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Shake, rattle and roll — it’s Caffeine Awareness Month

More than 100 million people in this country can’t start their day until they’ve had their jolt of caffeine — java, tea, hot chocolate or even a fizzy energy drink. Here’s a primer on the good, the bad and the ugly of our beloved beverages, especially coffee, since in this country, Arabica rules.

In the beginning . . .

An apocryphal story suggests that coffee was discovered in Eastern Africa in an area now called Ethiopia. A goat herder, Kaldi, noticed his goats were acting skittish after munching on berries from a nearby bush. Kaldi tried sampling the berries himself and felt buzzed and rejuvenated after the snack. News spread about this energy-

enhancing food, and monks started sun-drying the berries and exporting them to distant monasteries. They soaked these berries in water, ate the fruit and drank the liquid, stimulating them for extended hours of prayer. The beans made their way to the Arabian Peninsula and were first cultivated in what is now the present country of Yemen.

In 1819, Friedrich Ferdinand Runge, a German chemist, isolated a compound found in coffee and called it kaffein, translated in English as caffeine. Caffeine, which is found in assorted varieties of beans, leaves and fruit of plants, acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes certain insects while stimulating the central nervous system of humans.

Use your bean

Now the bad news. Long-term excessive consumption of caffeine can cause a host of problems, from panic attacks and sleep disorders to muscle twitching, headaches and heart palpitations. While caffeine could increase a person’s ability to focus, it can also impair short-term memory. And a word of warning to pregnant women — standing advice, moderation, as studies have linked high doses of caffeine intake to increased risk of miscarriage.

The jolt index

Although tea typically contains more caffeine than coffee, the brew is usually more diluted, so the latter packs a more powerful caffeine punch. A cup of percolated coffee contains between 80 and 105 milligrams of caffeine per serving, espresso about 100 milligrams, black tea 50 milligrams and its green counterpart weighing in at only 30. Red Bull is 80, Coke Classic 34 and chocolate milk a lightweight at 10 milligrams.

Perks of drinking coffee

Today, coffee is the world’s most popular beverage, and sales of specialty coffees in the USA have reached the multibillion-dollar level. Coffee has infiltrated our culture — office coffee breaks of the 1960s have exploded into coffee klatches, coffee-and-conversation sessions, coffee conventions and coffee “mafias.” And coffee has become one of the most scientifically researched foods ever.

Let’s not get your hopes up that coffee will soon reign as the new “superfood,” but after decades of debate, it is now considered to have health benefits when consumed in moderate amounts (two to four cups daily).

Studies have shown a link between coffee and a decrease in the occurrences of colon cancer, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson’s disease. It has been heralded as having greater anti-oxidant attributes than green tea, and can help suppress an acute asthma attack.

Research also suggests that coffee drinking may be protective against the development of Type II diabetes; liver, lower bowel and ovarian cancer; and finally, a recent study showed that people who drank coffee in their midlife had much less risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as they aged.

There’s only one thing better than a cup of steaming joe — a fresh baked scone to accompany it.

Dried Cherry Pecan Scones

  • 1 cup of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 4 ounces of sweet cream butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup of cane or Turbinado sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup of milk (I prefer almond or hazelnut)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup of pecans, halved

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Crumble the butter into the mixture until little pea-sized balls form. Add the sugar and continue to mix well. Add the milk, extract and half of the beaten egg. Blend the cherries until a soft, sticky dough forms. Turn onto a floured board and knead for a couple of minutes. Make two flat circles, about 3/4 inches thick. Cut into quarters. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Top with pecan halves and brush with the remaining beaten egg. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.
kitchenshrink@san.rr.com, www.FreeRangeClub.com.