Murray Carpenter «Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us»

Do you prefer coffee or tea? Do you like chocolate? Or maybe you like Coca-cola or Pepsi, or even some energy drinks? Do you know what is common between them? Caffeine. And that’s why Murray Carpenter was investigating this white powder substance over the years. And all his researches he put into the book «Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us». He published his boon in 2014.

Murray Carpenter is a well-known American journalist. He writes about science and life for many popular magazines like the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Wired, National Geographic.

Also, he works as a radio reporter for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Murray Carpenter holds a BA in Psychology (University of Colorado) and MA in Natural Sciences (University of Montana).

As a passionate coffee lover, Murray became interested in caffeine and its effects on our body and brain. That’s why he spent a lot of time discovering the researchers, taking about 70 interviews with scientists and workers of international companies that supply us coffee, tea, chocolate and our favorite coke. He also visited a coffee plantation, saw how the cocoa beans grow, enjoyed tea ceremony and visited the US laboratories.

While writing his book, he often consulted with various scientists and doctors. Among them were his brothers – scientist Andrew and cardiologist Charlie.

So, what Murray Carpenter talks about in his book?

The author begins his story with caffeine culture that originated at the home of chocolate – in South America. To be more precise – in the area of Sokonusko in Mexico.

We tend to think about chocolate as a modern luxury, some even call themselves “chocoholics” and satisfy their weaknesses. But even today’s most passionate chocolate lovers do not like it so much as residents of Izapa, Mayas and Aztecs, did. So they were really obsessed with cocoa.

If Sokonusko is the birthplace of cocoa, that China – the birthplace of tea.  Tea traditions were formed there nearly 5,000 years ago. Legend told that when Emperor Shennong boiled water for drinking, the wind brought some tea leaves into the kettle. After tasting this drink, the emperor noted its stimulating effect, and this was the beginning of the tea culture.

As Xie Yan Chen, tea expert and editor of Beijing Youth Daily, says, – “Our life is like tea leaves – with the passage of time it unfolds and changes”.

An interesting fact that all kinds of tea, except herbal, are made from one type of plant Camellia sinensis. We receive green and black tea from it – they only differ in methods of treatment. Green tea is made from unfermented tea leaves, black – from fermented, and oolong tea – from sub-fermented.

As for coffee, there is also an interesting history. Probably all heard that coffee was discovered by an ordinary shepherd in EthiopiaSome time ago he noticed that his goats, having eaten coffee beans, become more lively and started to jump. Intrigued, he tried these magical beans and felt the wave of cheerfulness.

Hundreds of years people used coffee beans in the raw form and the taste was not so wonderful as now. It took about 400 years of breeding and experimentation with ways of growing and processing of coffee beans to make coffee a fragrant and tender drink.

Currently, coffee is a popular beverage with many ways of preparation – from strong Brazilian «cafezinho» and sweet Colombian «tinto» to fragrant Italian «espreso» and passionate Spanish «cortado».

If we do not ask ourselves about what makes a good cup of coffee, but what makes a cup of coffee so good, then the answer is obvious – it’s caffeine.

That’s why, in his book «Caffeinated», Murray Carpenter talks about the discovering of caffeine, the researchers of its impact on our body and brain, and if there is a caffeine addiction.

This “drug”, which can cause an addiction and is no controlled by any authorities, is everywhere – and where you expect to find it (in coffee, energy drinks, tea, coke, chocolate), and where you do not even expect  to find it (in orange drinks, vitamin pills or analgesics).

Coffee and caffeine historically linked. Caffeine was first discovered by German scientists Fridlib Runge. He extracted the caffeine from coffee. This relationship between coffee and caffeine is important because the English word “caffeine” comes from the German word “coffee” – “Kaffee”.

While working on the book, Carpenter talked with many scientists and doctors. Among them was Roland Hryffits, pharmacologist, researching the action of drugs. He believes that despite caffeine is not officially recognized as a drug, it affects our mood, creates a physical addiction, and the rejection of it consuming can cause withdrawal symptoms. So a certain amount of people can have a caffeine addiction.

However, other scientists, including the psychiatrist Sally Satel say that people, who drink coffee and consume caffeine not for so-called “caffeine shock”, but mainly due to minor reasons – because of the taste, aroma, or for social interaction. Mainly we enjoy aromatic coffee, sweet tea, cool coke because it is delicious. And after that – because they can cheer us up.

Another cornerstone is the amount of caffeine in different products such as coffee, tea, and such popular drinks as Coca-cola and Pepsi. As we know, there is a natural caffeine in coffee, tea, cocoa. And there is natural (extracted from coffee beans or tea leaves) and artificially synthesized caffeine in coke and other drinks, energy bars and other products.

Though caffeine can be natural or synthetic, it can contain various impurities. They are both beneficial and harmful, and sometimes unusual. For example, synthetic caffeine has the strange feature – it can glow.

What is the usefulness of caffeine?

Many scientists debate on this issue, however, agree on one thing: the optimal dose of caffeine increases the efficiency of the muscles, reduces the feeling of tiredness and weakness.

American psychologist, Harris Lieberman, who studied caffeine for 30 years, says, that even in the most adverse conditions the moderate dose of caffeine may boost cognitive function, including attention, memory, learning and mood. This optimal dose of caffeine – 200 milligrams.

This is less than 3 standard doses of caffeine. 1 SDC is 75 milligrams of caffeine, which is approximately 1 portion of espresso (40 ml) or 340 ml of tea, 240 ml of  Red Bull, or 500 ml of Coca-Cola/Pepsi. So the optimal dose of caffeine, which will bring the benefit rather than harm, we decided.

Of course, we should individually choose the amount of coffee/tea, as someone should drink only a small quantities of drinks with caffeine. This includes the impact of caffeine on our sleep. Its influence on the human body varies greatly: some people can drink coffee until late at night and sleeping all night exactly as angels, while others can afford to drink coffee just before lunch, otherwise they can have insomnia at night.

A team of scientists from California discovered how caffeine affects sleep. And one of the main factors is human chronotype. As we know, there are 2 chronotypes – “larks” and “owls.” Therefore, mainly “larks” feel the increased heartbeat and insomnia at night.

The most common and best known therapeutic effect of caffeine as an “analgesic” to reduce headaches. In this case, its medicinal effect due to vasoconstrictor effect. Caffeine constricts the blood vessels in the brain and thus reduces the throbbing pain. This is why you may notice caffeine as a part of many analgesics and other medicines for cold and flu.

Another pleasant surprise for fans of coffee – caffeine can prevent depression. Harvard scientists made this conclusion in 2011. So, those people, mostly women, who drink about 3 cups of coffee a day are less likely to feel depressed.

Another study by researchers from the National University of cancer in 2012 showed that coffee consumption affects the lifetime. Three or more cups of coffee a day reduce by 10% the possibility of cancer. A joint study of Japanese and American scientists showed that the optimal intake of caffeine prevents Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

What about the negative effects of caffeine?

As stated by Roland Hryffits, excessive and frequent consumption of caffeine can cause addiction. Although large doses of caffeine do not cause hallucinations, as some drugs, but may badly affect the cardiovascular system.

Matthew Gan, instructor of physical therapy, based on his experience argues that caffeine can cause a decrease in performance in some people.

John Hreden from the University of Michigan studied the impact of caffeine on the anxiety. He found that high doses of caffeine can cause anxiety in almost any person.

In conclusion, we find that caffeine is harmful in large doses. If, however, consume coffee, tea or other caffeineted products in moderate doses, caffeine has a positive impact on our body and brain work.



So to all lovers of coffee and tea, fans of the non-fiction genre and researches, as well as those who care about health, I recommend to read the book “Caffeinated”.

The advantages of the book:

First, “Caffeinated” is an interesting and informative book. It tells us about the caffeine, its production and usage. Also it tells us about traditions of drinking the aromatic coffee, sweet tea, and tasting the delicious chocolate.

Secondly, the book contains many studies, interviews, and investigations. You will certainly enjoy the Carpenter’s narrative style that combines facts, and nice fiction.

Total mark – 4/5

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