Saturday, August 26, 2006

Something natural about Coffee

Naturally caffeine-free coffee has been found growing on trees, reports New Scientist. It has raised hopes of a cheap alternative to artificially decaffeinated coffees available on store shelves. Brazilian researchers grew 3,000 Ethiopian coffee plants in an effort to find low-caffeine coffee nuts. They found a plant containing 15 times less caffeine than commonly-used varieties. The discovery was reported in Nature magazine.
The caffeine-free coffee plants belong to a popular species, Coffea arabica, and yield superior quality beans.
This is said to be the first time that a decaf variety of Coffea arabica has been found. It is thought to lack the gene for an enzyme that is required to make caffeine.
Though caffeine is known and sometimes appreciated as a stimulant, it raises blood pressure, and disrupts sleep. There is a worldwide trend of healthconsciousness, so demand for decaf coffee is considerable. Over 10% of coffee consumed worldwide is said to be decaf.
But current processes for removing the caffeine from the coffee are expensive, and they may also damage the flavour. To keep the taste and remove the caffeine, carbon filters have to be used, but that’s even costlier. That’s why the caffeine-free plants may seem an attractive business proposition. People wondering about the taste of the coffee manufactured from these plants will have to wait: the plants aren’t grown yet. They also grow around 30 per cent slower than ordinary plants. That’s why researchers want to cross-breed them with ordinary varieties to produce a fastergrowing, yet caffeine-free variety.
This cross breeding will set back commercial exploitation of the ‘decaf bushes’ by a decade or more, giving other contenders a chance. A genetically-modified coffee plant is just a few years away from maturing.
Genetically modified plants may be completely caffeine-free, whereas the naturally bred Brazilian varieties have small amounts of caffeine. But people opposed to GM crops might prefer to wait for their cuppa.

Morning cup of sunshine into your lips.

/You can buy coffee powder in quite a few general shops and supermarkets (we are, of course, not talking instant here) and some places even sell beans. But to do so would be to deny yourself one of the simplest workday routes to sudden sensual pleasure. To step into a coffee roasting and grinding shop is to be assaulted by the strong seductive smell of fresh coffee, soothing, yet stimulating and dangerously liable to get you hallucinating about mornings in Paris with coffee and fresh-baked croissants or thick Turkish brews poured from brass ibriks.
That isn’t the only reason to buy from these places. Because coffee tends to be lumped with tea, we often forget there are some profound differences between the two products. Tea is the ideal grocery store product—light, dry, with a long (but not indefinite) shelf life and requiring little after purchase than adding it to hot water. Coffee is not the same. It needs careful roasting and grinding, and every stage in the process also decreases its shelf life.
Hence the coffee drinker’s dilemma: buy it in bean form and the coffee will last longer, but you’ll have to risk roasting and grinding yourself; buy it roasted and ground by a professional and it will soon go stale.
One common solution that does not work is keeping it in the fridge. As Harish Bijoor, marketing guru and coffee expert, tells us, ground coffee is highly hygroscopic, picking up moisture from the fridge and other odours along with it. “It absorbs every taint,” he says. “Don’t be too surprised to find notes of cabbage or tomato in your coffee. You might as well be drinking Dhansak!”
Real coffee enthusiasts will learn how to roast and grind properly and to do so every day. Bijoor gives us one tip for the amateur roaster: buy ‘peaberry’, a term for a technical defect where only one bean forms from a coffee berry instead of the usual two. Because round peaberry beans are more likely to be the same size, they will roast more evenly than unevenly sized regular beans.
You also have to be careful to grind just right—too coarse and water just slips through without brewing enough; too fine and it clogs to get overbrewed and bitter.
So direct is the effect of the roasting and grinding on the final brew that I’d argue they even outweigh where the coffee comes from. Of course, real coffee purists, who buy Blue Mountain direct from Jamaica and boast of drinking ‘kapi luwak’, made from the choicest coffee beans eaten, digested and excreted by civet cats, will never agree, but this column is hardly meant for them.
For most of us, who want a good cup without insane effort, you’re best off finding a good roasting and grinding shop, and buying from them in small quantities.
And to do this the answer is simple: head for the South—South Indian neighbourhoods, that is, like Matunga in Mumbai or Lake Market in Kolkata where you’ll find the small coffee roasters that have a high turnover so you know you’re buying fresh. In Mumbai the Philips Coffee & Tea chain of stores—South Indian owned, naturally—provides good coffee across the city, with many swearing by their Highlander coffee.
In South India itself, each city will have its preferred suppliers, like Leo in Chennai, Narasus in the Salem area and so on. Small, dingy, unpretentious and with none of frills of modern retailing like air-conditioning, they will still provide excellent fresh coffeeand that incomparable aroma in plenty.


Storing ground coffee in the fridge does not work. It will pick up moisture from the fridge, as well as odours
If you are not confident of your skills in roasting the beans right, go for peaberry beans as their round shape ensures they roast evenly
Still not sure about roasting coffee? Head to the South Indians neighbourhoods in your city and use the services of any of the small coffee roasters that have a high turnover

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fantacy at Midnight

After dinner destinations are changing. Whereas people would head out to a pub or a coffee shop in the past, today’s generation is busy indulging its sweet tooth, finds Priya Pathiyan
GLOBALLY, from Greenwich Village to Greater Kailash, desserts are the dish du jour. People with a taste for tiramisu might enjoy it at any time of the day, but the new trend is for people to frequent dessert bars into the wee hours of the night.
Even in New York, despite the vibrant club scene, places like ChikaLicious, Cocoa Bar and Daniel’s dessert lounge have become hangout hotspots, especially for the chocoholically-inclined.
“Today, there’s a greater emphasis on fun conversation, which you can’t really indulge in if you’re in a noisy pub or disco. My friends and I prefer to hang out at the nearest parlour, gorging on pastries or icecream,” says 22-year-old Khyati Daryanani from Bangalore. And whether it is the simple pleasures of a brownie with ice-cream or an elaborate slice of decadence made from imported ingredients, Indians are increasingly familiar with all kinds of desserts. Across the country, people are pampering themselves with mousses, cheesecakes, mud pies, crème brûlées and much more. Observes Vijay Arora, owner of the hugely popular Gelato in Delhi, “Although our ice-creams like Ferrero Rocher and Belgian Chocolate are best-sellers, people love our sorbets, especially the kiwi one, and fruit sundaes as well.”
Dessert bars are coming into their own. Bunty Mahajan, proud proprietor of Deliciae, a dessert café in Bandra, Mumbai, says, “As of now, there are just a few places like ours that specialise only in desserts. Our clientele is varied, from 18-year-olds to the older agegroup, but they are all diehard dessert fans.”
Management consultant Chaitanya Mule admits, “My wife and I have decided to dedicate one night a week for sheer gastronomic indulgence. We treat ourselves to a three-course dessert meal, starting with something like a flaky pastry (apple or peach pie) with ice cream, going on to a cheesecake and ending with something extremely rich and chocolatey. The rest of the week, we watch our diets and work out, but this ritual is sacred!”
A dessert aficionado herself, Kainaz Messman, chef and owner of popular South Mumbai dessert bar, Theobroma, agrees: “Eating in moderation is the key. If you have a balanced diet and lead an active life, a dessert (or two!) will do no harm. They make you feel better instantly and they are much cheaper than therapy!”
And speaking of cheaper, the latest concept of a ‘dessert date’ suits people’s pockets better than a formal dinner. Anka Radakovich writes in the New York magazine: “The dating pecking order tends to go like this: dinner, drinks, coffee. Anything less than dinner tells your companion you’re less willing to invest, in one sense or another. But the dessert date, a trendy new courting ritual, sends no such message. It’s still cheap – without seeming that way.” Closer home as well, the younger generation has discovered the joys of pigging out in tandem, without worrying about the price tag. “My girlfriend and I meet at the dessert café almost every night. This way, we don’t spend a bomb, and are able to enjoy some cosy time. And plus, there’s chocolate!” enthuses collegian Neil Sequeira.
Getting your just desserts just got more exciting!

Start your Day with Coffee

Coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting on the brains prefrontal cortex, according to a new study.Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how coffee activates different areas of the brain in 15 volunteers.
Caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effect on areas of the brain, explains Florian Koppelstdtter, who carried out the research with colleagues at the Medical University at Innsbruck, Austria. Prior to testing, the group fasted for four to six hours, and abstained from caffeine and nicotine for at least 24 hours. Then they were then given either a cup of strong coffee containing 100 milligrams of caffeine or a caffeine-free placebo drink. After 20 minutes all participants underwent fMRI scans while carrying out a memory and concentration test. A few days afterwards the experiment was repeated under the same conditions but each received the other drink.

Executive memory
During the memory tests, participants were shown a fast sequence of capital letters, then flashed a single letter on a screen and told to decide quickly whether this letter was the same as the one which appeared second-to-last in the earlier sequence. They had to respond by pressing a Y for yes or N for no button. The group all showed activation of the working memory part of the brain,” Koppelstdtter explains. “But those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas are involved in ‘executive memory’, attention, concentration, planning and monitoring.” This type of memory is used when, for example, you look up a telephone number in a book and then mentally store it
before dialling, he adds.

Koppelstdtter stresses that the study is preliminary and that he has yet to discover how long the memory effects last or what other effects coffee has on brain function. He adds that the longterm impact of caffeine use is also an important consideration. But he says the study shows that coffee has an effect on specific brain regions involved in memory and concentration that tallies with anecdotal evidence of the drink’s pickme-up effect.
Caffeine is known to influence adenosine receptors which are found throughout the brain on nerve cells and blood vessels. It is thought that the drug inhibits these receptors and that this excites the nerve cells in the brain. This may be the mechanism involved, suggests Koppelstdtter.
The research was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

All things nice

Coffee doesn’t affect your heart

That hot (or cold) cup of coffee does not increase the risk of a heart attack.
Go ahead and have that second cup of coffee. A recent study shows that heavy, long-term coffee drinking does not raise the risk of heart disease for most people. However heavy coffee drinkers who tend to smoke and drink alcohol more often have chances of heart attacks, which followed 128,000 men and women for as long as 20 years, showed that drinking filtered coffee did not raise the risk of heart disease.
"We believe this study clearly shows there is no association between filtered coffee consumption and heart disease," said Esther Lopez, an instructor in the School of Medicine at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain, who worked on the study. This lack of effect is good news, because coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world.
There is no link between heart disease and how much caffeine people drink. But this does not mean that everyone can overload with impunity. "We can't exclude the association between coffee consumption and the risk of (heart disease) in small groups of people," Van Dam said in a statement.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that
people with a "slow" version of a particular liver enzyme gene had a higher risk of heart disease if they drank more coffee, compared to those with a fastmetabolising version. Liver enzymes metabolise coffee and many other compounds.
The researchers found more than half the women and 30 per cent of men who drank six
or more cups of coffee a day were also more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and use aspirin, and were less likely to drink tea, exercise or take vitamin supplements.
Once these factors were accounted for, there was no difference in heart attack risks between the light and heavy coffee drinkers.