Posted in Kafevend Blog
Convergent evolution is an interesting thing. If you don't quite get what we mean, consider flight- both birds and bats are able to fly, but their ancestors developed the means in separate ways. Also worth mentioning of course are the variety of flying insects which hit upon other methods of flight. It turns out that most of us have been unknowingly interacting with an example of this convergent evolution every day when we wake up, put the kettle on and make ourselves tea or coffee.
Last month, a report was released by a team of scientists showing that the caffeine found in coffee has evolved separately to the caffeine found in tea and cacao. They differ in that coffee caffeine uses a different enzyme than that used by the other two, but of course both types produce the same effect. Why caffeine evolved in the first place isn't known for certain, but biologists speculate that it serves both as a defensive and reproductive mechanism. Defensively, it wards off insects that would otherwise eat the plant. The fallen leaves also contaminate the ground which creates an area around it in which other plants cannot grow. Reproductively, it attracts pollinators such as bees, who get a hit from the caffeine and keep on returning for more. Now why does that sound familiar...
Like the bees, we keep coming back to drinks like tea and coffee for that caffeine boost. It is amusing in a way, given the heavily ingrained anti-drug sentiment in our society, that we indulge in what is effectively a drug so readily on a day to day basis. That is not to degrade the sentiment, as there are obviously many drugs that are very bad for you- it is odd instead the way that society has removed the associated negative tag. It's important to remember that despite its acceptance, caffeine still has the potential to cause issues if taken in excess. Anyone who has given it up for a while may be able to relate to the headaches, irritability and drowsiness it can leave you with if you drop it suddenly.
As with most things, moderation is the key. If you've already had a few cups at home before setting out, it's probably not a good idea to help yourself to a Trenta when you go to town for lunch. Caffeine does have some benefits though- after all, there are all sorts of drugs used for medical treatment too. Caffeine has been the subject of many studies, some of which have reported on its ability to help reduce the risk of illnesses like colon cancer and Parkinson's disease. With that in mind, it's probably a good idea to indulge in a few quality cups of coffee (or tea) intermittently over the course of the day, rather than getting that 30oz frappuccino.