Every few months, like clockwork, scientists emerge from their lair to inform us that something we have been doing for years will either kill us or make us live forever.
According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, coffee extends your life. Drink six or more cups per day, and you have a 10 percent lower risk of death if you’re a man — and 15 percent lower if you’re a woman. Or so the study, based on self-reported coffee consumption, claims.
I love coffee. I drink so much that, if this study is to be believed, I am functionally immortal.
It is reassuring for once to hear that possibly, just possibly, something you actually do is going to extend your life. Usually longevity requires uncomfortable concessions like onion sandwiches, push-ups or kale. And forget kale, as Cee Lo Green would say.
“To get back my youth,” Oscar Wilde wrote, “I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.” That’s how I feel. But coffee I can do.
Besides, if it weren’t for coffee, as someone wise once quipped, I’d have no personality whatsoever.
Coffee is a civilized vice. As a society, we have agreed upon certain mutually acceptable bad habits. To some extent, this is a crapshoot. “Here is a plant,” we say, “which, when treated and consumed in a certain way, produces a certain stimulatory or depressive effect on the system. Depending on the plant, this is either completely illegal, illegal behind the wheel, illegal in airports and discouraged around babies, or something we are bringing by the gallon to morning meetings! You’re welcome!”
If you are one of the fortunate plants, there are hip establishments on corners with counters and tables and low music playing, dedicated to your consumers. If you are not, agents of the law will pursue you over hill and dale, and the only people really enthusiastic about you will have ill-advised beards, bad teeth, unsound political opinions, or the tendency to blow over in high winds.
But we were right about coffee! It even extends your life! Possibly.
The trouble is that most coffee drinkers do not drink it in isolation while doing calisthenics and eating onion sandwiches. Even the study admitted as much. Coffee is the good habit of people with bad habits.
This I can believe.
You don’t drink coffee because you like it, exactly. At least this is not why you start. You start because at some point you found yourself surrounded by bright-eyed, bushy-tailed people who had never met a morning they disliked, and you were expected to engage with them. Who are these people? you asked yourself. Where do they come from? Haven’t they read all the studies about how staying up late is an indicator of higher mental functions? (You had just stayed up until 3 a.m. reading one of those. That was why this morning was so difficult.)
Yet somehow you were expected to have a coherent conversation with these Morning People. This was difficult. Someone had put all your words on the hard-to-reach shelves and you appeared to be talking through thick soup.
Then coffee came along.
If coffee were an official religion, I’d be high enough in the ranks of believers to be entitled to a strange hat. You can tell because of my jittery hands and tendency to salt my remarks with exclamation marks.
Come to think of it, maybe coffee is something of a religion. I have never seen someone weep in the throes of conversion, but I have seen the beatific expression of the man at the airport at five in the morning as he lifts the black and bitter brew to his lips.
Coffee has its temples — in airports, on street corners, even small household altars. Worshippers of Starbucks and worshippers of Independent Coffee Shops squint mistrustfully at each other in the street. Coffee has its rituals (the grinding, the dripping, the brewing, the foaming, the mysterious hissing) and its ritual exclamations (“Not before I’ve had my coffee!”). There are heretics (“I’ve switched to tea”) and evangelists (“Have you tried Black Blood of the Earth? It’s for people who like coffee but wish it contained more coffee!”) and all kinds of different approaches. Make it at home? Buy it in a shop? If so, which shop? Do you favor Starbucks and the New York Times, or Dunkin’ Donuts and USA Today? Are you a cappuccino drinker? Can you say “triple venti no-whip caramel macchiato” with a straight face?
And now we hear it leads to eternal life.
That was the only logical next step.