Q: WHERE DOES DECAFFEINATED COFFEE COME FROM?
It's pretty simple. To make decaf, you start out with regular coffee beans and then take out the caffeine. Manufacturers usually begin the process by steaming fresh beans until they're moist and swollen. Next, the caffeine is extracted using a solvent, such as water, ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, or highly pressurized carbon dioxide. Then the beans are steamed and dried again, which removes any residue from the solvent. This process rarely gets all the caffeine, but according to U.S. law, it doesn't have to. For coffee to be labeled decaf, only 97.5 percent of its caffeine must be removed. On average, a cup of regular coffee has 115 mg. of caffeine, while a cup of decaf has about 3 mg.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL THE CAFFEINE ONCE IT'S EXTRACTED?
It would be a shame for all that caffeine to go to waste. So, coffee manufacturers save the jittery gold and sell it to soft drink makers and pharmaceutical companies. In the end, the caffeine winds up in your Coke and NoDoz.
Q: HAS COFFEE EVER BEEN ILLEGAL?
Not in the United States -although many Mormons and Rastafarians abstain from coffee for religious reasons. But back in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire cracked down on coffee, suspicious of its stimulating effects. The most notable ban came under Sultan Murad IV, who ran the empire from 1623 to 1640. Concerned about his subjects congregating in coffeehouses, Murad declared that anyone found with a cup of joe would be met with a beating. Those unlucky enough to get nailed with a second offense were sewn up inside a burlap bag and dumped in the Bosphorus Strait.
Q: WHY IS AGED COFFEE BETTER? WHEN I LET IT SIT AROUND MY HOUSE, IT JUST GETS STALE.
Aging coffee is a special process designed to reduce the acidity of the beans. And although there are several ways to age coffee, the old-fashioned way is probably the best. In tropical regions, coffee is "monsooned," meaning that it's stored in an open-air warehouse, where it's exposed to the moisture and winds of monsoon season. After about 16 weeks, the coffee comes out with a lower acidity and more body.
Monsooning actually attempts to recreate a centuries-old flavor. Back in the 1600s, Europeans got their coffee from faraway places such as India, and the beans were shipped over in large wooden sailboats. The journey could take up to six months, and that entire time, the beans sat there, soaking up the moist ocean air. As a result, the mild coffee flavor was all Europeans knew. But when shipping methods improved and wooden vessels were eliminated, the coffee got a sharper flavor. Some drinkers missed the old taste, so Indians created the monsooning technique to mimic java's long journeys at sea.
Q: IS THERE AN ACTUAL MAXWELL HOUSE?
There used to be. When it opened in 1869, the Maxwell House Hotel was Nashville's largest and swankiest place to stay. During the early 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt was known to be a guest there, as were various members of the Vanderbilt clan. In 1892, a man named Joel Cheek approached the hotel with his special blend of coffee, and the hotel agreed to start serving it. As the years passed, the coffee became famous and the Maxwell House Hotel lent the brand its name.
So, what about that "Good to the Last Drop" slogan? Ad men claimed the slogan originated with Roosevelt, who supposedly said it after slurping down a cup during one of his stays. But in recent years, the coffee company has admitted that the line came from an inspired copywriter. Sadly, a fire destroyed the Maxwell House Hotel in December 1961.
Q: WHY DO SOME COFFEES MARKET THEMSELVES AS "ARABICA"?
Although the words sound exotic, arabica is simply a scientific name for a popular species of coffee plant. Actually, the arabica plant is the source of more than 60 percent of the world's beans. The other main commercial species, canephora, is more bitter. But it has other advantages; it's less prone to disease, and it contains more caffeine.
Q: SO, IS COFFEE GOOD FOR ME?
For most people, yes. Recent medical research indicates that drinking coffee lowers your chances of getting colon cancer, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver, Parkinson's disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Plus, coffee helps control asthma and alleviates headaches. Some of the drink's health benefits are due to its caffeine content, while others are attributed to antioxidants. In fact, Americans drink so much coffee with so much regularity that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in our diet. Take that, fruits and vegetables!
__________________________The above article by Ethan Trex is reprinted with permission from the Left Brain section of the September-October 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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