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Monique Keiran: We depend on the other kind of black gold

Oil is the world’s most-traded commodity. This rating emphasizes our dependence on the substance. However, I’d say an altogether different commodity has played as important a role in the development of our society.

Oil is the world’s most-traded commodity. This rating emphasizes our dependence on the substance.

However, I’d say an altogether different commodity has played as important a role in the development of our society. This substance has been used throughout the western world for 700 years. It has fuelled technological, economic, political and social change. It is the world’s second most-traded commodity, but unlike oil, it is a renewable resource. And we are as addicted to it as we are to oil.

Where would we be today if our forebears hadn’t started drinking coffee?

Trading patterns would have evolved differently. The Industrial Revolution, built largely on shift work, might have stalled. An absence of cafés, coffee shops and company coffee rooms would have dramatically altered how people exchanged information and conceived new ideas. New technologies would have had to find alternative sources of caffeine to fuel late-night brainwaves, tinkering and testing.

Certainly, the Pacific Northwest would be short a suitable beverage to symbolize and fuel the region’s combination of laid-back alternative culture and driven, outside-the-box tech success. Tea is too genteel, and carries a lingering whiff of its former association with the British Empire and the opium trade. Beer, even with the success of micro- and specialty breweries, hasn’t entirely outgrown its proletarian roots. Soft drinks, even of the high-test, super-stimulant variety, are too juvenile.

No, only coffee, with crema or cream, and maybe with swirly designs in the foam, could have done.

And without the awesome coffee culture that has developed in the region, the Coffee and Tea Show would not be happening in Vancouver this week.

In honour of that event and Victoria’s own coffee scene, I present a smattering of coffee-related trivia to accompany your morning Americano or latte:

• About 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. That’s the equivalent of 15,000 cups per second.

• The caffeine high is part adrenalin rush, part dopamine buzz. Caffeine increases release of the feel-good hormone dopamine in your brain. It also plugs up the brain’s adenosine receptors. Your brain interprets the blockade as an emergency, and signals your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin. Voila: the pick-me-up.

• The average 250-ml cup of brewed coffee contains 85–110 mg of caffeine. About 130 cups of coffee in a day would deliver a lethal dose of caffeine. And a very full bladder.

• In the 18th century, addiction to coffee was considered a serious social problem. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata about it. The soprano part goes, “Father, don’t be so severe! / If I can’t drink / My bowl of coffee three times daily / Then in my torment I will shrivel up / Like a piece of roast goat.”

• Shrivelled goat meat aside, in 2009, Swedish researchers found that drinking coffee lowers the risk of breast cancer in women who have the gene variant that helps metabolize both estrogen and caffeine. The researchers also found that women with that gene variant who drink three or more cups of coffee daily tend to have smaller breasts.

• Caffeine’s protection against reproduction-related cancers carries across genders. In 2011, Harvard researchers reported that men who drink six or more cups of coffee every day were 60 per cent less likely to die from prostate cancer.

• However, it’s unlikely the International Olympic Committee would allow those coffee-quaffers to compete in the Olympics. The IOC bans athletes who test positive for more than 12 micrograms of caffeine per millilitre of urine. Drinking five cups of coffee in a day would be enough to disqualify you.

• Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours. That means if you ingest 220 milligrams of caffeine before you compete in the Olympics, 110 milligrams of caffeine will remain in your system six hours later.

Happy coffee-drinking.