Coffee has been revving people up since around the ninth century, probably first in Ethiopia, and it reached Europe in the 17th century. It is now the second most traded product in the world, after oil. The first coffee house opened in the UK in 1651 and today we drink more than 70 million cups of coffee every day.
With more than 21,000 studies on coffee's stimulant, caffeine, scientists have solved pretty much every mystery associated with the popular drink, aside from the point of the gingerbread cappuccino. So sit back and add the cream of that scientific knowledge to
your cuppa to maximise its benefits for...
Upper: Several studies have revealed that coffee is a significant source of antioxidants, which may help protect us against cancer and heart disease. In fact, Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than from any other dietary source. Harvard researchers have found that drinking more than four cups daily protects against gallstones and cirrhosis of the liver. This is thanks to coffee's surprisingly high levels of soluble fibre, which also helps explain your mid-morning need to visit the bathroom.
Downer: You can't get your five-a-day from Starbucks: "Coffee doesn't provide the same variety of antioxidants that fruit and veg do, and they're harder to absorb," says Professor Joe Vinson, who led a study at the University of Scranton in the US on antioxidants in food. And there's a bitter taste in the post-dinner cup: drunk within an hour of a meal, coffee reduces absorption of iron and immunity-boosting zinc, according to a study at the University of Lyon, France.
Upper: Coffee drinkers with little self-control can take heart: Harvard researchers tracked 128,000 people for 20 years and found drinking more than six cups of coffee a day didn't increase the risk of heart disease risk. Even better news: a study at Brooklyn College in the US found that men who drank four cups of coffee a day had a 53 per cent lower risk of dying of heart disease than those who never took a sip.
Downer: Caffeine makes your arteries constrict, raising your blood pressure. "However, if you don't have hypertension to begin with, the temporary blood-pressure increase isn't a problem," says cardiologist Dr Matthew Sorrentino. "Plus, the impact on blood pressure tends to be significantly lower in regular caffeine drinkers because their bodies become tolerant to its effects."
...your brain power
Upper: Beyond merely preventing you from nodding off in that 9am meeting, one to two cups of coffee before you begin a task can increase your short-term recall and alertness, according to a University of Arizona study. "Caffeine also has a mild mood-elevating effect," says Dr William Lovallo, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Oklahoma. "That's because it releases dopamine, which stimulates the area of your brain responsible for pleasure." In the longer term, caffeine has been found to slash your risk of developing Alzheimer's by as much as 60 per cent, and Harvard researchers have also found that drinking four cups a day can halve your risk of developing Parkinson's disease.
Downer: Drink more than four cups per day and your caffeine hit merely relieves withdrawal symptoms rather than lifting your mental abilities above the caffeine-free competition, according to researchers at the University of Bristol. To ensure the beans keep you
full of beans, limit yourself to just the two hits a day, and drink up 10 minutes before you have to engage your brain.
Upper: Caffeine's an appetite suppressant and it also turns up the calorie-burning heat of your heart rate and metabolism. "Drinking six cups per day, combined with exercise and a low-fat diet, can boost fat-burning by up to a fifth," says Catherine Collins, chief dietician at
St George's Hospital, London.
Downer: "Without the diet and exercise changes, there's currently no proof it has any significant effect on its own," says Collins. That delicious piece of Italian confectionary lurking on the saucer won't help, either.
Upper: Caffeine revs your nervous system, increasing heart rate and breathing, which primes your body for peak performance. And caffeine may also have a direct effect on your muscles. Experts believe it triggers extra calcium release in your muscles. "And this means stronger muscle contractions," says Dr Terry Graham, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
Downer: "Other chemical compounds in coffee appear to counteract caffeine's ability to impact your exercise session," says Graham. So to achieve these positive effects you're better off using caffeine pills or a caffeinated energy drink. Shame, the latte protein shake sounded pretty good.
...your aching head
Upper: Big night celebrating a personal best? Stick the kettle on. Caffeine increases the production of stomach acid, helping your body absorb pain-relief drugs more quickly, according to research in the Archives of Neurology.
Downer: Go cold turkey and your grey matter won't thank you. "Sudden caffeine withdrawal invariably causes headaches, so wean yourself off by cutting your intake by half every other day," advises Dr Frankie Phillips of the British Dietetic Association. Or swap beans: Arabica beans have about one per cent caffeine, while Robusta pack double that. "Roasting reduces caffeine content, so stronger tastes can actually mean less caffeine," says Zoe Wheeldon, from the British Coffee Association.
...your big race
Upper: Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport found that the equivalent of a single espresso before exercise can increase endurance levels by up to 25 per cent, by mobilising fatty acids and providing fuel for active muscles. So pack that thermos before your next race.
Downer: If you drink more than one cup of coffee immediately prior to exercise, you put a strain on your heart, according to Collins. "Stick to one cup."