Vice Squad
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Caffeine Buzz at National Geographic

Caffeine is the subject of this month's National Geographic cover story (written by T.R. Reid, with photos by Bob Sacha), and it is chock full of interesting tidbits. Caffeine from coffee was first isolated in 1820, and eighteen years later, it was determined that the stuff in tea was the same darn chemical -- though a 12-ounce cup of coffee, with 200 milligrams, contains four times as much caffeine as am 8-ounce cup of tea. At 145 grams per year, Finns lead the world in caffeine consumption. In the European Union, beverages that contain more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per liter must have a warning label about the high caffeine content: coffee generally would qualify, but most soft drinks do not. "Black tea, green tea, and oolong are all made from the same plant; the differences in taste and color come from their processing." While caffeine is an addictive, psychoactive drug, "the consensus view seems to be that the world's most popular drug is not dangerous at moderate levels of consumption -- up to 300 milligrams (one to two small -- 12-ounce -- take-out cups of coffee or six to eight cans of soda a day.)" Moderate caffeine consumption appears not to harm the fetuses of pregnant women, either. [Update: Or maybe it does.]

The National Geographic’s "Flashback" at the back of the magazine runs a 1954 photo of tea tasting. The tasting was a demonstration conducted by the U.S. Board of Tea Experts, which was tasked with, yes, creating federal standards for tea quality and taste, from 1897 to 1996. Oddly enough, there does not seem to be a groundswell to revive this now-defunct regulatory body.

Vice Squad keeps one, half-open eye on caffeine, as attested to by this post from last April.

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