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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Coffee, not Caffeine

There’s always a lot to do in any given day – or so it seems. Household chores, work deadlines, family demands, financial pressures, to name just a few. So, it’s no surprise that many of us crave an extra dollop of energy or a dash more stamina. Happily, there’s a natural compound that helps supply the little boost we seek.

Caffeine is found in varying amounts in the leaves, seeds and fruit of a variety of plants, including coffee, cocoa, tea, kola and guaranà. Many foods and beverages made from these plants retain the source caffeine, along with hundreds of other natural plant compounds including proteins, carbohydrates, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Coffee, for example, contains about 2,000 compounds, including some potent antioxidants that science says deliver some significant health benefits.

While many look to their morning coffee for the added energy or stamina they seek, caffeine accounts for just 2% of coffee’s makeup and is just one aspect of consumers’ much broader engagement with the beverage. Market research shows that consumers reach for coffee for multiple reasons, even satisfying different needs for different occasions or dayparts. Consumers may look for a simple sip to get the day started, a gourmet coffee beverage at lunch and a high-end single-origin taste experience at dinner. And consumer appetite for an expanding universe of taste, variety, experience and occasion seems to outpace the ever-broadening menu.

This complex, personal and even sensual relationship with coffee makes the consumer interface unique. Even beyond taste and variety, there are cultural and social attributes that contribute to the overall coffee experience. Coffee is craved, savored, shared. It’s a travel companion on morning commutes and business trips. It’s an anchor for social meetings, discussions groups, even first dates.

This larger relationship with coffee explains why consumption habits are distinctive. By nature, coffee is prepared and served, blended to taste, sipped, lingered over, even dallied with over conversation. The coffee experience is much greater than the sum of its 2,000 parts. Even as a morning or afternoon pick-me-up, coffee is a lot more than the 2% that is caffeine.

That sets coffee apart from a growing list of foods, beverages and supplements that are geared to delivering caffeine. Coffee’s rich, complex and unsweetened taste does not lend itself to quick or rapid consumption. Coffee is rarely, if ever, “chugged,” but sipped over time by nature of its flavor as well as established cultural and social habits. Energy drinks, on the other hand, are made available as a slightly chilled beverage in small volume containers, designed for quick and easy ingestion. Unlike intrinsic caffeine in small proportions in coffee, caffeine, plus other minerals and sugar, are added to energy drinks to provide the intended “boost” consumers seek in the product.

Also, unlike energy drinks and supplements, coffee drinking is inherently self-limiting. The stimulating effects of coffee’s caffeine become evident to coffee consumers gradually, and continued consumption wanes naturally when tolerance levels are felt. Energy-drink consumers, on the other hand, are vulnerable to exceeding caffeine tolerance levels before natural physical effects are perceived. Also, coffee consumers are highly familiar with modulating caffeine intake for individual comfort levels. These distinctions are fundamental to consumer awareness and staying within one’s caffeine comfort zone

Coffee is a very complex beverage that delivers a wealth of natural benefits. That morning boost is one of them, but just a small part of a much larger story with strong roots in its chemical makeup, physical properties, consumer engagement and cultural accoutrements. Coffee is many things to many people, far outweighing the 2% that is caffeine. It’s two thousand compounds, blended naturally into a beverage that is much more than the sum of its parts.

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Stars, Stripes — and Beans?

As we celebrate the nation’s 237th birthday, it’s time that coffee gets a nod for its historic role in early American history. It’s often said that seeds of revolution (you’ll excuse the pun) were planted in heady discussions in the coffeehouses of Europe. Essentially, the social media of its day, European coffeehouses during the 17th and 18th centuries were indeed hotbeds of political discussion and enlightened discourse.

It’s a tradition that crossed the Atlantic with the colonists, although there’s more to coffee’s role in the American experience.

As you probably already know, coffee is an Old World plant that had to be imported to the Americas. During the 17th century, Britons such as the famed Captain James Cook and William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, saw to it that coffee was available in the colonies. At the same time, a French naval officer brought the first live coffee plant to the Americas, eventually starting the first New World coffee plantation on the Caribbean island of Martinique.

During the pre-Revolutionary period, American coffeehouses served as important meeting places. As early as 1709, the General Assembly of the Colony of New York held meetings in coffeehouses in present-day Lower Manhattan. History notes that some of the actual planning for the American Revolution took place in the coffeehouses of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

But, coffee wouldn’t yet get its full patriotic stripes for another 75 years.

Echoes of the Old World sustained tea as the preferred drink in the colonies for many years. But as the British pushed the limits of economic domination, tea became the flashpoint of rebellion. After the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773, tea took on the symbol of the crown and its excesses. Colonial leaders such as John Adams, who would go on to become our second President, advocated for a boycott of tea. Adams himself went so far as to write “Tea must be universally renounced and I must be weaned, and the sooner the better.”

Through the efforts of leaders such as Adams, colonists eventually switched over to coffee. By the time the American Revolution ended 10 years later in 1783, Americans had become so used to coffee that there was hardly any market for tea.

Today, 83% of Americans say they drink coffee, 63% of them every day, according to NCA consumption tracking data. Coffeehouses are on every corner (although much of the world’s revolutionary discourse has moved to Twitter, it seems). But, coffee is nearly synonymous with American culture, an icon of morning routines and evening rituals, culinary enjoyment and social interaction, innovative menu ideas and societal norms and niceties. It is an intrinsic part of American lore, legend and song.

So, as you sip your coffee on Independence Day, savor the richness of history along with the aroma.

Happy July 4th from NCA!

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