Always plan 15 seconds ahead…

I think that is good advice for life in general actually, but especially for my current project, coffee roasting!
I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but roasting is the part of the coffee process that I know least about. I have seen it done hundreds of times, attended pretty high level workshops on it and hung out in roasting companies for the PhD, but knowing what to do is definitely NOT the same as knowing how to do it. As with barista skills, it all comes with practice, but to learn properly, you have to Do, not just Watch. The reason I never got much hands on experience during my research was just that it is very difficult, and can go wrong so easily and when it does it is very expensive (in terms of wasted coffee beans) and potentially dangerous (fires).

Home roasting is possible with minimal equipment and some common sense (herein lies the rub). You can roast coffee badly and unevenly in a frying pan with a wooden spoon (except in addition to burnt beans, you also ruin the pan and fill the kitchen with smoke, fyi). The most effective way is using a air popcorn maker, but that restricts your roast capacity to about 50grams at a time. Roasting a standard sized bag of coffee with a popcorn machine takes nearly 2 hours and even if you acheive it, you might find you’ve burnt out the motor on the popcorn machine. I speak from experience on both these counts.


Now my cafe is up and running nicely and we have a lot of space in it, I bit the bullet and invested in a proper coffee roaster.  It is lovely. And complicated. And programmable. I am so in love with it, I even did the unthinkable and read the manual first! Despite this vague preparation and along with some tips from friends who roast and my notes from the roasting workshops at Cafe Culture, my first few attempts were so good the fire alarm started cheering me on!! Cinnamon/light roast is relatively easy, Charbucks style oily blackness is very easy, tasty medium to dark roast is pretty damn difficult, and a bit scary.

But practice makes perfect, and after playing with the machine for a month (and wasting a huge amount of green coffee beans, unfortunately) I have got to the point where the coffee I roast is good enough to go in the cafe (in bags for home use, I couldn’t keep up with the amount needed for drinks in the cafe). Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Always plan 15 seconds ahead.
This is the length of time for the machine to go from heating to cooling. So even after you hit stop, it will carry on roasting for 15 seconds longer. 15 seconds is a long time for coffee. Not even Starbucks Bold roast (ie, black) goes beyond 10 seconds past the 2nd crack. I’ve found the difference between delicious and burnt is 3 seconds.

2. This. This is bollocks.

There is always smoke.

3. Roasting is an inexact science and a precise art.
As complex as my programming and roast profiles may be, no matter how precisely i set the time and temperatures, the vast majority of the time I am relying on what it looks like and what I can hear. Each type of coffee behaves differently (ie: coffee beans from Brazil are different from SHG Nicaraguan etc) and so you set the profile with an educated guess, listen out for the cracks, then watch it like a hawk until it looks right – or rather, until about 15 seconds before it looks right.

4. Unless you can compare, you turn towards the light.
Partly as a result of the Fear of Fire Alarm (for the record, there have been no actual fires, just enough smoke to trigger the alarm), my roasts have tended to get lighter and lighter the more I do. It’s strange, but it seems my version of what “looks right” is less and less brave every time. So, it’s best to have a sample of a good batch next to you to compare!

5. Consistency is king, but beans are variable.
Following on from the last points, I think to call yourself a good roaster, you must be able to produce the same results over and over. I am getting there, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Even after I carefully write down the exact formula and roast profile and repeat the roast to the exact second, I still occasionally get ‘anomalous’ results. Sometimes, the beans just misbehave. At the moment, I can’t figure out any reason for it, but this is something I hope to learn as I continue!

Experiments will continue, and I am now confident enough to try roasting blends too (a whole other kettle of fish). Watch this space! And of course, if you are local, pick up a bag of beans in Dr. Coffee’s Cafe and let me know what you think!

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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Slinging the shots – babies, beans and business

I am officially on maternity leave from the cafe. So far, this hasn’t really made much of a difference!

I ‘gracefully’ retired from actually being a barista a few weeks before New Daughter was born, mainly because I physically couldn’t stand behind the bar for long any more, and suddenly realised that everything useful was on the bottom shelf in there! I have a renewed appreciation for how physically demanding the workload of a barista is.

This is how I expected my perfect, peaceful, instagrammable maternity leave to look:


NB: That is not my child, and those are not my legs.

This is the reality:
matleave2Aah… the joys of entrepreneurship. Even if I am not actually pulling espresso shots, there are always at least a dozen emails waiting for me, or the website needs updating, or Facebook needs to take its daily slice of my soul, or its time for pay roll…Daughterling will gradually learn to fall asleep to the sound of me typing over her head, I’m sure.

I am not really complaining; I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. We opened Doctor Coffee’s Cafe #1 when our first daughter was just 5 months old; she grew up in a coffee shop, and if anything, it has only served to make her exceedingly sociable and confident. No one can ever accuse her of being the shy, clingy type of child and I do think being in a cafe environment with lots of strangers admiring her when she was tiny may have had a lot to do with it. Being self-employed like this and having the freedom to take my baby to work with me allows me all sorts of benefits which few parents with conventional jobs can afford.

Recently, Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) announced that she would be taking just two weeks off to give birth to her twin girls. (see the article, here) Of course this caused uproar – that’s a terrible role-model for other women etc, it gives out the message that work is more important than her family.. yada yada yada. Mayer is a multimillionaire, so of course she can afford to pay someone to look after newborns for her. And the very fact that she is, and remains a millionaire CEO is because presumably she works her arse off and probably can’t engineer a way to take any longer away from work anyway. Going back to work in an office – sitting behind a desk in fact, is not too strenuous on a post-partum body either. She is in a position to make that work, but she is NOT in the same position most women find themselves in and therefore shouldn’t be treated as a role model.

In some ways, I consider myself luckier than Marissa Mayer.  In my own way, I am a COO of a company too – chief operations officer rather than chief executive officer, (though I’d never use that title at the moment and expect to be taken seriously!) and I’m a proud Mum to an adorable newborn baby girl. Whereas I am envious of Mayer’s success and certainly of her millions, I NEVER have to sit in an office any more, never have to wear a power suit, I have caffeine on tap to cope with 4am feeds, and most importantly I get to run my business AND take care of my wonderful girls at the same time, and really, I can’t ask for any more than that.


BabyCoffee comes to work with me in her sling (which I actually bought while at the coffee conference in Guatemala). Slings are so useful – I can carry her hands free and make lattes at the same time!

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Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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In love with the Pour Over

Time for an actual COFFEE post!

I started playing around with pour over coffee when we were setting up my Wheelie Good Coffee cart – it is simple, it makes one cup at a time, and it’s about the freshest way to make a great coffee outside without much in the way of equipment. It proved extremely popular on the market, and so we introduced the pour over stand to Dr. Coffee’s Cafe as well. As far as we know, we are currently the only cafe in Regina to offer this brew style!

Pour Over coffee on the Wheelie Good Coffee cart.

Pour Over coffee on the Wheelie Good Coffee cart.

Pour over in our funky mugs at Dr. Coffee’s Cafe

But what is all the fuss about, really? This is not new technology. Several customers have commented that they/their Mums/Nans used to make coffee like this, usually with Melitta drippers. I found very similar pour over stands in Costa Rica, where that is the “traditional” brew method. Someone else told me it was an Indian custom. The appeal comes from its simplicity: If you have a kettle and some sort of filter, you can make it. Nowadays I use Hario drippers and paper filters, and we even have a very fancy goose neck kettle to ensure a slow, even pour, but in principle, you can use any boiling water receptacle and any filter – even a sock! (for the record, the Costa Rican one below isn’t actually a sock, it’s a tube of cheese cloth fabric!). These filters are a lot finer and more robust than the equivalent in a French press/cafetiere, and so you end up with a very smooth, clean cup with no sludge at the bottom.

Costa Rican pour over stand and grinder.

Costa Rican pour over stand and grinder.

I like to use distinctive, single origin coffees in the pour over, because the brew method can highlight subtleties in the coffee that other methods tend to hide. it is also particularly good for lighter roasts. My favourites are Indian Monsooned Malabar, or fruity Nicaraguan roasts. Due to the longer brewing time, pour over coffee does tend to come out much stronger than standard drip coffee or even French press, so very dark roasts or espresso blends tend to be ‘over kill!’

How to brew with a Pour Over or Chemex

The Pour Over Brewer is quick, simple, cheap and effective – perfect for home use. They are usually ceramic drippers that look like a little cup with holes in the bottom, with a saucer attached. This sits on top of your mug, and you pour the coffee straight through it. A Chemex (pronounced “Kemex”) is a glass pot with a neck allowing you to pour hot water through coffee in a filter paper held in the neck. Chemex pots are usually handblown glass and are very attractive, artistic objects, but the principle is the same.

Chemex and Pour Over brewers make very smooth, mild coffee, in between a percolator and a French Press. Besides the brewer itself, you will also need the correct size filter papers (usually conical or wedge-shaped ones, rather than round ones – Chemex even make their own) – and a kettle. You can buy specialist goose-neck kettles that are designed for pour over coffee – the long, thin neck gives you excellent control over how you pour it.

First, boil the kettle. The water needs to be just off the boil so it doesn’t scorch the coffee.

Grind up your coffee to a medium-fine level – coarser than for an Aeropress but finer than for normal drip. You need around a heaped tablespoon per 12oz cup (the Chemex holds about 6 cups, so you would need 6-7tbsp to fill it.)

Put the filter paper in the dripper, and dampen the paper with a splash of hot water (this allows coffee to pass through the paper more easily). Spoon in the coffee grounds, and make a small dent in the mound of coffee. If using a Chemex, stand it on a heat proof mat. It is not hot enough to damage your tabletop if you don’t, but marble or granite surfaces can cool the pot too quickly you end up with cold coffee! Pour over drippers either have their own stand, or can sit on top of your mug.

Gently pour the boiled water into the centre of the coffee grounds in a circular motion, very slowly, little and often. The trick is to get the water on to the coffee without spreading it up the sides of the filter paper, so the coffee shouldn’t float. The water then drips through the paper into either the glass dome of the Chemex, or straight into your mug if you’re using a standard Pour Over brewer.

The coffee should “bloom” – as in, the mound of grounds should swell up and bubble nicely into a thick “slurry”when water is poured on it. If the coffee isn’t fresh, you will get less of a bloom effect. Let it dribble through over the space of about 3 minutes, and voila! The smoothest, freshest coffee you can produce!

Our fancy goose neck kettle and glass Hario dripper.

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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Taste Regina

[Ed: for some reason you can’t share Leader Post articles directly to WordPress in a form that you can actually see – so here is my copy-and-paste effort. Thanks again to CJ Katz for such a great write-up!]

Taste Regina: Kid-friendly cafe is an oasis for parents

Dr. Coffee’s Cafe, the first kid-friendly coffee shop in Regina is located in the former Yaegers’ Furs building on 11th Ave near Albert St.

REGINA — It’s been months since you had an intellectual conversation. Your days are mostly spent reading the Magic School Bus or building forts. When the baby’s napping, you work your way through the endless piles of half-folded laundry. Four-word sentences are now the norm. Oh, what you’d give for a stroller-friendly café where you could order a latte and indulge in some adult conversation.

Your luck just changed. Dr. Coffee’s Café is the first kid-friendly café in Regina. The shop joins a growing number of kid-friendly coffee spots across Canada and the U.S. These comfy locales with kiddie play areas and a menu board of sophisticated espresso-based drinks and specialty teas are an oasis for parents craving a sense of normalcy. They are spots where baby Sophia or little Liam can interact with other tots while you de-stress with a full-bodied macchiato, read the paper or share parenting stories with other stay-at-home mommies and daddies.

Opened on April 13, Dr. Coffee’s Café occupies the bottom of a 1928 heritage brownstone on 11th Avenue near Albert St. Designed by Reilly, Warburton & Reilly, it was originally built for Yaeger’s Furs Ltd. Indicative of the era, the upper exterior features a unique frieze of beavers, shells, oak branches and maple leaves. Since vacating in 1969, there have been many enterprises occupying the space, including a restaurant and most recently, a grow-op cultivating medicinal marijuana. Dr. Coffee is the latest tenant and they have dramatically transformed the main floor.

“I didn’t want a clone of Starbucks,” says Annabelle Townsend, who owns the shop with Matt Fahlman. “The late 1920s was the art deco era with peacock colours.”

To reflect the eclectic style and rich hues of that time she decorated the space with bright purple and teal blue. She scoured second-hand shops for sofas, armchairs and coffee tables. A huge floor to ceiling window and original local artwork brighten the space.

“Different was what I was aiming for.”

Not exclusively a play café, a big chunk of this funky bohemian art deco inspired space is definitely kid-friendly. As you enter, an area off the left is devoted just to children with buckets of toys, a colourful play mat, and a wall-mounted chalkboard. A Swiss cuckoo clock marks the time. To divide the space there is a book exchange area where you can drop off and pick up vintage books. The front of the shop is all comfy furniture so feel free to bring a book or surf the net on your laptop.

CGb6IqwVAAEqVys.jpg:largeAdding to the eclectic nature of the space, Townsend may just be the only coffee shop owner in the world with a PhD in coffee. Hearkening from Yorkshire, England, her PhD thesis in geography was on the concept of quality in the specialty coffee industry.

“I finished my masters in 2008 and couldn’t get a job so I worked for a coffee chain in the U.K. The work situation was dire,” she remembers.

She decided to pursue her PhD, which brought her to studying the coffee industry.

“It was cutting edge at the time,” she says of her thesis.

She published her work in a book called Spilling the Beans, available on for the low price of $124. No. that’s not a typo — even Townsend laughs at the cost. In lieu of investing in the book, Townsend is happy to spill the beans on the coffee industry in person.

As much product as possible is locally sourced, including the beans, which are roasted at The Green Spot.

“They are a genuinely good roaster,” says Townsend, who is due to deliver her second child this summer. “They have a big range of beans.”

The lineup changes regularly and according to season. Currently there is a Papua New Guinea medium roast, an Indian Monsooned Malabar light roast and a Costa Rican Tarrazu dark roast.

“People are more aware of what they want. Coffee is mirroring the craft beer movement. People want to know what they are drinking.”

In addition to espressos, cappuccinos and lattes, there are drip coffees and pourovers as well as specialty teas and London fogs. And for the little ones there are babyccinos served in colourful espresso cups with steamed milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

The baking and lunch ingredients come from Local & Fresh, a new Regina delivery service that supplies local product direct to the customer. They recently added a wholesale division to supply shops like Dr. Coffee. In the pastry case you’ll find pink and blue macarons from le Macaron and big fat Suzy’s Cinnamon buns. There are also light lunches with soup from Soup … Simply along with paninis and empanadas.

So, ditch the laundry — I promise you it’s not going anywhere — load up the stroller and the diaper bag and head over for a little playtime, a great coffee and some adult conversation.

You can reach CJ through her website at and follow her on Twitter

Dr. Coffee’s Café

2425 11th Ave.

(306) 520-4971

Hours: Mon. — Fri., 7 a.m. — 4 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. — 4 p.m.; Sun., closed

© Copyright (c) FOR THE LEADER-POST
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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


Bootstrapping for Beginners

The fact that this is my first post of 2015 may give you some clue of how busy I’ve been recently… At least, I hope that’s the interpretation you will take. The last few months have flashed past in a under-caffeinated blur, and it really doesn’t seem that long since I did the Big Reveal post.

All that I was revealing then is now an actuality. We are not yet officially open, which is utterly maddening because I swear I’ve worked harder over the last few weeks that I did over the entire 16 preceding months in my cosy little tedious office job. So, so close but yet so far. But our space is now a Place, it has colour, personality, furniture, a Twitter following (!) and as of yesterday, functional bathrooms. What it lacks is a Highly Important Piece of Paper, significant only for the bureaucratic nightmare that it represents, but more on that in a minute.Dragon-Coffee-coffee-34107654-670-491

I remember watching Dragon’s Den a few years back in the UK. Some Scottish bloke was on there pitching his idea about a franchise of internet cafes (eek, that must have been MANY MANY years ago, now that I think about it!). I usually enjoy Dragon’s Den because I can always find something to admire/ridicule/borrow from in other people’s business ideas and the Dragons’ verdicts. Obviously in an entrepreneurial sense, this is called “research”. Ahem. Anyway, Scots Internet Cafe guy got shot down dramatically, with Theo Paphitis scornfully asking, “So it’s basically just a coffee shop, right?”

As if “just a coffee shop” isn’t entrepreneurial enough for the Dragons. As if it’s not worthy of investment. As if it doesn’t require their expertise. As if it’s easy.

This is my… fourth coffee business not counting my consultancy work (ye gads!) and my second coffee shop, and even after a certain amount of practice and experience, IT IS NOT EASY. I started my little coffee Ape van venture in 2009, and much has changed in 6 years. The coffee market, the economy, marketing techniques, and my own personal circumstances: I am now a Mum and I’m not even on the same continent as before. Calling the place Dr. Coffee’s Cafe has meant explaining the coffee PhD to a lot of people recently; I always say as fascinating as it was, the qualification is hardly vocational given that I haven’t stayed in academia. It took me all over the world, I’ve written books, I know far too much coffee-related trivia and I make a fairly decent cuppa nowadays, but none of that in any way prepares me for the grim realities of starting a business from scratch.

Telus (a phone company?) are supporting Futurpreneur (our funders) and running a Twitter campaign where people are encouraged to tweet their business tips for other wannabe entrepreneurs. #MyBusinessTip won me a virtual hippo:


Bootstrapping – learning whole new skillsets as you go and making sure you understand the process of *every single tiny aspect* of the business, is the way to go. Our experiences with the unreliable and seriously useless contractors taught me that if you need something doing, try and do it yourself! And also, the importance of getting everything in writing in words of one syllable, setting strict deadlines, the ins and outs of contract law, and never leaving anything to ‘trust’ and ‘good faith’! Once burned…

Whereas I didn’t actually have to tile bathrooms and fit toilets myself (although it was a close call!), and we had invaluable help from my parents in constructing the bar, there were still many many things I wish I’d never had to learn. Here’s an abridged list:

  • Using masking tape to do fiddly little edges and finishes on your paintwork
  • A whole new lexicon for Canadian plumbing fixtures
  • How to wire a decidedly odd, 4 pin dual-voltage plugs
  • The location of most lumber yards in Regina
  • How to finish aluminium window frames with duct tape
  • The intricacies of the health and safety /food handling code, building code and commercial plumbing requirements
  • Bureaucracy behind running a new business in an old, heritage building
  • How to program an insanely over-complicated cash register
  • How to run a pay roll system and do tax, EI and CPP contribution deductions
  • That rolled up newspaper is actually better than cleaning cloths for cleaning windows.

Right now, we are still waiting for the local health authority to inspect us, tell us whether our fridges are the right termperature, check our handwashing stations and prep areas, yada yada yada. They have to approve our plans (nearly a week, no response yet) then they will appear magically “at some point” after that to do a full inspection. But we don’t know when, and we are not allowed to open until they do. IF they don’t find anything to worry about during the inspection. Aaaaaaaaaaargh. This is the highly significant piece of paper that we are stressing over. So frustrating waiting for bureaucracy to grind it’s mammoth and incomprehensible gears when everything else is ready to go!! But, patience is just one more thing we have to learn, along with budgeting for the money we’re losing by not being open already.


I have to learn to have faith that we WILL get there, that others will come through for us, and it should be soon. But that is probably the hardest part of this immense learning curve!

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Big Reveal

It is all happening again!


New Logo

My personal collection of madness hamsters have been nibbling on my brain again  too much recently. The weird little critters that invade at 3am and whisper things like “you’re not a corporate person” or “what’s the point in having a salary if you have no time to enjoy it?” Or “you’re too creative for a 9-5”  and “the more bored you get, the more we will steal your brain” and so on. They are annoying. I also tend to think they are right.


Copyright: Edward Monkton

I don’t want the hamsters to steal my brain, but I was resigned to what I tried to convince myself was a sensible option – working a secure, decently paid and non-stressful (but BORING) job for a number of years in order to save up enough money to start my coffee shop again properly, and also to sort out my permanent residency status in Canada and build up a good credit rating and just not rush headlong into enormous financial risk, ill-prepared. I started Wheelie Good Coffee as a sort of trial run, to keep me amused and still Coffee-ing, and to keep the hamsters at bay. The trouble is,  Wheelie Good Coffee has been very successful, and I now want more. I  also lack the patience for the Sensible option.
A lot of things have happened extremely quickly. It is not always a concious effort, and this sounds horribly like something from Pinterest, but as soon as you make a confident decision to do something, things start falling into the place to make it happen. Always. Just maybe not in the way you expected. In this instance, a guy called Matt and I ill-met by strip-light at an office pizza party just 3 months ago. Our boss made some comment about my coffee phd, and Matt started asking all about the original Doctor Coffee’s Cafe in Darlington. I didn’t think much of it – most people at work have heard this story. But then I got an email from him asking “how much would you need to start a coffee shop?”


The building! Thanks @cenobyte

I hazarded a guess depending on location – turns out I was pretty close! The short version of events is that Matt is a graduate of the UofR business school, and very interested in entrepreneurship, but has never yet had the opportunity to actually start a business of his own. Conversely, I have started quite a few businesses now but with no official schooling in business besides trial and error. More significantly, my newcomer status and lack of capital means I have no way of funding a new start up. Matt does not have these problems, neither does he have huge bills like humungous town house rent or childcare to contend with.  So, he applied for the funding. We then scouted round for a building, and after a lot of disappointments and frustration, I found a near-perfect one – via a chance conversation with a stranger on Twitter. After negotiating the lease with the landlord who I just happened to have made coffee for a few years ago at 13th Ave Coffee House, a lot of phoning around got us a general contractor to turn a huge empty space into a pleasant social space with two bathrooms and a coffee bar. I rallied the troups and got Bill to agree to roast the coffee for us, and got the tea supplier sorted, and chose an Orange espresso machine whilst avoiding the standard sales pitch since I already new what I wanted. Another brief plea for interest on Twitter has landed us some excellent local food suppliers too, and further chance meetings have lead to potential other vendors coming on board as well (BOOKS!! YAY!!), all with a local theme. And yesterday, Matt and I signed our lives away  by incorporating the company as set up by a lawyer who Matt used to play hockey with. We are now Dr Coffee’s Cafe Ltd, and as such, Matt no longer bears the entirety of the financial risk. And neither do I.


The huge and still empty space!

Getting this all together inside 6 weeks has only been possible because Regina is a small and very friendly town, and vague but useful connections are very easy to come by (and I like talking to people). But that does beg the question, does a small place like Regina actually need another coffee shop?
Of course I’m going to say yes, because this is a passion project, and I don’t know the meaning of Too Much Coffee. But in all seriousness, I do believe Regina can support another cafe downtown or in Cathedral. Cathedral is down to one solo coffee shop which isn’t much to write home about. There is nowhere within a comfy walking distance that does coffee anything like as good as Roca Jack’s used to, and annoyingly few places that we can go that are comfortable with small children in tow. From our work, we have a choice of Tim Hortons or Second Cup- both are chains, neither are nice. Matt and I discussed locations in huge detail because this sort of venture can  only be successful if you get the location absolutely spot on. He made an interesting point – with this sort of business, we needed to stress expertise, quality and local demand over innovation. I’d tried to work quirky things like having a kids corner and selling books into the business plan to try and give us unique selling points, and to make us something more than “just another coffee shop”, but really, it wasn’t necessary. The selling point is our convenient location – very close to a number of offices and a call centre, with no other coffee shop in that area. Of course, being the only person in Saskatchewan, if not Canada, with a Phd in coffee kinda helps too!! We may not be very  different, but we can be a LOT better at it.

So, we are on track to open in March 2015. Updates will no doubt be coming as we progress, so watch this space! And if you’re feeling extra specially generous and supportive and full of Christmas spirit, then I’ll happily take donations to the cause!


Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


Caffeine, health and quacks on the internet.

Stop EVERYTHING!! Somebody is WRONG on the internet!!!!

The husband is groaning at me again because he knows full well a RANT is forthcoming. This time, someone with a book to promote, posted some coffee-related claptrap on LinkedIn. Sadly, LinkedIn limits the space you have to write comments so I couldn’t do my righteous indignation justice on there, so it will have to go here instead.

The article (HERE) basically demonises caffeine. under the guise that it apparently stops you working calmly and productively. First of all, surely this depends a great deal on what your work actually is. In my day job, coffee is the ONLY thing that enables me to stay awake and focused, not because I’m tired but because my work is so tedious and repetitive. I fail to see how staying alert with your brain firing on all cylinders can ever be a problem in a work environment, unless you’re a yoga instructor or something. Excessive consumption can inevitably lead to hypertension, anxiety and insomnia, but then true excess of anything is never good for you. Caffeine is fine, as long as you are sensible about it. One commenter on the original article supports it, saying that she used to drink 20 cups a day and had all sorts of health problems. Go figure.

The article appears to be trying to argue that caffeine doesn’t actually improve your alertness; it claims coffee offers a short term, quick fix. You feel tired, you drink coffee, it wakes you up and peps you for a bit, but then it wears off, you feel “withdrawal” symptoms (largely psychosomatic in most cases, but also linked to dehydration, ie: headaches and migraines), then having another cup returns you to “normal” mode rather than giving you an actual boost again. This is a strong argument for (psychological) addiction, as it suggests that you’d need to drink more each time to get the same buzz effect. However, this is not in itself harmful. In fact, it is only unpleasant if you do ‘withdraw’ from caffeine. You’ll get the headaches and lethargy if you don’t have your morning coffee, but then, why shouldn’t you just drink it?

This study from the University of Vermont details what actually causes the withdrawal headache, but also, interestingly, shows how there is no net benefit of continued caffeine consumption, ie: you don’t get more and more and more alert by drinking coffee every day, it does it’s job, it wears off, rinse, repeat. The crucial bit here is IT WEARS OFF. The article appears to be trying to argue that being in a constant state of hyper-alertness, the adrenaline-charged fight or flight instinct is not good for staying cool, calm collected and focused at work – well, true, but you only get to that pepped up state through excessive consumption – in which case, you will also get the come-down and the withdrawal. A few cups of coffee to ease the tedium of a corporate office job do not have these effects.

Caffeine wakes you up by latching on to adenosine receptors in the brain. For a more technical explanation, try this article but in brief, adenosine is a chemical produced naturally in the brain that tells your body to rest. The adenosine molecules latch on to receptors in the brain, and suddenly you start feeling sleepy. Caffeine just gets in the way. Caffeine molecules are similar enough to adenosine molecules that they can attach to the adenosine receptors instead. When this happens, your brain never gets the message that it needs to rest, and so you don’t feel sleepy. As soon as your body processes and rids itself of the caffeine, the receptors are freed up, and adenosine can seep back in, and low and behold, you feel sleepy again. Caffeine therefore only inhibits the adenosine that is already there. If you are not tired nor sleepy to begin with, then the caffeine won’t misplace anything and you won’t automatically feel tired as soon as the caffeine wears off, and won’t get the withdrawal either.

This is all very short term. The cycle of adenosine displacement and replacement takes place over a period of a few hours at most. The article says nothing of the long term effects of caffeine consumption, most of which are highly beneficial. This study shows that long term caffeine consumption can protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia (particularly acute in women, apparently). This one suggests coffee reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Here’s one saying that it prevents prostate cancer. This one demonstrates how coffee acts as an antidepressant (again, particularly for women), and this one even goes as far as to say “Drinking Coffee Reduces Suicide Risk by 50%” (you can guess which of these is my favourite piece of click-bait!). All mightily good stuff. And yes, for the record, there are also many articles about coffee/caffeine being bad for anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, kidney stones, other forms of diabetes, and osteoporosis. It’s all about balance. If you’re a stressed out, obese insomniac with brittle bones, then maybe you should leave it out, nd consult a doctor who didn’t write their thesis in the geography department.

My final problem with the original LinkedIn article is the claim that “coffee has a 6 hour half-life…Have a cup of joe at eight a.m., and you’ll still have 25% of the caffeine in your body at eight p.m”. Tellingly, there are no sources cited for that little gem.  In an average, healthy person, the body metabolises the caffeine in one cup of coffee in 2-3 hours, less if you have a high metabolic rate or if you have already built up a good tolerance to it. So, it’s only likely to prevent you from sleeping if you drink a cup within 3 hours of going to bed. This metabolism time doubles for heavily pregnant women though, and also stays in infants’ systems via breastmilk for far longer, so caffeine in late pregnancy and while breastfeeding is not advisable – unless of course, you are aware of how long it takes to process and don’t exceed that rate of consumption. If your body takes 3 hours to rid itself of the caffeine, then you can have a coffee every three hours with no withdrawal and no effects of excess either. As already shown, having the caffeine in your system is not in itself harmful anyway.

Yes, I do love my coffee and will defend it, and I dare say that makes me biassed. But I defend it with some verifiable evidence. I would love you to buy my coffee and even better,.buy my book, but the book is not really about caffeine or health benefits or lifestyle choices at all. Unlike the author of the original article. Grab a coffee, have a read and make up your own alert, happy, awake minds!

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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


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