Coffee is delicious and fast-acting, puts a spring in your step, makes you want more of it and now science says it's good for you, unlike virtually everything else with those qualities.
However, does it have nutritional value?
Because if not, it is a herb, with power to influence your metabolism but not feed it, a bit like beating a horse to make it run faster.
In which case, whether it is 'good' depends on the horse's health. If the horse is young or healthy, probably it will run faster and no harm done (putting aside the question of cruelty to animals, of course).
If the horse is old, ill or decrepit then sure, beat it and it will run faster, but perhaps not for very long.
However, there's another question!
Does Chinese medicine think it's any good?
From the Chinese medical perspective, (which, if you've just arrived, somewhat bewildered, at this site is what you get here), it has one main nutritional quality:
That 'bitter' taste gives it some value, although there are many foods, real foods, that provide the bitter taste with the added advantage of real nutritional value from the Western scientific viewpoint. For example, cabbage and, in my opinion, Brussel sprouts.
The bitter taste tends to occur in poisonous foods to dissuade us from eating them.
That explains why many of us don't like Brussel Sprouts.
Mark Twain said:
"I don't like Brussel Sprouts, and I'm glad I don't like Brussel Sprouts, because if I liked them I'd eat them, and I'd just hate them."
Well, no, actually he didn't say that. He was talking about Spinach, but spinach is also slightly bitter, when steamed.
The bitter taste is, in Chinese medicine, essential for health. You don't need much real bitter-tasting food (as opposed to food that is artificially flavoured ) but you do need a little.
When you have the necessary balance of foods of all 'tastes', your Zang-fu organs function properly. That means they can keep you healthy.
Too much of any food containing one particular taste and your zang-fu organs get imbalanced, leading to susceptibily to ill-health. We've seen that with the tendency to obesity in many people who eat too much food of the 'sweet' taste.
A food doesn't always taste as you'd expect.
For example, some 'sweet' foods don't taste sweet at first.
Grains, in the form of bread, often need to be chewed awhile before the enzymes in your mouth release the sweet taste. Try chewing a piece of wholemeal bread for a minute or so, without swallowing, and you'll begin to taste sweetness.
For more on this see Nutrition.
But bitter tasting foods release their bitter taste quite early. That's a warning that too much of them may be poisonous.
Quite possibly but not always!
Why not always? To understand, see what coffee is described as doing in Chinese medicine.
Of these, the main property you don't want is Qi Stagnation.
(And even Qi Stagnation, being a necessary part of life, isn't all bad - see my book - below.)
Because it depletes Yin enabling Yang to appear to increase, often you gets signs of Yang energy, such as
That is no problem if you are young and fit because you've got plenty of Yin and Blood reserves and the extra boost from it makes you able to lift more weights, run a little faster and so on.
It might increase your Blood pressure a bit but that may not matter much if you regularly take exercise.
Well, there's the good news and then there's the bad news.
The good news is that you'll be able to do a little more, a bit faster. So if your mind is slowing down, you may become more alert.
The bad news is that you get these benefits by using up the fuel (your Yin and Blood reserves) faster. So the next day, or often later the same day that you took it, you'll feel weaker, exhausted and though what you need most is good sleep, you may be unable to sleep properly.
For some people, either because they are particularly sensitive to it , or because they are older, some of these disturbances can continue for several days. So your sleep may be affected for several nights following the coffee you drank.
But Hey! Didn't it taste good?
If, to keep alert and pushy at work, you depend on coffee then beware. You'll gradually need more and more of it to achieve the same effect. Increasing quantities of this fairly strong drug have to be metabolised, which is where your liver comes in.
When your liver organ is being tested by this (and probably by increasing quantities of alcohol to help you relax after all the caffeine) it will ultimately have an effect on your general metabolism and that affects the ability of your Liver (CAPITAL L) energy organ to keep your Qi moving smoothly.
So you become irritable, grouchy and intolerant. In effect, you acquire Liver Qi Stagnation.
This depends on
If your Kidney Qi (the main guardian of your Yin and Yang energies) is weak, then the less you take the better. This is because the drink will weaken your Kidney Qi, and you'll start to get signs of this, including noises in your ears (tinnitus), jitteriness, restlessness, shoulder and head tension, tiredness without being able to sleep and a host of other such problems.
The one upside is that you'll feel like Superman (or Superwoman) for about 4 hours, before you can fly no more, your Special Powers wilt and you need to lie down.
If you are already hot, then because coffee is slightly warming, it may make you hotter.
If your defensive (Wei) Qi is weak, then it will make you sweat and if you are usually chilly, sweating may be the last thing you need to do.
On the other hand, if your Stomach Qi is weak, the slightly warming effect it has may help you digest your food. Even better, because it helps to move Qi, you may find that it keeps your bowels moving.
So what about me, the author of this page? Do I ever drink it?
Yes I do, but not often.
And the night after I take it I sleep poorly. And the day after I take it, being someone from whom the years are now beginning to draw down my Yin and Blood, I am less alert, need to have a doze in the afternoon, and am more likely to get ill. And I get tinnitus for quite a few days.
Also, I then find myself thinking, I'd just love a coffee!
Ah! Now, chocolate. Well, nearly all the above applies, because chocolate is also bitter in its raw state. However, if you take chocolate, you almost certainly take it with milk ('milk chocolate') or similar. So taken like that it has more nutritional value (from the chocolate and milk fat solids) and is therefore slower acting and less insidious.
But if that's the case for chocolate, why doesn't it apply to coffee? Well it does. So a latte coffee or a cappucino (which both contain milk) is less intense and does provide some nutritional value (in other words it provides the means to boost Blood and Yin) and slows down coffee's's Yin-depleting actions.
But coffee is still strong, even with milk added, so if you take it, do so only occasionally, as a treat, and then only with or after a meal and no later than 1pm.
(Why 1pm? Because in the Chinese medicine 'clock' the Fire element, of which the Heart and Small Intestine zang-fu are main constituents, runs from 11am to 3pm, putting 1pm at its centre.)
Please note! The Kindle editions are less easy to read! Although the paper editions cost more, they are much easier to read and to refer back and forth to the contents and index.
Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:
Still only one comment, though personally I think this is my best book so far.
Published 1986 and, amazingly, still selling. Was apparently used back then by at least one acupuncture college to help students understand Chinese medicine!
No comments yet: just published. (Despite the lurid cover, it explains the five main types of phlegm and what works best for each type. I hope it's easy to read and will be much more useful than all the websites on the subject.)
If you live in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site (and of the books described below) works, click on Edinburgh Acupuncturist.
If you live elsewhere, click on BAcC.
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