5 Surprising Facts About Coffee

Since we’ve been giving out so much of it lately, we thought we’d look at some surprising facts about coffee!

1. Coffee is a large part of the world’s economy

Coffee has been around for over 11 centuries and is currently the most widely consumed beverage in the world with over 400 billion cups consumed every year.  It is the second most traded commodity on earth (oil is the first).  90% of coffee farming is done in developing countries (Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia) so buying Fair Trade Coffee means that these poorer nations can benefit from the caffeine love affair of richer nations.  Coffee beans may have an even greater economic impact in the future.  Coffee beans are combustible and in 2011 British engineers created a car than runs on coffee beans.  Imagine pulling up into a refueling station – one sip for me, one for the car, one for me, one for the car …

2. Coffee is not what you think

Coffee beans are called beans because they look like beans, but they are actually the pits of a berry.  That’s right – coffee is a fruit!  Originally Ethiopian shepherds noticed how frisky their goats became after eating coffee beans.  Thereafter Ethiopian tribes combined coffee beans with animal fat to make energy balls.  According to an Arab author Scheha Beddin the Mufti of Aden, who lived around 9th century, were the first people to drink coffee.

3. The coffee ‘high’ starts in the brain

There have been more than 19,000 studies on caffeine and coffee in the past 30 years, most of which have aimed to uncover the drug’s exact effects on the human body.  But in short, the wake up effect of caffeine is all about brain chemistry.

Your brain produces a chemical called adenosine which looks for adenosine receptors to connect with.  This binding causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity.  It also causes blood vessels in the brain to dilate.

Caffeine attaches to these adenosine receptors and in doing so blocks the entry of adenosine, but it doesn’t slow down the cell’s activity like adenosine would.  Caffeine also causes the brain’s blood vessels to constrict (which is why caffeine is often good for vascular headaches).

Your pituitary gland interprets all this action this as an emergency and signals the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline – the ‘fight/flight’ hormone.

In addition caffeine bumps up dopamine levels.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that activates pleasure centres within the brain.   The result of increased adrenaline and dopamine is the familiar ‘caffeine high’.

4. Caffeine has many health benefits

Coffee is loaded with antioxidants and beneficial health nutrients and there have been many studies to examine the health benefits of caffeine.  Studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of several serious diseases.  It been linked to lowering your risk of type II diabetes, protection from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, lowering the risk of Parkinson’s, having protective effects for the liver, fighting depression, lowering risk of some types of cancer, lowering the risk of stroke and helping you live longer.

People who drink coffee before their workout tend to have a better workout and push themselves harder than those who abstain.  This might be why caffeine is on the International Olympic Committee list of prohibited substances.

5. Caffeine also has a dark side

You can have too much of a good thing however.  Caffeine is addictive – probably linked to the adrenaline and dopamine response.  It is also a psychoactive substance – at high enough doses it can make you see things.  Coffee can even kill you although it would take around 100 cups of coffee for a lethal dose of caffeine.  It has been known to break up marriages – in some ancient Arab cultures a woman could legally divorce her husband if he didn’t provide enough coffee.  It has also caused civic unrest – in 1785 a coffee revolt broke out in Prussia because coffee consumption was restricted to the nobility, the clergy and high officials, while both the American and the French Revolutions were originally hatched out in coffee houses.