Would I Trade My Kid for a Cup of Coffee?

by Jeanine Adinaro on July 5, 2010

in Chinese Culture, General Health

Well not just one cup of coffee- he's a pretty cool kid

Quite without intent, it seems I have become a connoisseur of blogs, especially those on the topic of herbs and alternative health care. I guess it goes with the territory.

For most blogs about Traditional Chinese Herbal therapy (TCH) the intended audience are acupuncture and herbal practitioners. I’m not going to sugar coat it here, most of what’s written on these blogs are astoundingly boring. Maybe it’s the nature of the medicine, I don’t know.

So imagine how excited I got when one of the TCH bloggers posted about what is possibly my very favorite beverage in the world, and quite frankly one of the most exciting substances on the planet, coffee. And though well written and chock full of information, the post was still boring- no offence Eric. Let’s see if we can’t punch it up a bit.

Coffee drinking habits in the west being what they are, praise the creator of your choice, have inspired numerous scientific inquiries as to its curative effects. Several modern practitioners of Chinese medicine, in China no less, have spent some time talking about coffee in the language of TCH. Possibly the most poetic description:

“It [coffee] arouses the spirit, strengthens the heart, and disinhibits urination”

Certainly it arouses my spirit. As a note, in this context, the mention of coffee strengthening the heart probably refers more to that thing that gets broken when love is lost rather than that muscle so often offended by greasy fast-food. Though this mention:

“Other research has shown that coffee is good for the cardiovascular system. Women who drank one to three cups of java a day reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 24 percent, according to the Iowa Women’s Health Study that tracked 27,000 women for 15 years”

gives me pause to reconsider.

I love the fact that coffee has become a topic of conversation in TCH for two reasons. First, it shows that TCH is a dynamic, evolving tradition. It’s not stuck in a rut from 3,000 years ago. Coffee has been used as a medicinal for its caffeine providing property for generations in the west. Effective for migraines, combating drowsiness and even aiding in respiratory distress, caffeine is now chemically synthesized and added to pharmaceuticals. Further, there are no shortage of studies concluding coffee as a beverage can positively impact lifelong health. The lack of ancient discussion on coffee in TCH texts has much more to do with cultural significance, i.e. none whatsoever, in ancient China. But as the beverage consuming habits of the East are influenced by the west, again, praise the creator of your choice, and coffee becomes culturally relevant, and TCH begins to incorporate it.

Second, coffee is quite frankly the easiest substance for westerners to relate to on the topic of how it’s processed makes a lot of difference. Let me explain. In TCH, great discussion is devoted to how to prepare herbs. And while different herbs have different ranges of acceptability in terms of growing conditions, harvest time, cooking duration, and so on, fundamentally, if you do it wrong, what you think you are going to get is not going to be what you get. Let’s face it, some coffee is just plain yucky and provides almost none of the spirit arousing properties we coffee drinkers so desperately love. I’m not going to name names- you know who you are and why must you wander into my mother’s pantry so frequently? Similarly, if Chinese herbs are mismanaged in their production, they can be disappointing in their effects.

Further, just because a substance might contain coffee, doesn’t mean that what you are getting is coffee. I don’t care what the commercials imply, the McCafé Caramel Frappé is not coffee. If the “ginseng root” you bought at the big-box pharmacy was $10 for a one month supply, don’t expect life changing results. What you probably bought was the dust scraps collected off the floor of the ginseng factory with lots of fillers added not what any self respecting herbalist would call ginseng.

This brings me to my advise for the day: Drink ’em if you got ’em.

As an aside, if any of you know of or read another blog about Chinese herbs that is intended for the non-practitioner audience, I would love to know about it. I have looked and found no other such blog. Plenty of blogs about herbs for the herbalists among us, but not so much focus on the lay people. I can’t be the only one that thinks this is a good idea, can I?

Photo by Ballistick Coffee Boy

I realize it’s not the norm to dedicate a blog entry the way one might a book, but when have I ever fallen into the box labeled norm? This blog entry is dedicated to my best friend, who basically introduced me to the glory of coffee. If I was in San Fran today, I would so be buying her a cup.

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