A mid-life convert to coffee

By TIM KALICH,

I’m a sucker for stories about the health benefits or detriments from the food and drink we put into our bodies.

If someone reports that rutabagas will forestall aging, ward off cancer or strengthen the heart, I might not run out and buy a bushel of them, but I’ll think about it.

Thus, I was pleased to read earlier this week about a new British study that comes down strongly on the side of the health advantages of coffee.

As with a lot of indulgences, the research on coffee has been mixed over the years. Some studies have warned that it can damage the digestive tract, cause high blood pressure and could even be a carcinogen due to the roasting process. Others have touted coffee’s apparent link to lower rates of diabetes, stroke and liver cancer.

The British study, which involved nearly half a million adults, found that not only is a moderate amount of coffee good for a person, but even heavy drinkers — those who consume eight or more cups a day — can expect to live longer than those who abstain.

No, Starbucks did not pay for the study.

My own relationship with coffee has been running hot and cold.

As a child, there were two things that I liked best about my grandmother on my father’s side. She made a delicious spiced cupcake, and she had no qualms about serving children coffee, as long as it was dosed with a healthy portion of milk and a spoonful of sugar.

That was the only place, however, where I was so indulged. Thus, I never really got hooked on coffee, using it only as a stimulant to say awake when cramming for tests in college or when driving a long distance at night.

For decades my go-to beverage at breakfast was milk — a preference that a former mentor and regular coffee drinker considered juvenile.

Making a  pot of coffee, or even half a pot, seemed like too much trouble to me, not to mention terribly wasteful, as the most I had the time or inclination to consume would be a cup and no one else in my house was a coffee drinker.

Then came the invention of the Keurig.

My daughter, by this time grown and married, bought one for her house. When we’d come to visit, I would put in a K-cup and have one.

Then she gave me my first Keurig for Christmas a few years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

If you drink a lot of coffee, a Keurig or any of the other single-cup brewers is not particularly economical, costing about 50 to 75 cents a cup, depending on what brand of coffee you buy. There are other objections, too. The coffee snobs — the folks who grind their own beans and use only filtered water in their French presses — frown on the quick-brewing system’s gustatory quality. The environmentalists also tsk-tsk over adding all those little plastic cups to the landfill.

For a while, my frugal nature and Earth Day guilt led me to try a reusable K-cup filter, but it proved unsatisfactory. The grounds would leach into the coffee cup below and clog the Keurig’s needle above. Eventually, those clogs did in my first Keurig. I’ve been using the throwaway cups ever since, and no clogs.

I don’t buy the strong stuff. A light roast is my preference. I have two current favorites —– the McCafe Breakfast Blend and the Starbucks Veranda Blend Blonde.

Even with the convenience of the Keurig, I have stayed basically a cup-a-day drinker, adding enough half-and-half to the coffee to give it a rich, caramel color but avoiding sweeteners except at my daughter’s house, where she always has a French vanilla creamer in the refrigerator that is hard to resist. The artery-clogging dairy product probably cancels out some of the coffee’s benefits, but it definitely enhances the flavor.

My morning routine goes like this. After finishing a shower, I head to the kitchen, turn on the Keurig, remove and throw away yesterday’s K-cup, pop in a replacement, close down the lid and let it do its stuff while I finish getting dressed. Most days, breakfast is a bowl of instant oatmeal garnished with chunks of fresh apple.

The quick, no-fuss simplicity is perfect, and the aroma from the freshly brewed coffee gets the day off to a good start.

My wife, Betty Gail, has long enjoyed the smell of coffee, but she never developed a taste for it, preferring hot tea if she felt the desire for a warm beverage.

The mid-life crazies, though, have been settling in, and she’s been experimenting a little, especially if we’re in a restaurant that has the air-conditioning turned up too high. She’s up to a sip or two.

I don’t expect she’ll derive much longevity out of that. We’ll have to wait for the next study and see.