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Coffee, Tea or ...?

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In the 1920s everyone crooned along to the popular love song "You're the cream in my coffee

In the 1920s everyone crooned along to the popular love song "You're the cream in my coffee." Today we might want to change the lyrics to "You're the nutmeg on top of my no-foam, double-shot, grande, espresso latte."

While coffee has maintained its position in Western consciousness since the 1700s, its popularity over the last decade has skyrocketed (thanks to Starbucks and its many trendy imitators) to heights few entrepreneurs dared dream of. The intoxicating mental image of taking time out for yourself in the midst of your hectic day (and paying an exorbitant price to do so), has proven to be one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever launched. Nothing like a gourmet cup of "I'm-worth-it" to give your day a lift! When kept in moderation, the warm, fuzzy, boosting benefits of that "cup of joe" may actually outweigh the negative physiological effects brought about by the shot of caffeine. If, on the other hand, you want to curb or kick your caffeine habit, it will help to know what some of those physiological effects are.

Friend or Foe?

You may feel you "need" that cup of brew to jolt your day into gear. Keep in mind, though, that you're selecting a poor quality fuel that is a non-food. Caffeine is a stimulant. It provides only temporary energy by stimulating the nervous system and metabolism. The result is a destruction of enzymes and thiamine (vitamin B1) and causes the body to leach calcium.

Coffee and black tea contain a number of mutagenic and potentially carcinogenic substances, as well as toxins which contribute to stress on the liver and kidneys . Research has shown that boiled or percolated coffee (as opposed to drip) can raise blood serum cholesterol levels that can increase the risk of heart disease. According to Michael J. Klag, MD, it's suspected to be the result of hot water and coffee grounds combining to create oils called 'terpenes.' Research shows that like some other oils, terpenes can raise blood cholesterol.

Caffeine Raises Blood Pressure

After a study was done at Duke University, North Carolina (involving volunteers who drank five cups of coffee a day), researchers concluded that the more caffeine you consume during the day in coffee, tea or soft drinks, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be. An increase was shown in the volunteers' heart rates and general stress levels.

Caffeine occurs naturally in the leaves, seeds or fruits of over 60 plants. It interferes with slow wave, or deep sleep, which lowers the overall quality of sleep and can also exacerbate panic and anxiety attacks. If you choose a decaffeinated coffee, make sure to select one that uses the Swiss Water Process, which involves no dangerous chemicals. The Swiss Water decaffeination process uses pure water and activated charcoal. Caffeine is removed from the coffee beans using water with activated carbon filtres. The filtres remove the caffeine, leaving the flavour-charged water to decaffeinate the next batch of beans. This is considered an indirect process because the decaffeinating substance does not come in contact with the coffee beans.

The other 'direct process' method of decaffeination involves using chemicals that come in contact with the coffee beans. Solvents approved for this process include; carbon dioxide, ethyl acetate and methylene chloride. Methylene chloride has been found in some studies to be carcinogenic. Low level pesticide residues have been found in both regular and decaffeinated coffees, so seek out organic brands.

Beat The Shakes Buy Natural

To avoid withdrawal symptoms, it's best to quit caffeine gradually. Abrupt abstinence after prolonged use may result in headaches, drowsiness, irritability, nervousness, depression and nausea. As with most addictions, it's easier to give up caffeine by substituting it with something that is similar, yet better for you. Fortunately there are a multitude of healthier, but still satisfying hot beverage options available today. Caffeine-free coffee substitutes are available through most health food stores.

Inka, Caf-Lib, Caro Extra, Bambu (regular and organic version), and Dandylion Blend are all instant, hot beverages made mostly from roasted grains and roots (such as chicory). After trying most of them, I found Inka and Bambu came closest to replicating the real thing. Teeccino (pronounced "tee-chee-no") and Pioneer are powdered alternatives that you can brew up just like coffee. They are similar to the above, except that they contain dried fruit for flavouring.

Postum, Ovaltine and Horlicks are hot options which taste nothing like coffee. Postum is lighter in colour and made mostly of wheat, while Ovaltine and Horlicks are malt drinks. Ovaltine is delicious, but has a long ingredient list that includes modified tropical oils.
If you're a latte fan, try a Chai Tea latte for a change. While not entirely caffeine-free, this yummy cocoa-free tea tastes like a spicy hot chocolate. A wide range of chai spice mixes and ready-to-use syrups can be found in larger health food stores. The syrups, while pricier, are far more convenient to use. The taste varies a bit from brand to brand.

Do It Yourself

You can make your own delicious coffee substitutes at home from a variety of inexpensive ingredients:

Wheat coffee: combine three cups of cracked wheat with a half-cup milk, quarter-cup molasses and quarter-teaspoon salt. Mix into a paste and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until brown (don't let it burn), then reduce heat to 150 degrees and allow mixture to dry out and become crisp. Cool, then break into pieces and grind in a blender or coffee grinder. Prepare as regular ground coffee.

Barley coffee: spread barley, husks and all, onto a cookie sheet and roast at 425 degrees, stirring occasionally, until completely dark brown. Grind and use one heaping teaspoon per cup of water.

Chai tea syrup: bring four cups of water to a boil. Add four cinnamon sticks, half a teaspoon whole cardamom seeds, two tablespoons of whole cloves, one tablespoon whole star anise flowers and one tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and diced. Boil for about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and add two black tea bags (optional) and two rounded tablespoons honey (adjust to taste). Steep for three minutes, then cool and strain. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks. To make your latte, mix syrup with equal parts milk or dairy substitute and gently heat to serve.

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