Slurping.

thumb_COLOURBOX5661662 - CopyAfter five Bosnian espressos in an hour – and the last three of those in quick succession – I was bouncing off the ceiling. I don’t usually drink the stuff.

After espresso number two I’d scurried off to buy a sketchbook and a pencil. By number five I was scribbling like my life depended on it. I’m not sure I captured the real beauty of the Sarajevo cityscape but it was certainly a productive two minutes.

Not only was I getting in touch with an undiscovered artistic streak at light speed, I was thinking out loud; giddily jibbering away like a crazy person over lunch in the company of people I’d just met and my hands were shaking.

ImageSeriously, Bosnian coffee packs a punch (it’s prepared in a very specialised way – it’s a long explanation; you can read the details here if you’re that way inclined). Its finely ground beans form a hefty layer of sediment of lava-like consistency at the bottom of the cup and it sorts a hangover right out; which explains my prolificacy that day.

Apparently, the stimulant effect of coffee peaks in the blood 15 to 45 minutes after drinking and can then persist for hours. About an hour after my binge I had a massive coffee come-down and felt exhausted so I certainly couldn’t recommend slurping it down with such reckless abandon. It did get me wondering how healthy or unhealthy coffee consumption is and I’ve dug out some pretty interesting stuff from various sources online. It’s amazing how much of the stuff we get through too.

A boon of convenience

Our addiction to coffee is global. It is the second most popular drink in the world after water, says the British Coffee Association (BCA), with around 2bn cups consumed every day.

Coffee grows in more than 50 countries and is the second largest export in the world after oil and the biggest growers are Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam.

The first Starbucks store opened in the UK in 1998 and 15 years later our high streets are full of branded coffee shops.

SAM_0977Costa Coffee, the country’s largest chain with more than 1,500 outlets, expects to open a further 150 sites this year and is testing a new concept called Costa Espresso, a takeaway outlet that has no seating and only a limited food range to make sure service is slick.

We may increasingly consider ourselves to be coffee connoisseurs in Britain but we’ve got nothing on the Germans or our friends over the Channel. In 2012, the UK retail coffee market broke the £1bn barrier for the first time, yet our retail market is worth only a third of Germany’s market and a half of the French.

In fact the French can truly take a bow, just 4% of the country’s retail coffee volume sales in 2011 consisted of instant coffee sales compared to 72% in the UK

According to the BCA, 36% of UK women say they must start the day with a cup of coffee and it’s this kind of obsessive and reliant behaviour towards the humble coffee bean that has given rise to the inception of a new way of getting a fix in Australia where Woolworths has set up trial coffee kiosks at three stores.

The kiosks are designed to give “increasingly time poor” customers “convenient, quality coffee” when they shop, The Herald Sun reports. At one of the stores, you can pre-order a coffee to go with an iPhone app or slip a takeaway into a trolley cup holder to sip as you shop. This truly is the digital age.

Trends

Coffee has become a social lubricant. We most often buy coffee when we are socialising (32%) or on the go (37%) – a study on coffee trends by Pragma found. Coffee is such a socialable drink in fact that 576,157 people opted to sip on the dark stuff at over 26,000 meetings held simultaneously across the UK in September 2003, in the name of a charity.

According to the results of the Pragma study, presented here in a pretty infographic published by Marketing Week, our favourite type of coffee is a milky one, or so said 47% of people surveyed, while almost a third (29%) of us are most partial to a full strength coffee; think espresso, americano and macchiatio.

The Guardian reported that there were 14,842 coffee shops in Britain at the end of 2011 and the price we have been prepared to pay for a coffee has increased almost four-fold in a decade.

In the North Yorkshire town where I live, Harrogate, a quick Yell search reveals that there are 44 coffee shops for a population of nearly 75,000 people (ONS 2010 Mid Year estimate).

Espressos are potent little fellas. It takes 42 coffee beans to make an espresso apparently. Damn. That’s 210 coffee beans in an hour during my binge by my calculations and 3.5 coffee beans a minute over the course of an hour. No wonder I was losing control.

Health

The impact of coffee on our health has long been the subject of conjecture but, according to scientific studies, caffeine improves concentration, alertness, reasoning, intellectual effort and vigilance.

Caffeine can boost the speed of rapid information processing by a remarkable 10 per cent, so Active says, and my episode means I can certainly testify to that nugget. It’s a myth that coffee causes Parkinson’s disease, raises cholesterol or high blood pressure, Active says.

Moderate coffee consumption may reduce the risk of breast cancer and prevent Type 2 diabetes, studies show. And given the time of year, it’s interesting to note that according to research by Bristol University, drinking coffee has been shown to alleviate some of the sluggish symptoms that are the common after-effects of a cold.

The BCA reckons that four to five cups of coffee per day is perfectly safe for the general population – perhaps it’s unwise to down all five in a row though.

So there you go, carry on slurping… in moderation.

  • If you’ve got to the bottom of this blog post and I’ve not bored you silly with all this coffee talk already, here’s a cool, short ‘sciencey’ video that has a funky flashing skeleton to tell you a bit more…

  • Also, great piece here from medical journalist Michael Mosley, of the BBC’s Trust Me I’m A Doctor show, on Coffee v Smoothies. You’re welcome.  
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