I always thought Americans drank a lot of coffee, but when I moved to Spain, I realized that most of us are total lightweights compared to my new espresso-swilling amigos. Sevillanos drink their coffee strong enough to reanimate the dead, late enough in the evenings to cause permanent insomnia, and in quantities that should make them too jittery to lift the next cup to their lips. But are they suffering from all this overindulgence? No, they’re getting healthier with every cup. Turns out just about everything I once thought about coffee isn’t true at all.
Myth #1. “That stuff'll kill you.” No, it won’t! Even drinking six cups a day won’t bring the grim reaper to your door one single moment earlier according to a major Harvard study. In fact, the latest research shows there are huge health benefits from drinking coffee. It’s good for your liver, for instance, reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and helps control Parkinson’s symptoms. For women, it makes us less likely to get skin cancer and endometrial cancer, and guys, you’ll be glad to know your risk of prostate cancer drops by 20%. For years I was virtuously drinking green tea instead of coffee, and now I learn that my sacrifice was not only useless, it robbed me of potential health benefits. I started drinking coffee again about a year ago, and now I realize how much catching up I have to do!
Myth #2. “Coffee has no nutritional value.” On the contrary, it’s chock full of antioxidants. “Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close,” said Joe Vinson, Ph.D., who led the study showing that coffee outperforms bananas, dry beans, corn, cranberries, and many other foods touted for being rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants, of course, are the molecules that protect us from free radicals – the unstable terrorist cells, if you will, of the body, sinister agents of infection and disease.
Myth #3. “You’ll become a nervous wreck.” While seriously overdosing on caffeine can make anyone twitchy, most coffee drinkers are actually more contented than those who abstain. Java stimulates the central nervous system and boots the production of certain neurotransmitters, making coffee a mild antidepressant; not only does it lower depression, it can reduce the risk of suicide by 50%. And it supports brain health, helping older adults avoid Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In one study, sleep-deprived rats became less stressed simply by smelling coffee brewing. I know just how they feel!
In addition to all the health benefits, coffee also provides a small, comforting daily ritual and, when we’re on the road, a touchstone of the routines we’ve left behind. A woman from New York once stopped Rich on the street in downtown Seville and begged him for directions to the nearest Starbucks. He tried to point out to her that Seville has some of the finest coffee in the world, at a fraction the price she’d find at the giant American corporate chain. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t just need coffee, I need my coffee.” Sevillanos feel just the same way; most have a favorite café where the staff knows their preferences and will have a cup prepared to their precise specifications before they have time walk from the door to the counter. Not just coffee, but their coffee.
Being somewhat newer to the coffee business, I’m less fussy about whether it comes in a glass or a cup, the precise coffee-to-milk ratio, and other fine points of the process. I drink coffee for pleasure, as a pick-me-up, and to share in the ritual with which people all over the world choose to start their day. If coffee also happens to help me live a longer, happier, healthier life, you certainly won’t hear me complaining about it.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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