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Sipping Your Risk Away?

A cascade of scientific studies has linked coffee with a reduced risk of diabetes for more than a decade. Scientists in China recently used a strong, representative sample to pull it all together. They culled data from over a million individuals, and integrated and re-examined results to yield an even larger picture. In technical terms, the process is called a “meta-analysis” but, in practice, it’s like doing a new study that is much wider in reach and broader in scope.

The conclusions confirmed what many scientists have been saying all along – that there is an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and the risk of developing diabetes. In laymen’s terms, that means that as coffee consumption goes up, the risk of diabetes comes down.

Pooling data from 30 studies, the Qingdao University team concluded that, on average, coffee appears to reduce the risk of developing diabetes by about one-third. Put another way, they affirmed a 12% decrease in risk for every two cups of coffee consumed.

The Chinese study’s unique contribution is a conclusion based on high-quality studies and a very large subject pool. Reviewing only “prospective studies,” which examine behaviors and outcomes going forward rather than recording past events, the team eliminated risks of hazy recall and subject selection bias that other types of studies allow. That makes the outcomes a broad confirmation of what many scientists have found individually since about 2002.

Decade of Evidence
The literature from which the new study was drawn is extensive. Scores of studies from around the world have all come to the same conclusion – that coffee appears to have a protective effect against diabetes that has something to do with the sugar uptake system in the body. The specific “pathways” vary, but they now appear to point to the same chemical source – the chlorogenic acids found naturally in coffee.

The link between coffee and reduced diabetes risk dates back to a Dutch study done in 2002. Scientists at Vrije University in Amsterdam found that men and women who drank seven cups of coffee a day were half as likely to develop the disease as those who drank two cups or fewer. In 2003, a Harvard study confirmed the findings, finding that men who drank six or more cups of coffee a day had a 54% lower risk of becoming diabetic, while those who drank four or more cups showed a 29% lower risk. At this stage in the research history, scientists looked to caffeine as the source, citing the effect it has on human energy expenditure. But, they also noted that other coffee compounds, including potassium, niacin and magnesium, might positively affect sugar metabolism.

In 2004, a Finnish study found that men who drank three to four cups of coffee a day reduced their diabetes risk by 27%, while women did so by 29%. The more they drank, the higher was the protection, too – men who drank 10 or more cups reducing their risk by 55% and women by 80%. Later that year, a Swedish study also found a lower diabetes risk among heavier coffee drinkers. Men who drank five or more cups a day showed a 40% lower incidence than those who consumed two or fewer cups. For women, the risk reduction was 74% for those who drank five or more cups versus two or less.

The next year found NCA joining with European colleagues to fund two studies to dig deeper into the intriguing data. The American study explored glucose uptake in rats, with results showing that the risk reduction was unique to coffee and not caffeine, with decaf demonstrating the same protective effect. In the European study, coffee’s effect on human glucose tolerance and gastrointestinal hormones was studied, and results showed a positive effect on blood glucose levels that was linked to the availability and chemical action of chlorogenic acids in coffee.

The University of Minnesota was next with a study that found diabetes risk reduction among postmenopausal women – 22% for six or more cups, 16% for four to five cups, and 4% for one to three. Decaf results were even stronger, suggesting that a unique coffee compound was at work. Those drinking six plus cups of decaf saw a 34% reduction in risk, 41% at four to five cups and 2% at one to three. Caffeine alone yielded no protective effect. The researchers now looked to chlorogenic acid as the root of the protection, reducing glucose absorption or inhibiting liver hormone activity. The scientists also pointed to other powerful antioxidant properties , which can protect certain pancreatic cells from damage or promote insulin sensitivity, thereby delaying or preventing diabetes onset.

Later that year, a study at the University of California at San Diego expanded evidence by finding a risk reduction among pre-diabetic subjects that was even stronger than for those with normal fasting blood sugar levels. Pre-diabetics exhibited a 69% reduced risk of developing diabetes, while those with normal sugar levels showed a 62% reduced risk.

Other, more recent studies, have added to the body of evidence. In 2011, researchers at Nagoya University in Japan found that coffee and caffeine improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in rats whose glucose tolerance had been impaired by diet. The findings enhance prior evidence that coffee and caffeine help regulate hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, in spontaneously diabetic animals.

Earlier this year, Brazilian scientists concluded that coffee reduces blood sugar and cholesterol levels associated with diabetes. The study looked at the impact of coffee on diabetic and non-diabetic rats, finding that the rats who drank coffee had lower levels of glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, creatinine, uric acid and other metabolic markers – for example a 40% decrease in levels of triglycerides and 31% for urea. Looking at the mechanisms behind the protection, the researchers cited the inhibition of sugar transporters by chlorogenic acid and sodium, and other compounds that impact glucose levels. They also noted that coffee is packed with polyphenols, strong antioxidant compounds that reduce the cellular damage by free radicals which, in turn, plays a role in the development of insulin resistance and diabetes.

So, just like the Chinese scientists, if you put all this data together, you come up with a very intriguing conclusion. While the root cause is still not totally understood, the consensus on the impact is extensive. So, next time you’re sipping your coffee, think about the time, effort, energy, talent, and even geographic reach of the work that’s been done, and how all the evidence leads to the same place. The force of science is with you if think you’re sipping your risk away.

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On The Table

This morning, did you sip a Sidamo from Ethiopia, hit back a Huehuetenango from Guatemala, or maybe tipple a Tarrazù from Costa Rica? Did your coffee come from Africa, Asia or South America?

These single-origin coffees, alongside current industry issues, were on the table in Washington this week. NCA brought coffee – the beverage and the business – to the halls of Congress. At the biennial NCA Coffee on the Hill event, members joined members of Congress, their staff members, foreign diplomats and executive branch personnel to meet, greet , enjoy coffee and discuss related issues.

Coffee on the Hill is an event designed to afford NCA members an opportunity to interface with their legislators and legislative staffs to discuss industry-wide as well as local issues affecting their business. The event also puts the U.S. coffee industry front and center in the eyes and ears – not to mention palates – of government decision makers and influencers. Also invited to the event are diplomats and diplomatic staffs of coffee-producing countries, as well as Executive Branch officials from agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The October 23 event took place in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The building is one of several that house offices of members of the House of Representatives and Senate. The tables were lined with pots of freshly brewed and served coffee, identified by their country of origin. Along with the brewed coffee, samples of the green beans and roasted beans were also on display.

Bringing a flavor of a different kind to the event were demonstrations of “cupping” and “pourover” coffee preparation. Cupping is the process by which highly trained experts taste coffees to determine their flavor profiles for the purposes of buying coffee beans or for determining which coffees to use in a roaster’s proprietary blends. Pourover is the latest craze in coffee brewing, consisting of deceptively simple-looking equipment used with great precision and expertise. The filters are wet with 200 degree water, freshly ground coffee is added, a quick water soaking is administered followed by a timed pause to allow the coffee to de-gas, which increases its absorptive properties, the remaining water is filtered through the grinds, and finally the coffee is robustly swirled in the carafe to homogenize the extraction outcomes.

Visitors to the event also received a detailed primer on the significance of the coffee industry to the U.S. and world economies, as well as a description of the key issues currently facing the coffee business. This year’s highlighted issues included: Congressional acknowledgment of the distinction between coffee consumption and caffeine ingestion in energy products at a time when government officials take a look at overall caffeine consumption; Congressional support for U.S. agricultural programs that support sustainability; Congressional funding of the Foreign Agricultural Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (FAS) and USAID to support efforts promoting coffee production that sustains farmers and the coffee supply chain; Congressional support for federal legislation that would establish a national standard that affirms the safety of foods developed using bioengineering technologies; Congressional dedication to working toward the passage of Free Trade Agreements with other nations and support for treaty provisions that would confer U.S. origin on coffee roasted in the U.S.; and continued Congressional commitment to an active role for the U.S. as a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO). NCA is part of the official United States delegation to the ICO.

The event attracted about 500 participants, including several members of Congress and foreign dignitaries. Coffees on hand included those from Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Hawaii, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Rwanda.

So, next time you sip that Sidamo or tipple that Tarrazù, you may well ponder on the universe of individuals, nations, cooperative processes and governmental issues that make up the world of coffee. Perhaps, too, you’ll reflect not only on the complexity of the flavor, but also the complexity behind its arrival in your cup.



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Information or Knowledge?

Smart business people keep up with best practices. It’s a competitive must and emblem of personal and professional pride. There’s always something new to learn. And, increasingly, there are more and more ways to seek it out. It’s a long and growing list that includes conferences, online courses, e-seminars, podcasts, and more. Just check your email inbox, and you’ll probably find more than one a day.

But information alone is not always enough. Facts, figures and presentations can make you more informed. But, information doesn’t always become knowledge. Often, it’s not what you know that counts, but how you put it to work to make changes, reach goals and solve problems.

That’s the premise behind the NCA Coffee Summit, which was held last week in Philadelphia. It’s a hybrid learning platform that combines traditional education with collaborative thinking and “open space” engagement. The facts and figures are filtered through the prism of the expertise and experience of fellow professionals. The output is knowledge that’s ready to put into play to solve nettling problems you face each day.

Say you’re a small café owner who wants to deliver a new coffee experience to customers. Or, a micro-roaster who wants to promote sustainable coffees. Or perhaps a maker of coffee-related accessories who needs to keep on top of consumption patterns and brewing trends?

The NCA Coffee Summit is designed to bring together diverse professionals from up and down the coffee “supply chain.” Bringing a spectrum of perspective to each discussion, participants mold raw information into workable strategies to solve real-time business challenges. In this way, participants can attack individual challenges from the different angles that come from their different business roles and functions. In turn, participants can go home with strategies and solutions that have been put through the business filter of professionals who know how things work.

This year’s Summit teed up three topics with special currency – sustainability, the single-serve format and risk management. Four, short presentations on the topics were followed by opportunities to interact with the expert speakers, as well as brainstorm on the topic with other attendees.

The Summit also featured a collaborative Learning Exchange. Three broad questions were raised by the professional facilitator to spark thinking and discussion on the topics. Each table of 10 participants captured their collective thoughts on flip charts, which were posted publicly for all to review. After each question, participants were shuffled to maximize attendee interaction.

Another important element of the Summit’s design is “open space” discussion. Two sessions were held, during which participants were encouraged to pose their own “big questions” to engage others in problem-solving discussions. The sessions are designed to cull the expertise and perspective of colleagues who share your concerns, and put them into play to tackle your problems. Often, insights emerge when issues are approached from the viewpoints of those who fill different roles along the supply chain.

Interactions among the participants were dynamic and fruitful. The group generated over 100 pages of flip-chart notes, which will be shared with all attendees as well as transcribed into a report. Speaker presentations will also be made available.

Clearly, the NCA Coffee Summit is a dynamic PD choice for coffee professionals in all functions and sectors. It’s a chance to explore industry issues, get your big questions answered, and go home with some practical solutions.

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Is Coffee Liver’s Firewall?

The research is rampant with evidence about coffee’s protective effects on the liver. Numerous studies from around the world have come to the same conclusion – coffee somehow shields the liver from inflammatory damage and the diseases that can result.

Over the last decade, researchers have found that coffee reduces the risk of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, fibrosis and liver cancer. Reduced risk of liver disease also carries through for higher risk individuals, such as those with diabetes, iron overload, obesity, viral hepatitis and high alcohol consumption. Researchers also found that coffee reduces the risk of liver cancer, including among those with risk factors such as pre-existing cirrhosis or hepatitis.

To boil complex chemistry down to a simple analogy, coffee appears to act as a “firewall” that blocks an enzyme implicated in liver disease. The name – alanine aminotransferase – may be hard to pronounce, but the impact appears clear. And, the compound in coffee that seems to deliver the punch is a strong antioxidant called chlorogenic acid.

Fatty Liver Disease
The latest study on the subject is a review paper from scientists in Turkey. Scouring the literature, the researchers confirm that coffee intake appears to reduce the risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), a condition that can lead to NAFLD.

All of the literature was in agreement – there is an inverse relationship between coffee intake and NAFLD. That means coffee consumption is linked to reducing the risk for the development of NAFLD. The preponderance of evidence also found that coffee reduces the risk of MetS.

As for the source of the protection, the scientists cited coffee’s strong antioxidant properties. In fact, several coffee components appear to scavenge free radicals, which in turn could contribute to the development of NAFLD. However, the researchers also cite an independent protective effect on the liver delivered by caffeine.

Complex Chemistry
In presenting their findings, the researchers noted that coffee is a very complex beverage made up of about 1,500 components. They include many antioxidants and other physiologically active compounds. It’s a long list that includes phenolic polymers, polysaccharides, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, cafestol, kahweol, and minerals. Interestingly, caffeine accounts for just 1% of what’s in the brew.

So, the next time you have that morning mug of coffee, you’ll know you’re sipping a complex beverage that may pack a powerful punch of protection for your liver. Is your firewall engaged?

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New Report: Coffee Cuts Endometrial Cancer Risk

A newly released scientific report links coffee with a protective effect against endometrial cancer. The report, published this week by the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund International, says that coffee drinking is one of several lifestyle and diet changes that can help women prevent the disease, also known as uterine cancer.

Analyzing results from eight independent scientific studies, the report concludes that one cup of coffee per day is associated with a 7% decreased risk of developing the disease. All of the analyzed studies found a decreased risk for higher versus lower levels of coffee consumption.

The report also noted the findings of two other published meta-analyses that found a statistically significant decreased risk of endometrial cancer for the highest coffee drinkers as compared with the lowest. A meta-analysis is a study that incorporates data from multiple pieces of research to amplify the scope and statistical significance of the findings.

The analysis also examined several pieces of research on decaffeinated coffee. The cumulative results showed that there was an overall 8% decreased risk of endometrial cancer per one cup per day.

According to the AARP Blog, endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, and the 49,600 annual cases outnumber ovarian and cervical cancers combined. Endometrial cancer primarily affects women over age 60, and claims 8,000 lives each year.

The report also discussed how coffee might deliver the protection they found. Several “mechanisms” were suggested, including the work of several of the chemical compounds found in coffee. Among them is chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to have strong antioxidant properties that can prevent damage to DNA, as well as improve insulin sensitivity and inhibit sugar uptake in the intestines.

The impact on sugar uptake is significant because excess insulin has been associated with the growth of endometrial cancer cells. Both regular and decaffeinated coffees have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and so reduce insulin levels in the blood. Other, indirect mechanisms were also discussed, such as coffee’s suppression of a hormone that elevates estrogen levels in the blood.

Other Factors
Other factors cited in the report for reducing the risk of endometrial cancer include regular exercise, weight maintenance and avoidance of sugary drinks. The report notes that there is a strong link between obesity and cancer that is especially strong for endometrial cancer. Dr. Elisa Bandera, a Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey epidemiologist who helped lead the study, noted in an NBC News interview that obese women have two to three times the rate of endometrial cancer.

The report says that three out of every five cases of the disease could be prevented if women kept a healthy weight, got at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, avoided sugary drinks and processed snack foods, and drank coffee.

The authors of the report – World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, Continuous Update Project Report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Endometrial Cancer, 2013 – state as their conclusion that “There is a substantial amount of epidemiological evidence, which is consistent, and there is a dose-response relationship. There is evidence for biological plausibility. Coffee probably protects against endometrial cancer.”

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Defining Sustainability

With climate change and environmental disasters such as the Fukushima reactor meltdown and the Gulf oil spill making international headlines, “sustainability” has become a media buzzword. It’s also bandied about in connection with agricultural methods that preserve the land, market conditions that enable producers to support their families and cultures, and technologies that foster a healthy supply of quality products.

It’s also being discussed in probably every boardroom of every major corporation in the U.S. and beyond. There is enormous pressure on industries to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability as a key element of responsible corporate citizenship. As the public becomes ever more aware of cultural, environmental and socioeconomic issues in the developing world, the pressure to deploy sustainable programs and strategies continues to ramp up.

But, what does “sustainability” really mean? You’ve probably heard the word at least 100 times already this month, or read it in online or in print media without giving its fundamental definition a second thought.

Generation Y’s preferred source for quick information – Wikipedia – simply and dismissively defines “sustainability” as: “the capacity to endure.” However, the grammarians and scholars at Merriam-Webster go much further, defining “sustainable” (from which “sustainability” is derived) as: “relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”

Merriam-Webster’s definition is appropriately open-ended since “resource” can include people, the land, the environment, natural resources, cultures and social institutions. It also embraces the many individual elements that comprise the concept. For the coffee industry and its executives, the definition embraces the crucial components of a sustainable coffee supply chain – the well-being of farmers, long-term support for their families and communities, safe and healthy agricultural methods and outcomes, and an ample supply of quality coffees produced in a responsible way.

Barring some dramatic societal and cultural shifts, there will always be a consumer demand for coffee. However, ongoing environmental and natural threats in coffee-producing regions, such as the specter of coffee rust which is currently plaguing Central America, are serious threats to the long-term health of coffee production. Thus, it’s our responsibility to ensure a sustainable supply of quality coffees for years to come. That is the underlying goal of NCA’s sustainability initiatives – to ensure the future of the coffee industry.

NCA has brought sustainability into sharper focus in 2013, developing the following mission statement earlier this year:

Ensure that coffee is grown and traded in a way which ensures that future generations can be sustained economically, environmentally, and socially through its production.

This summer, NCA initiated a Sustainability Task Force of industry professionals to help develop potential goals and action points.

At the meeting, participants from the private sector, non-governmental agencies (NGOs) and non-profit groups met in NCA’s New York offices to start the ball rolling. The goal was to gather input and exchange ideas, and address several basic questions. What does sustainability mean to you? How can NCA help you achieve your sustainable development goals and objectives?

Going forward, the task force will convene periodically, seeking to define NCA’s role more precisely as a facilitator and center of knowledge for coffee sustainability. In the meantime, NCA is working on developing an online toolkit of information, knowledge and resources for those with questions and concerns about sustainable growth.

As a matter of policy, NCA plans to use its role as the U.S. coffee industry’s pre-eminent trade association to collaborate with industry leaders and promote the long-term sustainable growth and development of the coffee industry. NCA is committed to continuing to work to ensure that coffee production is carried out in a way that future generations can be sustained economically, environmentally and socially through its production, in line with NCA’s sustainability mission.

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Learning From the Job?

Everyone learns differently. Some prefer a classroom setting, while others like the hands-on approach. Just give me the facts, some would say, while others need context and analysis to get the whole picture. Hitting the books is one way to go, but learning on the job is another.

But, what about learning from the job? In a way, that describes the novel approach taken by NCA’s Coffee Summit. Rather than sit through long presentations filled with facts, figures – and, oh yes, charts – coffee professionals convene around current topics as well as issues they bring to the table. Rather than getting textbook pablum and theory, they come away with real-time solutions to real-life issues they face in their businesses each day.

How? By participating in an interactive, collaborative setting blended with expert insights into timely industry topics. This year’s Summit covers the hot-button topics of the exploding single-cup segment, the growing challenges of a sustainable supply chain, and techniques for managing risk in a volatile market.

Experts share their knowledge, but then the floor is open for professionally facilitated collaborative discussions. By sharing individual knowledge, experiences and perspectives, participants can turn the facts and figures into solutions and strategies. In other words, the learnings are filtered through the realities of business applications to yield practical, deployable solutions.

The process is deceptively simple, yet richly complex. Summit participants come from all sectors and niches along the supply chain, each bringing their unique body of knowledge, skills and approaches. Together, they can examine an issue from all angles – seeing how the problems trickle up or down or present themselves differently to professionals in different roles. In other words, the issue to a roaster may look quite different from the purview of a supplier or importer/exporter – and the solution to the problem may lie in seeing the problem in a different way.

On top of this collaboration on topical issues, the Summit also incorporates the effective technique of “open-space learning.” Dedicated sessions are set aside to enable participants to bring their own “big questions” to the table to be dissected and debated by the group. In this way, that elusive solution you’ve been seeking for a nettling problem may emerge from collaborating with other coffee professionals who see it from a different angle. And, in the professionally facilitated sessions, groups are put together in various ways – around common questions, at random, or to achieve a cross-section of roles. Others are self-directed by participants themselves.

Past experience has shown that the format really pays off. Among attendee comments was that the format offered a chance to interface with colleagues they wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk to – like a roaster sitting down with his supplier’s logistics pro, or a retailer chatting with his wholesaler’s packager. Participants found this intermingling to be a unique opportunity that was both an eye- and door-opening.

Other feedback noted the extraordinary networking the format allows. With multiple pairings among groups, attendees are brought into constant, rotating contact with others. One participant noted that it was the only meeting at which he got to meet every other attendee.

This year’s NCA Coffee Summit takes place on October 2 – 4 at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. Speakers include Ross Colbert, Global Strategist Beverages Sector at Rabobank International covering developments in the single-serve segment and Tracy Ging, Director of Sustainability at S&D Coffee, presenting on the challenges of a sustainable supply chain.

So, if you have a business challenge that needs fixing, you may want to jump in and learn from the job in this novel new approach to learning.

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Take a Number: Virtual Coffeehouse Visits Soaring

It’s been six months since NCA launched its new online coffeehouse concept. And, the customers are rushing in.

They come to immerse themselves in the spirit, ambiance and activities of the coffee experience and lifestyle. They engage in the many compelling elements that come with that cup of coffee – topical discussions, coffee trivia, recipes, original music, health benefits, cause-related ideas, “steals and deals” on coffee-themed items, contests and quizzes, and more. It’s an online platform for enjoying all of the life-enhancing qualities of coffee – the overall theme underlying the concept and echoed in the coffeehouse experience.

Reaching the coffeehouse is easy – it’s at Or, engage via Facebook ( or Twitter ( You’ll be in good company, as visitors, likes and followers are increasing by leaps and bounds.

Unique visitors to MyVirtualCoffeehouse are approaching the 100,000 mark, up over 1000% in just three months. Facebook “likes” have increased to nearly 12,000, up more than 75% since April. Twitter followers have surpassed 50,000, doubling just during the summer months.

On, you’ll find research on coffee and health, coffee-based recipes, games and contests, information on sustainable coffee production, quirky and useful coffee-themed items at good prices, coffee facts and folklore, and original music licensed specifically for the site. At the MyVirtualCoffeehouse Facebook and Twitter pages, you’ll find a wide variety of fun and intriguing images, memes, statistics, games, quizzes, trivia and videos, as well as fact-filled information on research on coffee and health, how coffee is grown, harvested and processed, brewing methods and techniques, coffee lore and legend, and other news and feature items.

Among the special features driven by social media is the recently completed nationwide “Everything Tastes Better with Coffee” recipe contest. The winning entries in each of the four categories are: Appetizer – Calypso Cashew Clusters; Entrée – Coffee Marinated London Broil; Dessert – Triple Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake Swirl Brownie Bites; and Beverage – Coffee Viennese. To get the recipes, visit

The latest feature is the #CoffeeGrad program, which is being conducted on Twitter. The program targets university students, giving them a chance to win prizes such as a gift card or textbook when they “follow” MyVirtualCoffeehouse on Twitter or post a “tweet” using the #iCoffeeGrad hashtag.

Stay tuned for more features currently in the works. Among them is the MyVirtualCoffeehouse eCookbook, which will collect winners’ and finalists’ recipes from the contest, and a coffeehouse-themed app for your iPhone or Android tablet.

As the numbers of engaged consumers soar, so will the interactivity and shared value of NCA’s online coffeehouse experience. So, be one of the growing crowd – log on, like and follow the MyVirtualCoffeehouse channels. It seems like the rush is on, so hurry up and join in.

Here’s how to do sot:

• Visit
• “Like” the Facebook page:
• “Follow” on Twitter:

See you in the coffeehouse!

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The Science Has It

Scientific studies on coffee and health emerge daily from laboratories around the world. It’s typically good news, with more scientifically confirmed associations between coffee and disease-fighting properties. It’s a big switch from ten or fifteen years ago, when negative studies continued to feed the old myths that have long been disproven.

What changed, simply put, is that science got better. Refined methodologies enabled scientists to account for and separate out the effect of other risk factors, like smoking and poor cardiovascular fitness. As coffee was isolated out of the mix, it became increasingly clear that the myths had come from other sources, or “confounding factors” as they’re called.

But even scientists are not perfect, it seems, and old habits can creep in. One recent study appears to have gone retro, without the cachet the term has in style and fashion. The study by scientists at the University of South Carolina, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, not only did not separate out typical confounding factors, but acknowledged their prevalence in the population they studied. In another departure from standard research protocol, they presented findings limited to a subgroup that was not previously identified for study. Instead, a subgroup was subsequently carved out because data, as applied to that group alone, could yield a reportable finding.

Out of Step
The study presented a finding of a 21% increase in mortality among subjects under 55 years of age who drank more than 28 cups of coffee a week. The research team confirmed, however, that the subjects were overweight or obese, had lower cardiovascular fitness levels, and tended to smoke. The scientists in fact stated that those who consumed higher amounts of coffee were more likely to smoke and had lower levels of cardiovascular fitness. They also state in the paper that, “The only marginally significant association of coffee consumption and all-cause mortality was observed in [overweight/obese] men … who consumed more than 28 cups of coffee per week.” No other group of coffee drinkers was at increased risk. The authors also state that “Smoking is likely to be one of the most important factors to cause residual confounding in this investigation.”

Not surprisingly, these findings are totally out of step with the vast preponderance of the scientific literature. Rather, the prevailing body of scientific evidence affirms that coffee is associated with a lower risk of dying at a young age. The largest-ever analysis of coffee and mortality found a clear connection between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of dying from any cause. The findings, published just last year, spanned all consumption levels among 400,000 women and men. Compared to men who drank no coffee, those who drank two to three cups of coffee each day has a 10% mortality reduction, while those who drank four to five cups daily had a 12% mortality reduction. In women, the mortality reductions were even more prominent, with those who drank two to three cups of coffee each day having a 13% mortality reduction, while those who drank four to five cups daily had a 16% mortality reduction. Such favorable mortality risk reductions held across all causes, as well as for specific causes including heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke and diabetes.

Additionally, a very recent meta-analysis assessed 23 independent studies and concluded that coffee drinkers are at a lower risk of mortality from all causes than people who do not drink coffee. A meta-analysis is a study that compiles data and subjects from multiple studies, and applies a fresh analysis to yield a wider and more comprehensive examination of the findings.

Media Scepticism
Interestingly, the news media covered the story with more than ample scepticism. Fifteen years ago, a study like this one would likely have sparked massive, negative media attention that drew upon the generally negative posture taken toward coffee and health. Instead, the tenor of the current coverage was notably even-handed, if not leaning positive. Typically, reporters zeroed in on the study’s methodological flaws and then segued quickly into the now well established findings linking coffee with significant health benefits.

Clearly, attitudes have changed along with scientific methodologies. What could have been a major media crisis around a scathing critique of coffee and caffeine instead turned out to be a nonstarter. Apparently, years of positive news about coffee and health had cultivated a widely accepted positive view of coffee.

Perhaps due to efforts set in motion by NCA with its 2003-07 Coffee Delivers! campaign, which took the emerging good news out of scientific journals and into public hands, audiences now appear to err on the side of coffee’s health benefits rather than proposed risks. Audiences appear now to view a negative study almost as a suspicious outlier rather than a mainsteam confirmation of bad news. The knee-jerk reaction appears now to support coffee rather than attack. Clearly, the ayes have it. And so does science.

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Caffeine on the Radar

Caffeine is on the radar at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a growing number of new products with added caffeine are hitting supermarket shelves. That’s on top of a wide array of energy drinks and shots that have already expanded the availability of caffeine and changed habits of use.

As a first step to exploring the implications, the FDA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences to hold a public workshop on the science and usage of caffeine. At the workshop last week in Washington, the presentations and discussions offered a deeper look into the issues as well as the FDA’s focus.

About 25 physicians and scientists gave detailed presentations touching upon the scope of caffeine intake, patterns and outcomes of use, physical and behavioral effects, safe exposure levels, and interactions with other compounds in energy products. Public participation was welcome, and several physicians, scientists and industry representatives offered questions and comments.

It quickly became clear that the meeting’s focus was on caffeine found in “unexpected sources,” such as the new foods to which caffeine is being added, which include jelly beans, sunflower seeds, marshmallows, pancake syrup, and even water. The variety was described by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in her introductory remarks as “mind boggling,” and she noted that energy drinks have “jolted the marketplace.” She also said that the FDA’s inquiry was not about caffeine in coffee and tea, but rather about “new foods where caffeine is added.” She also shared a particular concern for “vulnerable populations,” particularly children and adolescents.

The presenters offered detailed data and analyses of the various aspects of caffeine consumption being explored during the two-day meeting at the National Academy of Sciences headquarters near the National Mall. Among the topics covered were caffeine consumption levels and patterns, the pathways and impacts of caffeine on the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, data about emergency room visits triggered by energy product consumption by young consumers, potential interactions with other energy drink components such as taurine and carnitine, and areas where additional research could sharpen understanding.

Moving forward, the IOM will present the FDA with a transcript, or “proceedings,” ” of the meeting. The FDA had charged the IOM with conducting the workshop and delivering detailed proceedings without policy recommendations. The FDA will include the proceedings in deliberations on its caffeine initiative that could result in a new “guidance” document on caffeine. In light of evident Congressional pressure related to untoward outcomes from youth consumption of caffeine from new sources, the FDA is likely to act quickly this autumn.

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