Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The World of Caffeine

The World of Caffeine, by Bennett Alan Weinberg & Bonnie E. Bealer
$14.00 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0415927234
The science and culture of the world's most popular drug.
Coffee's legendary origins involve the story of Kaldi, an Ethiopian goatherd and his dancing goats. It seems Kaldi noticed his goats seemed especially frisky after eating the fruit of a particular plant: the coffee tree. When he tried eating the berries himself, they were so bitter that he threw them into the fire in disgust. When the beans roasted for a few minutes, the aroma was so pleasant that Kaldi pulled them back out of the fire again.
This is a terrific book, enjoyable to read cover-to-cover but just as pleasant to flip through casually. Coffee, tea, and chocolate are discussed in terms of their history, and the science of their content and its effects on health and behavior.
Caffeine is the only drug most people feel safe enough to give to children. But what are its effects on human growth and development? How addictive is it? These days caffeine is added to a host of consumer products from soft drinks to breakfast cereal. Is using such products every day really such a good idea?
If you enjoy caffeine, as I do, you'll learn a lot of interesting facts here. For example, one major coffee company's product contains more than twice as much caffeine as most brands, and their decaffeinated almost three times as much as leading decafs. Care to guess whose?
So the science and research is all fascinating, but the richly narrated history is what I really enjoyed. The story of tea gave me some insight into the fascinating cultures of the Far East. Likewise coffee to the Arabs, and chocolate to the ancient American empires. Montezuma is in this story, and so is Marco Polo.
In 1600, Clement VIII became the first Pope to drink coffee. Asked if it was sinful, he replied that it was "delightful" and that he "enjoyed it very much". He therefore "baptized" the drink as suitable for Christian use.
Fun, loaded with enjoyable and relevant information, The World of Caffeine is (pardon the pun) good to the last drop.

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