Posts from the ‘coffee talk’ Category

For your information: Pacific caffeine

Cape Lookout State Park in Oregon.

Caffeine levels were surprisingly high off remote places such as Cape Lookout, Oregon (pictured).

Photograph from RMUSA/Alamy

Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic News

Published July 30, 2012

The Pacific Northwest  may be the epicenter of U.S.  coffee culture, and now a new study shows the region’s elevated caffeine levels don’t stop at the shoreline.


The discovery of caffeine pollution in the Pacific Ocean  off Oregon is further evidence that contaminants in human waste are entering natural water systems, with unknown consequences for wildlife and humans alike, experts say.

(Read National Geographic magazine’s “Caffeine: What’s the Buzz?” )

Scientists sampled both “potentially polluted” sites—near sewage-treatment plants, larger communities, and river mouths—and more remote waters, for example near a state park.

Surprisingly, caffeine levels off the potentially polluted areas were below the detectable limit, about 9 nanograms per liter. The wilder coastlines were comparatively highly caffeinated, at about 45 nanograms per liter.

“Our hypothesis from these results is that the bigger source of contamination here is probably on-site waste disposal systems like septic systems,” said study co-author Elise Granek .

The difference may be due to more stringent monitoring in more developed areas.

“Wastewater-treatment plants, for the most part, have to do regular monitoring to ensure they are within certain limits,” added Granek, a Portland State University marine ecologist. Granek noted, though, that caffeine is unregulated, and so is not specifically monitored.

By contrast, for on-site waste-disposal systems, “there is frequently not much monitoring going on.”

The big sewage plants may also be at an advantage because Oregon cities are relatively small. The plants don’t have to process the sheer volume of waste associated with a major city such as Boston, which one study has found to be pumping fairly high levels of caffeine into its harbor .

(Related: “Cocaine, Spices, Hormones Found in Drinking Water.”)


“Contaminant Soup” Has Unknown Impacts

Hydrologist Dana Kolpin welcomed the new research, saying caffeine concentrations in water have been documented before but more often in freshwater than marine environments.

“Caffeine is pretty darn ubiquitous, and there is growing evidence that this and other understudied contaminants are out there,”  said Kolpin, of the USGS’sToxic Substances Hydrology Program  in Iowa City, Iowa.

In our waste “there is a whole universe of potential contaminants including pharmaceuticals, hormones, personal-care products like detergents or fragrances, even artificial sweeteners.”

Caffeine is something of a canary in a coal mine for elevated levels of human contaminants in water, said Kolpin, who wasn’t part of the new study.

In other words, if caffeine’s in the water, chances are there are other contaminants too.

“What does this mean?” he asked. “Aquatic organisms are getting hit with a soup of low-level contaminants.

“Are there environmental or human-health consequences from exposure to these compounds or different mixtures of compounds? Obviously that’s the million-dollar question.”

(Infographic: How Coffee Changed America. )

Caffeine and Cellular Stress in Animals

Caffeine has been documented in waters around the world, including Boston Harbor, Puget Sound, the Mediterranean, and the North Sea. It might persist for up to 30 days in marine waters, study co-author Granek noted.

But the stimulant’s impact on natural ecosystems is unknown. Nonlethal effects may be invisible but could have repercussions up and down the food chain and from generation to generation.

Granek and colleagues have shown in lab experiments that caffeine at the levels found offshore does affect intertidal mussels, causing them to produce specialized proteins in response to environmental stress.

The levels found in the remote study areas, for example, “did cause these mussels to exhibit cellular stress,” she said. “If we expose them to higher concentrations or longer terms, do we see changes in growth rates, or changes in reproductive output?” The team hopes to find out with future experiments.

Kolpin said some studies of other contaminants have shown more drastic effects, including one at a remote Ontario Lake, which concluded that estrogen from birth control pills can cause wild fish populations to collapse.

“With caffeine, we’re not yet sure about its environmental effects,” he said. “But it’s a very nice tracer, even if it doesn’t have a large effect, because in most parts of the world, you know that this is coming from a human waste source.”


The Pacific Northwest caffeine research  was published in the July 2012 edition of the Marine Pollution Bulletin.



Mcmenamins Microroasters


































Not a lot of folks outside of Portland know about the McMenamins empire. But they have managed to acquire a number of historic and interesting old buildings, and have turned these into rather fascinating, hard-to-describe places. McMenamins run the gamut, from the Crystal Ballroom, with its dance floor set on ball bearings, to Edgefield’s with its soaking pool & vineyards, to Kennedy School, with its boiler room bar and beer-fed movies, to…well, places in Bend, Gearhart, Mill Creek WA, Centralia, etc. etc. etc. And at each of these there is at least one restaurant/ coffee bar serving coffee; many have several. So it’s logical that they roast and package their own coffee, especially in this town of ours, known for its microbrew cultures of both beer and coffee.

My companion and I happened upon the roasting plant one afternoon, and we were proudly given a tour of the small place, with just about all the information we could possibly absorb. We were also brewed our own samples of coffee out of today’s roasted beans. Chemex, the coffee-maker was called. It’s been around since the 70’s, and has an hour-glass shape, with wood at the “waist” of the glass sections. Because its filters are thicker than most, it strains out more oils as well as sediments, leaving a crystal-clear coffee. Our tour guide demonstrated how to pour in the first dose of water and then let the coffee “bloom”, or bubble up and expand, before adding more water. The sample was very smooth and tasty, without bitterness, just as he promised.

Microroasters are popping up in Portland, as the coffee fans follow Seattle’s (Starbucks?) lead, and as consumers develop sophistocated palettes. Maybe people are simply addicted to the stuff, after a near-saturation blitz of by Starbucks , beginning in the 1990’s. Stumptown was an early roaster here, and it is well-established as a local brand. Other microroasters include beans from exotic places, and each tries to make itself a niche with specialty coffees. McMenamins roasters buy beans from places including Columbia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. They try to personally visit each contributing farm, to buy directly from them (thus ensuring fair trade), but some portion of each shipment is from brokers, and cannot really be traced. The fair-trade beans are organic. Apparently the green beans ship and store well, and they keep around an ample supply in big burlap bags. They have a large roaster which they use daily—early in the morning because beans are roasted at over 400 degrees—and an after-burner for the exhaust, so that the entire neighborhood doesn’t reek (my word) of coffee. Now, how could that ever be bad? But I suppose some (zoning) people consider it to be. One of my own offspring doesn’t share my love of the dark brown drink, preferring tea as a caffeine source, if needed. Bins of fresh-roasted coffee were being used to fill big boxes of different coffees, to be sent UPS to the various McMenamins restaurants that same day. They had a copper grinder for in-house use—such as, for our samples. Not a lot else in the place; the place is indeed a micro roaster.

The roasters at McMenamin’s graciously allowed us to use names and photos of them and the place, and I hope I didn’t misrepresent any facts—the visit was 2-3 weeks ago. He helpfully recommended a book about coffee, Uncommon Grounds, by Pendagrast.  I shall review it some day…

Iced C

As the temperatures soar, the last thing I want to do is visit a coffeehouse to down some piping hot coffee! Or is it? I could cop out and order an uber-sweet frappuccino, thereby joining the throngs who dilute most of the coffee flavor out of the drink with all the add-ons (Actually the best thing about a frappuccino is the slushy texture, if it’s chilled properly). Or I could cop out and, well, just order a fruit smoothie. That’d be healthy, and cool, too. Except I’m not in this game for my health (although it seems that every other day some study proves that “moderate coffee-drinkers” (whatever they are) have fewer strokes, lose more weight, or have better sex lives (wait: am I fantasizing about studies?)). Yep, I’m in it for the caffeine, plain and simple. And what can be plainer and simpler than: ICED COFFEE? My parents drank it all summer, living in the hot-summer-part of the country, and each time they dutifully offered me some (after I was “of age”, of course) I sniffed with disdain almost as much as when they’d eat coffee ice cream. I figured, if you’re going to indulge in ice cream, make it the Cherry Garcia kind of ice cream. And if you want a cold drink and don’t plan on getting inebriated, choose a lemonade or soda; they actually taste good! And if you’re going to have coffee, have coffee like it was supposed to be: so hot and bold that it clears out your nostrils, not some cold, left-over dishwater-flavored iced-drink excuse for a cuppa java. This bias of mine lived almost to this day…until I tried a cold-press iced coffee recently, gritting my teeth. I liked it! No more sweating in my socks and sandals, or waking up only to suffer heat stroke!

So I have taken a little hiatus on my coffee reviews, pretending that I was still on vacation but actually avoiding the main subject of my blogs. Actually, I have been on-the-go, and busily drinking the crucial amount of unnotable coffee from unbloggable places. But I’ll be back soon, and in the meantime I have a visit to a roaster to report.


After the green is taken down

There are special promotions out there, to sober you up after all the green beer, maybe? Maybe it’s coincidence. McDonald’s is giving away free cups of coffee, and so is Burgerville (I’ve had ’em both, and they suffice).  Can’t say the exact dates, but you don’t have to buy anything to get your brew!

And speaking of McDonald’s, they regularly offer a senior coffee for anything from 50 cents to one dollar, depending upon the store’s management  (Helps us stay awake when we’re on the road and feeling frugal).  Just don’t fall for the fast food, like I have done.  Shopping? Join IKEA and indulge in a free cup every time you come in.

Note:  These coffees are not all gourmet, but what true caffeine-lover can always hold out for that?  No snobs here

Beginning the Blog

I come to this blog with a long history of coffee-drinking and a short history of blogging and computer work.  I grew up (my second, or mostly mental,  growth spurt:  no stunting for me!)  amidst an atmosphere of academic coffee shops in the 60’s and 70’s. These provided bottomless cups of coffee to readers and debaters, politicos and intense socializers, people-watchers, students with their eyes propped open by stir sticks, and probably a few students with their eyes closed. The brew was inexpensive and the variety limited, although cappuccino  and espresso were sometimes being offered.  Ambience was the name of the game. Black coffee it was, although not our fathers’  “good to the last drop” Maxwell House or “mountain grown” Folgers. And it certainly wasn’t  “Fill it to the brim with Brim” decaffeinated (what later became fondly known as “unleaded”). It was better, bolder, more interesting (although we hadn’t heard of fair trade), but still relatively inexpensive. Of course Sambo’s continued to offer dime coffee, and parts of the country lagged behind in embracing these (radical hotbeds) coffee shops, preferring the old standby restaurant fare, which can still be had for a high price. Now, at the bottom of the pot, is the occasional rest stop dishwater drink posing as coffee (the redeeming feature of which is that it’s free, with only a guilt-trip).

Then came Seattle Pike Place Market’s Starbucks and the idea of single-cup servings and many choices.  Hordes of up-to-date commuters learned new vocabularies as they slurped up their lattes, mochas and later such concoctions as frappuccinos, remembering that tall=small, and short=extra-small  (Author’s Note:  When I took the train to Chicago and happened to see the long lines at a Starbucks in the city in the early 90’s, I bought stock at the company’s IPO. That  stock then grew and split and grew again).  A new generation, one that had never tasted a black “cuppa joe” , was purchasing these frothy, high-calorie, special-order drinks, feeding caffeine addiction. (note: I sold at a big profit on a very small investment. Why couldn’t I have gotten my mitts on some of  Mitt’s money?)   The market has since slowed due to saturation and the economy, and Starbucks has become stigmatized as another multinational huge conglomerate by some, especially the locavores or grass-roots types. Starbucks still has excellent coffee, and I sometimes patronize them, but only for their drip coffees, especially now that I found out some stores offer “senior coffee” at a reduced price. Previously, my support relied exclusively on the fact that they gave a (recycled or commuter) cup discount and gave away used grounds for gardens. (disclaimer: My knowledge of Starbucks, or of any other coffee houses reviewed, does not include knowing about management, benefits, hiring practices, advertising and sales, social practices, or anything else behind-the-scenes.  What I saw or heard is what you get).

Independent coffee houses are now flourishing, and many have loyal followings, are run by conscientious and creative people, and offer a slew of items at today’s prices. Usually the most interesting are in old structures, have some unique quirks, and have  seating options ranging from mismatched old wooden chairs to overstuffed couches to  stools .  Not always  (A clever concept goes a long way).  I’ll describe some of these quirks and whatever I find of interest, including my fellow customers (Forget them if they seem boring!), in this blog review. I expect to select the houses through a combination of recommendation, happenstance (where I am if I need a caffeine fix), and what-place-looks-good-that-I’ve-always-wanted-to-try. The blog will be sporadic, but I’ll aim for once a week.  (If you have a spot and I don’t seem to get to it, let me know so I can check it out!  Do not feel offended; our paths may never have crossed!) I  will be drinking, routinely, black coffee only, and, although I may eat a roll and will mention most other amenities, I may not report much unless the pastry is moldy (or delectable) or the amenity jumps out at me.  Omissions will need to be overlooked; the rest is opinion:  mine.

I hope some of my observations and insights help like-minded or older folks to seek out comfortable, pleasant, and affordable shops with good fare and delicious coffee (our unifying goal).  I want the blog to wake up the community, with the help of caffeine!