Many who know me well can confirm that my day begins with the right turn if accompanied by a nice cup of coffee.
If this does not happen for some reason related to forgetfulness or lack of time for the ritual that sees me filling the vintage Moka in the kitchenette and sipping my favorite drink in peace and before carrying my dog in a hurry, something will definitely be wrong. This is not my consciousness speaking, simply than that (I recognize by myself the complexity in my being:-) it is math.
Today the question came in mind was about this strong desire and habit I have for coffee. Which of the two definitions has the best on the other?
Well, speaking on physiological terms, mine is actually a dependence on the molecules and the stimulating principles of coffee. Let’s make some light on them.
Caffeine is a mildly addictive stimulant found in abundance in coffee beans. Like them hot cocoa, the Guaranà sodas of Brazil and all the drinks marketed as Colas (yes, probably you just had your shot of the day) including the most reachable Coca-Cola – flavored or still, doesn’t matter – and Pepsi, just arriving on Maté tea (very common in South America) are the most common stimulating liquids at our disposal. Like capsaicin (an active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum), caffeine belong to the family of alkaloid that according to my dictionary is “any of a class of nitrogenous organic compounds of plant origin which have pronounced physiological actions on humans. They include many drugs (morphine, quinine) and poisons (atropine, strychnine)”.
OK, so if I am reading and understand clearly the words in front of me now, technically speaking I am a caffeine addicted! 🙂 This means, practically that wherever caffeine can be at disposal my body, my senses needs it to establish a sort of equilibrium. So, every time I’ll share a moment of intimacy with a mug full of this substance it will be make my senses and cognitive processes able to recall that I am a human being, that is 7 o’clock, that I need to work, need to think on my responsibilities while doing it the best way I can, and continuing on this path of “to do list” until I arrive at the point that I am a kind person but not stupid, that I act with others how I want others will refer to me (in fact this is a desire more than a commandment) and so on and so forth.
But let’s return back to the alkaloid aspect. Producing this active substance requires precious nitrogen that might be – otherwise – be used for growth, so coffee trees make the most of their investments through what amounts to caffeine-recycling program. Always remember that trees and most of the plants are smart being, resource savings, green economizers and beautiful integrated systems. They assume a natural role of “qualitative engineers” if you think on their role to assure a fine product, the one the majority of us know well enough to choose coffee at the bar, during their breaks and free time as a clinging element to a good conversation or a fascinating book. I’m sure you understood my point.
Caffeine is manufactured only in the most vulnerable tissues, and later transferred to the most important place of all, the seeds. The process starts inside young leaves, where it help fend off insects and snails that prey on its tender foliage. At the time those leaves grow and strengths, the plant withdraws much of the caffeine and redirects it where it is more needed: flower, fruits protection and seeds development. What a great work organization!
Once caffeine reaches the seeds it stays put, bound up in the cells of the endosperm. In fact, this CNS (central nervous system) stimulant does more than fend off attackers and kills beetle larvae, it also prevent germination when it makes slugs writhe interferes with cell division in plants. Why so? to have a successful sprouting coffee needs to get its tiny root and shoot away from the caffeinated part of the beam. This accomplishment is allowed by a rapid retention of water that nourish cells swelling and pushing the growing tips outward. True and effective grow begin after this sort of “escape” from bean.
Once that take place, something more interesting occurs: as the seedling gets bigger, caffeine leaks from the dwindling endosperm and spreads into the surrounding soil. This is the moment where it appears to curb the growth of nearby roots and stop other seeds from germinating. But, wait a second, maybe you had the chance to see this reddish berry of the plant…
Well, this is a miracle of the nature when it occurs, cause it produces the systemic highest concentration of caffeine, so to be able to fend all the hardiest attackers!!! You might be curious enough to ask yourself how may of these “attackers” are attracted from this amazing plant. I get you:-) Well, in total, more than nine hundred species of insects and other pests target coffee trees and is very logical think that this plant came up with some strategies in response to these offenses.
When you’ll have your future espresso I hope you remind all this story of active molecules, growth principles, struggle to sprout and get established, silent wars…
Cause in evolution every bit, even the most tiny or unseeing one, is fundamental. And when we’ll become able to recognize and (cor)relate it is even more surprising how, when, why it has a place in the puzzle of science and life itself.
Have a great day, and keep passionate on science 🙂
P.s. Even the tendency to be passionate on coffee I think that’s OK. At least for the moment…