland side of the flavor spectrum. Not that we’ve ever actually tasted it — we’re working largely from gross assumption here — but we often get raving reviews of Lavazza’s DEK decaffeinated coffee, so our interest was piqued: How is the caffeine removed from the bean, without it losing all it’s flavor?

We found that there are three different methods for decaffeinating coffee: Organic solvents, water or carbon dioxide. The roaster often performs each method before they begin the roasting process.

Continue reading Decaf Coffee Secrets

Caffeinated Climate

In the hot pursuit of alternative energy sources, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, stumbled upon coffee grounds as a possible new basis for biodiesel.

After leaving a cup of coffee on the counter top overnight, lead researcher Mano Misra noticed the oil slick that had separated and floated to the top of the coffee. He decided to examine the process necessary for turning used coffee grounds — currently just a standard waste product that many non-composters just throw away — into a viable source of biodiesel.

They collected 50 lbs. of used grounds, determined that the mass contained between 10 – 15% oil by weight, went through the process of extracting the oil and then converted it into biodiesel using standard chemistry techniques. The result? Well?it worked, but they estimate that all the used coffee grounds in the world would make up less than 1% of the annual diesel consumption of the US.

So while it’s an interesting approach (that apparently smells fabulous!), it’s not totally conceivable right now that our used up coffee will save our planet. We did love one reader suggestion, however, which was to build a coffee maker that was powered by the previous brew’s coffee grounds — now that’s something we can buy into.

Your Daily Coffee, Courtesy of HAL

Maybe we’ve painted ourselves into a corner with the whole time-is-of-the-essence ideology that seems to influence our focus on developing new and improved gadgets that will save us time, but one thing’s for sure: We can’t stop now.

Enter a Windows XP powered coffee maker that will allow you to program your favorite coffee, access it over the Internet and initiate the brew so you can walk right into the kitchen and pick it up. It’s almost worthy of the Jetson’s…but, unfortunately, it’s just a home modification at this point. At least we know it can be done — and that’s half the battle, right?

Health Watch: Caffeine & Skin Cancer

Sun exposure and skin damage may not be a concern for those of us in more northern climes right now, but if you’re wintering in Rio or snowbirding in Santa Fe, you might be interested in this interesting study on the positive effects caffeine may have on post-sun exposure skin.

Based on a study conducted a few years ago that indicated women who drank more than 6 cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a lower incidence of skin cancer than those who drank less, researchers at the University of Washington exposed mice to UV rays and then rubbed them down with a caffeine solution.

The result? Well, preliminarily, it appears that the mice who received the caffeine solution on their skin had a lower incidence of damaged skin cells than the mice that did not and they’re hypothesizing that the caffeine helps the body eliminate the damaged cells more easily.

While more testing is needed to determine how caffeine can help with skin cancer prevention, you might think about adding a little extra protection to your sunblock by cooling off with an iced latte while you’re relaxing on the beach.

Space Joe

If the inability to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in space has kept you from pursuing your cosmonaut dreams, last week’s invention of the zero-G coffee cup by NASA astronaut Dave Pettit is sure to make you tingle.

Pettit is known for funky space inventions, but when he arrived at the International Space Station, he had one goal in mind: Find a way to enjoy his beloved joe from a cup, rather than a bag & straw. Liquids in space can be a messy proposition, and hot coffee introduces an element of risk as well, but that wasn’t going to stop Pettit from devising a method of enjoying his java from a cup.

Using a piece of his mission book, he formed a vessel with a tear-drop shape that is closed at one end. The surface tension within the cup keeps the coffee inside instead of floating about the station. He suggested that his invention could apply to more than just coffee — future space colonists could utilize this kind of cup for celebratory toasts.

So now that the coffee cup question has been answered and you’re back on track to becoming an astronaut, you’d better hit the books — time to learn Russian.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Training

Are you a cyclist looking for a quicker way to regain your energy stores after a long distance ride? Well, this interesting study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology indicates that caffeine has a significant positive impact on helping you to rehab more quickly after a long ride. The catch? You have to drink a lot of it — which may not be a negative thing for us caffeine maniacs.

At the School of Exercise and Sport Science in the University of Sydney, researchers found that study participants that drank caffeine-supplemented high-carb drinks after long rides restored much more of their glycogen stores (which gives the primary energy for endurance activities) when compared with participants who drank just a regular high-carb drink.

Living in a Caffeine Free World

If you read our post on Monday about the caffeine levels of different types of brew, you’ll recall that decaf coffee is not completely caffeine-free — it does have a slight content level, but considerably less than other types of coffee. If you’re sensitive to caffeine and are strictly a decaf drinker, you might be interested in these caffeine test strips.

According to the manufacturer’s website, up to 30% of the coffee you drink out in the world is not actually decaf, and their handy new strips will help you tell the difference well before you feel the heart pumping! We haven’t tried them yet — but if you do, please let us know what you think!

Caffeination Time — Come On! (It’s Time for Caffeination)

OK, so it might not necessarily be as age-old as the chicken vs. the egg debate (wait, didn’t they solve that?), but the argument over which has more caffeine — drip coffee or a shot of espresso — is often kicked around the ol’ coffee shop. Obviously, like any good debate, the answer varies almost as widely as the number of preparations for caffeine-carrying plants around the world.

The first thing to keep in mind in this discussion is the plant: Are we talking Robusta or Arabica? Arabica has less caffeine than Robusta, so the bean blend is important to know before you guesstimate your caffeine intake. Secondly, what’s the roast look like? A super dark roast eliminates a large portion of the caffeine content, sending those molecules up in smoke. Lastly, take a look at how much you’re consuming, because quantity matters: If you’re drinking 4 oz. of espresso vs. 7 oz. cup of drip, your intake will be a lot different  than these standards:

  • Percolated (7 oz): 140mg
  • Drip (7 oz): 115 – 175mg
  • Espresso (1.5 – 2 oz): 100mg
  • Brewed (7 oz): 80 – 135mg
  • Instant (7 oz): 65 – 100mg
  • Decaf, brewed (6 oz): 5mg
  • Decaf, instant (6 oz): 3mg

In general, the longer the coffee grounds are in contact with water, the more caffeine will be extracted into your brew. Caffeine is largely responsible for coffee’s bitter taste, which was one of the motivations behind the development of espresso: The relatively short brew time results in a significantly less concentration of caffeine, allowing you to taste other flavors in the coffee.

(Caffeine concentration amounts and molecular image courtesy of Erowid)