Our Cup of Coffee May
Be Polluting the Pacific
Among life’s little pleasures, few beat your favorite brew in the morning. If you’re not into tea, and it’s too early for a pint, then a cup of coffee is just what you need to get out and change the world. Or forget it and go back to bed. Either way, there’s some good and bad news about this precious little rite of yours out now.
The good news is, coffee is not that bad for you. That probably won’t settle the argument about its merits, started when it was introduced in Europe in the 1700s. But there is such a thing as to over drinking the stuff, and we’re doing it. What’s bad about it is that it’s adding acidity to the Pacific Ocean.
Talking about taking away those life pleasures, our healthier-than-thou society has already successfully subdued the once proud, now cast away contingent of smokers. We fear they’ll come for our coffee next. But we’re being paranoid, of course, for every day, this commodity moves markets and gazillions of dollars.
Still, as our voracious appetite and exploding population have been rapidly depleting the planet’s food resources, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to imagine a future when consumption of certain beans and grains would be subjected to socioeconomic conditions. In other words, coffee may be costing more as we have refill after refill of it.
BLACK, NO SUGAR
For centuries, the various blends of tea were the hot drink of choice in eastern societies, and the habit was quickly disseminated among the European invaders of Asia of the first millennium. The proverbial ‘break for tea,’ identified with the British Empire, for example, can be traced back to the wars of conquests of the 1500s.
It was when the ships of the Discovery Era came across the tropical lands below the equator, though, that coffee suddenly began to be mentioned in diaries, letters and traveling logs. Soon enough, it was lauded for its supposedly medicinal qualities too, for treating coughs, as an aphrodiasiac and also, in the same hushed breath, for venereal diseases.
Brazil has been its biggest producer for over a century now, but coffee was already known in the north of Africa and in some Asian nations even before it reached Europe. Italians and the French were early adopters, but in the U.S. it only took hold around the early 1900s and Ted Roosevelt’s generally credited to have championed it.
It’d take almost another century until the much weaker blend that Americans preferred was slowly replaced in popularity by the Italian-style expressos and cappuccinos. It should be also added that perhaps no other popular sub-culture is as identified with coffee than the grudge movement of the early 1990s in Seattle and the Pacific northwest.
A BITTER PACIFIC
Which brings us to the surprising research that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducted in the Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon. As it turns out, the NOAA found ‘elevated levels of caffeine at several sites’ of the ocean discovered by Vasco
Nunez de Balboa in 1501, and named by Ferdinand Magellan, both Portuguese navigators.
Curiously, levels of caffeine are higher in less populated areas than those near west coast cities. That means that, while big water treatment plants are effective at processing waste before it reaches the ocean, septic tanks, the kind used at state parks, are not so efficient at containing pollution.
The study, the first of its kind, points to the fact that, although caffeine per se is not a significant agent of ocean acidification, it may be a marker for more severe substances that may be polluting the water. As it’s found in food and beverage products, it may signal additional pollution such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.
A last warning for those decaf drinkers out there: you’re not off the hook either. For all the caffeine that’s extracted from coffee (that should be an oxymoron but it’s not), is resold to be added to soft drinks and some medicine products. So, even if you don’t drink your coffee to be alert (and, honestly, why bother?), you’re still part of the ‘big scheme of things.’
* Brews & Brains