On Desert Island Discs last week, the charismatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann (above) told Kirsty Young that for his luxury he would take a coffee machine because, as he put it, “without coffee life is not half as worth it”.
It was characteristic of an opera singer who has stirred audiences with his portrayal of doomed lovers to transform something so everyday into a matter of life and death. Yet now there is science to back up this impassioned belief.
Scientific studies always seem to lurch from concluding that coffee is good for us to concluding that coffee is bad for us and then back again. Now it’s on the up once more and researchers in South Korea have found that three to five cups of coffee a day can cut the risk of heart disease and stroke. Those who drank this amount every day were less likely to build up coronary calcium in their arteries, which can harden and block blood vessels, leading to clots and eventually cardiovascular disease, according to the study published in the journal Heart.
This must be great news for coffee chains, which are now so embedded in our everyday lives that it wouldn’t be surprising if Kaufmann woke up on the sand to find a Caffé Nero selling frappe lattes under the next palm tree.
Fascinatingly, it is true that cardiovascular disease death rates in the UK have fallen by 50 per cent since 2002, according to the NHS, so perhaps the ubiquity of coffee shops is saving our lives. So does this scientific research mean coffee now has a net benefit to the world? Are the health effects of all that coffee enough to outweigh the environmental damage from all those capsules that are created by Nespresso machines?
I agree with Kaufmann that coffee is essential to life. I cannot get to lunchtime without an espresso or a flat white. The daily grind is somehow made better by, well, the daily grind. Life does indeed not seem half as worth it without it. Now that I know it’s good for me I am going to enjoy my morning coffee even more. But the thing is, if I have any more than one cup of coffee a day, I feel sick and my heart beats faster than a soprano singing Tosca. Having up to five coffees might be good for my health, but I worry that trying to find out if it is true might make me ill.