Sunday, April 08, 2018

Coffee or when in Rome

This isn't coffee either, hot chocolate at the local coffee house.
When in Rome...I drink coffee.  Nowhere else. Everywhere else in the world,  I drink tea.  So it's perhaps more than a little ironic that I'm quoted in a recent Washington Post article about the brewing controversy in California requiring the labeling of coffee as a carcinogen.

But coffee is iconic.  I say, "let's get coffee" to mean, let's find a time to talk that's not over a meal and not in someone's office but at a place where hot beverages are sold and consumed.  But where there will never, ever be a good cup of tea to be had.1 So I talk about coffee.

When I talk about the molecules we eat and drink, I also talk about coffee, a complex brew of a thousand or more different molecules, that most people have some experience with. It is my push back point for molecular madness of all sorts.

Yes, some of the names for chemicals are harsh and discomfiting. What is acrylamide anyway, I imagine acrylic nails or crunkled tubes of paint in high school art class. It certainly doesn't sound like anything I want in my morning pick-me up.  Nor does oxidane, an industrial solvent used extensively in the preparation of coffee. But that last is just water, while the former is perhaps a carcinogen.  The names aren't important in assessing the risk a molecule poses.  Molecular structure and the resultant reactivity are.

Nor does source matter, natural or not. In this case acrylamide is an all natural carcinogen.  Acrylamide is found at much higher concentrations in other foods (see this list at the FDA).  It doesn't matter if it is "clean," organic or non-GMO. If it has sugars (this means fruit) or starches(vegetables) in it and you cook it at high temperatures, it has acrylamide in it, and often far more than coffee. Tobacco smoke has acrylamide in it — if you need another reason not to smoke.

This rush to judgement on coffee makes me wonder about a strain of chemophobia that I see circulating from time to time, one with an extra dash of Puritanism.  Pleasures are bad for the soul, and so by extension must be for the body.  I wonder if coffee and sweets and even artificial sweeteners come in for more than their share of judgement for this reason. 

I'll still drink coffee in Rome, though not in California. 


1.  This is true in the US, and in Italy.  But in Ireland I can get better cup of tea at a gas station convenience store than I can at very good restaurants in the US.

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