“I like coffee, I like tea. I love the java jive and it loves me.” I am proud to say that those lyrics, written to match the great Ben Oakland tune, were written by a cousin of mine. Pride in this as in most situations is unwarranted of course, given that Milton and his brother Irving Druckman (who changed their names to Drake) granted me through their progenitors only a small fraction of their DNA, and even so, I am not sure pride would even then be relevant. I do love music, and struggle to create it, but more to the point of this little missive, I really love coffee.
I didn’t always. I really didn’t acquire the taste until some time in high school, when I used it primarily as a drug to stay awake while working the graveyard shift at Denny’s and putting up illicit real estate signs by the side of the road on Friday nights and then picking them up on Sunday nights in Orange County, California. It has, over the years, developed into my drug of choice, so much so that, in all candor, I need to stop writing these words right now at 8:14 in the morning so that I can go into the kitchen and brew some up. Otherwise, I won’t be able to make it to the next paragraph and you will feel an awkward abruptness and wonder why I even brought this up in the first place. Be right back.
Having suffered a variety of health problems for my entire adult life, I have often wondered if drinking coffee is good for one’s health—mine in particular. So, curious bloke I am wont to be, I have tried to follow the literature. Some of this curiosity, by the way, has been driven by knowing that my Mormon acquaintances, along with the occasional Seventh Day Adventist, refrain. Adventists don’t drink coffee primarily because one of the church’s founders and arguably one of the most colorful figures in American Protestantism told them not to. Besides being the author of 40 books and allegedly the most translated female author of all time, Ellen White was a vegetarian who thought tobacco might be a really unhealthy, nasty habit. That was pretty bold at the time, and she sure had that right. But this is what she said about coffee in 1890:
“Coffee is a hurtful indulgence. It temporarily excites the mind to unwonted action, but the after-effect is exhaustion, prostration, paralysis of the mental, moral, and physical powers. The mind becomes enervated, and unless through determined effort the habit is overcome, the activity of the brain is permanently lessened.”
Well, to my mind, she got a lot of that right as well. Said another way, and not to be too disparaging of a great forward thinker, it’s not a good idea to drink coffee because it works.
The science pertaining to coffee is pretty interesting to me. The research is copious, and most of it would lead a rational person to think that drinking coffee is a pretty good idea. The health benefits, it seems to me, far outweigh the liabilities. Take, for example, this recent study published in the Journal of Gerontology. The researchers looked at the coffee-drinking patterns of more than 6,400 women aged 65 and older, and found that those who drank more than the median level of caffeine were significantly less likely to develop dementia or any kind of cognitive impairment than those who drank below the median amount. Those in the “above-median” group drank an average of 261 mg. of caffeine per day, the equivalent of about two to three cups of coffee. I am not quite 65, although I am rapidly approaching, and not a woman, nor have I played one on TV, but I am quite encouraged by these results.
I will confess that my coffee habit has, at various times in my life, gotten out of hand. When I averaged over 10 cups of coffee a day, even though in those days my blood pressure was low, I thought that even I had taken it too far. I self-imposed a year’s abstinence, and after about a week of headaches I was really fine. In fact, I had barely noticed a difference, perhaps because at 10 cups a day tolerance had set in and the coffee no longer had much effect. Nevertheless, when the year was up, I got right back to it and here I am, years later, drinking about 4 cups a day. It is still my drug of choice, and hopefully, along with greasing these fingers it will ward off the dementia that eventually got the best of my dad. That brilliant lyric from “Java Jive” says it all: “A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup—boy.”