Hello darkness my old friend

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By Tony Deyal

I suffer from O.C.D.- Obsessive Coffee Disorder. In order to stop, I tried a famous local tea named after one of our great athletes (or so Errol Fabien of the regional Gayelle Television station says) the former sprinter, Ato Boldon. To twist an old joke, when one of my female friends tried “Ato-Tea”, after taking just one sip she angrily claimed that it would take ten of those to make a good, thick, black coffee. Alphabetically speaking, if you want to turn a “T” into a “P” you drink it.

Essentially, I am like the homeless man who drinks only coffee because he has no proper tea. Worse than everything else, with war, threats of war and attempted Russian satellite states, I continue drinking coffee in case the Russian president offered me a cup of tea. I would have to refuse it because one never knows what Vladimir Putin. Given that I already went after the Caribbean Media Corporation last week, I plan to replace their use of the letters “CMC” with “Coffee, More Coffee”. The new brand will know how and when to use the word (and drink) “Eclipse” appropriately.

The reason I am in such a manic mood this morning has nothing to do with Mount Gay. What bothers me is that despite my love of coffee, there seem to be two sides to its effects and benefits. However, having looked at the evidence presented by all parties, I cling to my belief that it is not all black and white but shades of grey, just like the little bits of hair that remain on my scalp.

First, the bad news that blackens the image and reputation of coffee despite two African countries – Ethiopia and Kenya – having the best in the world. Colombia is third mainly because it was unable to make an offer to the judges they couldn’t refuse.

The first salvo from the sour grapes groupies and Dietitians is that there are “6 Incredible Effects of Giving Up Coffee For A Month.” It used to be “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may diet” but now you can only eat. Without the coffee there is no way you can be merry. In fact, you will have to shorten the four-letter word “diet” and be ready at very short notice for the first three letters only.

The writer of the article, author of “Eat This, Not That”, Brianna Ruback admits, “From kickstarting your morning to providing an afternoon pick-me-up, drinking coffee is a tried-and-true way to get a much-needed boost of energy.” She then claims that  although coffee consumption is tied to a range of benefits- including decreased risk of various diseases, increased metabolism, and improved mood, there are also some less appealing side effects.” These include increased heart rate, heightened anxiety, and irritable bowel symptoms.

However, unlike the writer, I don’t blame the coffee for these side effects. I blame her. Just reading what she wrote has already increased my heart rate and anxiety. I can even feel the bowel symptoms coming, especially when she adds, “Kicking your coffee habit may initially sound quite daunting, due to the possibility of withdrawal symptoms like headaches, moodiness, and fatigue.”

In Trinidad “fatigue” can mean “tiredness” but generally it is used to make fun of someone. I know if I stopped drinking coffee, I would not only be fatigued but also get “fatigue” like “Even if coffee keeps you from sleeping, better latte than never,” or “Tony, you know that sleep is a weak substitute for coffee?”. However, I get my own back when the Barista at Starbucks asks me, “Sir, how do you take your coffee?” and I answer, “Seriously. Very seriously.”

Ruback boasts that there are several major benefits for not drinking coffee and even got some experts to help identify them. The first is that you sleep better if you avoid coffee within at least six hours of going to sleep. What my wife and family know is that I generally drink a cup of coffee just before I go to sleep. The advice that “Giving up caffeine could reverse the effect, allowing you not only to get more restful sleep but fall asleep in a shorter time” leaves me twisting and turning for hours. In fact, I don’t drink coffee to wake up. I wake up to drink coffee.

The second reason we are advised to stop drinking coffee is that it causes “dry mouth”. Since saliva fights bacteria, the drier your mouth the greater the risk of cavities. I grew up with people whose saliva was so bad that I wished instead of dessert I could give them a desert under some seriously hot sun to keep their mouths dry. However, if that is not enough, the experts also insist that coffee is a highly acidic drink that can cause enamel wear and decay.

Even if I let the chips fly where they may, and prefer enamelware to ceramic, it still depends on how many cups of coffee you drink each day. Also, there are many so-called healthy foods which are more acidic than coffee. These include salad dressings, tomatoes, fruits, soft drinks, carbonated beverages, lemon and other fruit juices. White wine is higher on the list than my black “wine” which is generally good to the last droplet.

Actually, my faith in coffee and my preference for it are supported by recent research. The best news comes from CNN (and not CMC): “Drinking coffee could benefit your heart and help you live longer, research finds.” The article starts, “Contrary to worries among some doctors and the public, drinking coffee may actually protect your heart instead of causing or worsening heart problems. Drinking two to three cups of coffee daily has been associated with a 10 to 15 percent lower risk of getting heart disease, heart failure or a heart rhythm problem, or dying early for any reason, according to three research abstracts…”

The leader of one of the research groups, Dr Peter M. Kistler, said: “We found coffee drinking had either a neutral effect – meaning that it did no harm – or was associated with benefits to heart health.” For those who doubt the findings, Dr Kistler and other researchers used data which follows the health outcomes of more than 500,000 people for at least ten years.

I could have saved them the huge research cost. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was just over three years old and at 76 going on 77, I can still put my coffee cup on the back of my hand and drink from it without spilling a drop. The first time I drank Kenyan AA coffee, it was perched on my fist and I asked passionately, “Where have you been all my life?”

*Tony Deyal was last seen talking about the man who died after falling into a vat of coffee. His wife told reporters, “At least he didn’t suffer – it was instant.”

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