Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Happiness Effect

If you're like me, and I really hope you're not, then you probably think that too much coffee is really bad for you. And if you are knocking back a pot or two of the stuff a day, you're probably right. But like a lot of folks, I tend to have a cup or two in the morning, and then another in the mid-to-late-afternoon. And I am not terribly good company when either of these things don't happen. So I've been operating under the assumption that a) I'm pretty much a coffee junkie, b) it was bad for my heart and my overall health in general. Turns out, I was wrong - about the b) part that is.

Several recent studies have concluded that coffee does elevate your blood pressure for a little while, but only by a few points, and that it quickly returns to normal (unless you have blood pressure problems to begin with). Moreover, filtered coffee does not lead to abnormal heart rhythms, stiffen your arteries, or raise your bad cholesterol numbers, despite what you may have read in the past. Furthermore, in moderation, coffee may in fact improve cognitive function, help the overall health of your heart, lower your risk of gallstones and colon cancer, and even improve the performance of endurance athletes. Plus, a Harvard Nurses Study recently revealed that a group of 50,000 women tracked over a period of 10 years experienced reduced levels of depression when regularly drinking coffee. They dubbed it "the happiness effect". Now I have about as much chance of being an endurance athlete as I do of being a woman, but they had me at lowered gallstone risk. Of course it is worth noting that if you regularly drink alcohol to excess, you negate all gains of drinking coffee. It's always something, isn't it?

Anyway, coffee has seen a major resurgence in this country the last few decades, and a great cup of joe is never too far away. Sure you can hit a Starbucks or other chain just about anywhere, but for money, there's nothing like a great local coffee-shop. And where there are great local coffee-shops, timeshare rentals cannot be too far away.

San Francisco, for example, has a robust coffee scene. There are so many great neighborhood java joints to choose from, but my favorite is Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store in the North Beach (Little Italy) part of town. Don't let the name fool you, this is a fantastic café and the coffee is out of sight. They haven't sold cigars in years, but back in the day, Jack Kerouac and the other beats hung out here and smoked and drank the night away. Of course Kerouac more or less drank himself to death, and as a result, didn't reap any of the heart benefits of Mario's brew. Rent a timeshare at The Inn at the Opera and take a nice evening stroll in this lively neighborhood.

For something completely different, try the southern hospitality of Charleston, SC. Now I know what you are thinking, a good cup of coffee in the Old South? Well, the fact is that coffee was first introduced to the New World in Jamestown, VA. And when war broke out with the British - and drinking their tea was out of the question - sipping coffee became a downright all-American thing to do. Charleston boasts some of the finest Revolutionary War era dwellings in this country, and some dynamite coffee spots. My personal favorite is the East Bay Meeting House in the French Quarter. Try a timeshare rental at the Church Street Inn. It puts you close to everything you want to see in this magnificent town, and never too far from a good cup of coffee.

Of course no tour du café would be complete without a stop in my old stomping grounds, Seattle. That's right, the home of Starbucks, Seattle's Finest, and about a million other coffee brands is now also home to a timeshare resort: The Camlin (WorldMark Seattle). This resort puts you right in the heart of the lively 6th and Pine shopping district. And if you find yourself in the famous Pike Place Market, and you should, be sure to check out the original Starbucks location, where it all got started back in 1971.

Well, I am off to try a cup of the world's most expensive coffee. Kopi Luwak coffee has been known to fetch as much as $160/lb! Why so pricey you ask? Well the Luwak, or Asian palm civet, is a ruminant peculiar to Indonesia, where it likes to eat ripened coffee berries (they are not really beans). Some while later, it wanders off into the woods, and "deposits" them. Gatherers then collect the berries, which are entirely intact, but with the outer hull completely removed by the civet's intestinal tract. They are then dried, roasted, and ground into one very expensive coffee. So I am going to pay about $12 bucks for a cup of coffee that was pooped out in some woods half way around the world by an animal I've never even heard of. I seriously gotta get some help.

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