Why I Drink
"East Coast elitist" is not a label that even Sarah Palin could pin on me. But I am no "Joe Six-Pack American" either. In fact, after drinking my fill of German beer for the three years I lived in Bavaria as a soldier and student, I have despised American beer.
No way could a "mountain boy" like me be elitist. I grew up in the mountains, and once when I went back to visit my boyhood home, a guy there pinned that label on me. It fits me perfectly.
One of my so-called girlfriends once said that she liked me only when I was hiking in the mountains or stoned. I broke my addiction to pot more than 20 years ago, but my addiction to hiking in the mountains is just getting stronger as I get even more into photography.
Since I don't drink beer, what else could I possibly drink? Just three beverages.
When I'm hiking in the mountains, water is my only drink. Except when I run out, it's always water that I have filtered at home with my Brita. If I do run out of filtered water, I purify it with my SteriPEN Journey, a 4-ounce device that uses ultraviolet light to destroy waterborne microbes, like Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
A big advantage of water over just about anything else that we drink is that it has a glycemic index of zero. It won't raise our blood glucose at all.
But, as I wrote in my first book, The New Glucose Revolution: What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up...and Down?, it's not true that you have to drown yourself in the stuff. There's an old urban myth that you should drink at least eight glasses of water a day. While you will see this advice repeated time and again, it lacks any scientific proof.
It looks like the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council started the whole thing in 1945. That's when the board recommended that we consume about "1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food." That works out to roughly two to two-and-a-half quarts per day. But most people seem to have missed its next sentence, that "most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods."
Where does that leave us? When we are thirsty, water remains our best choice. Even when we are hungry, having a drink of water is a great idea. It can help us feel fuller and therefore less likely to overeat. This goes a long way toward keeping our blood glucose under control.
Unlike water, coffee is hardly a necessity of life. It's a pleasure.
Most Americans make their coffee far too weak, closer to dishwater than to real coffee. I use one-half cup of beans per 10 ounces of water, which may be too much for most people, but consider it a goal.
And many of us pollute it with cream and/or sugar, which only makes sense when people serve you otherwise undrinkable coffee. Doing that also adds calories that few of us need.
At least, when we prepare coffee properly it's a pleasure. Making a good cup of coffee happens to be one of the most difficult things that we do in the kitchen.
I think that I finally got it. The water we use for making our coffee is the most important ingredient. That's because coffee is mostly water. I never use water straight from the tap and certainly not distilled water. The key is to filter it, which is even better than buying plastic bottles of mineral water, which contribute to environmental pollution.
While I grew up thinking that Yuban coffee was the best, my tastes have changed a bit. I like a dark roast, but one that's not burnt. That's why I prefer Peet's.
I've drunk practically every single origin coffee and hundreds of blends -- everything from Jamaica Blue Mountain and Kona coffees to African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and South American ones. My all-time favorite is one that even many coffee blenders have never heard of, Sulawesi-Kalosi. Peet's quite correctly describes it as, "Rich, full body; moderate, well-balanced acidity; and a multidimensional aromatic character with prominent herbal, nutty, and pleasantly sweet woody notes." All true.
Besides making sure that the coffee we drink is fresh and stored properly (in the dark, but certainly not in the refrigerator or freezer), the biggest favor we can do ourselves is to invest in a high-quality burr grinder. Coffee that we grind right before adding water to it is much richer.
I currently use a simple paper filter. Many people prefer a French press, which I have and once used and may again some day. Those are the two top methods.
Then, of course, we have to boil the filtered water and add it to the cup. This turns out to be the lesson that I had to learn most recently.
While this sounds simple, it's not. After boiling the water, we have to let it cool down. Since where I live is more than a mile high -- where water comes to a boil at a lower temperature than sea level -- I figured that I really didn't need to wait. Wrong.
The taste of the coffee comes out much more strongly when I let it cool down to close to 180 degrees. That takes about 3 minutes here.
Finally, we need to serve it properly. Serving it in a paper cup is gross. But I go even a step further. Ever since Carl Lau told me about 10 years ago that he thinks that coffee tastes better in a fine bone China tea cup, I tried it and agree.
Taste is one thing. Health is another. I wouldn't be telling you this if I didn't know that drinking coffee is good for our health.
Scientists have studied coffee as much as anything we consume. Some early studies indicated that it might be problematic. But recent studies are practically unanimous that drinking three or four cups of coffee a day are good for us. Maybe it's all the antioxidants that it has.
While I drink coffee for pleasure, I drink alcohol for my health. That is at least partly true.
Hard liquor does contain a few calories, unlike water or black unsweetened coffee. One shot of 25 grams has about 50 calories.
Studies by Barbara Rolls and others show that when we take our food in liquid form rather than in a solid one, we consume more calories that day. To keep my weight in check that's one of the big reasons why I otherwise avoid drinking any calories.
I do enjoy my liquor. But not as much as my coffee, because I don't drink as much of it.
As we all know, drinking a lot of liquor can have terrible consequences. But many of us think that drinking no liquor is healthier than drinking a little. Strange as it seems, that's wrong, according to many published studies that I reviewed years ago. This seems to be especially true for people with diabetes.
The best advice seems to be that women do best with one drink a day and men with two. The difference is something to do with hormones, or size, or both.
When I learned that alcohol was good for me, I set out to find the best stuff. Since I dislike beer and don't like wine well enough to finish a bottle before it turns to vinegar, I settled on my favorite hard liquor, Scotch.
Not just any Scotch. The best Scotch is single malt Scotch whisky. Since I drink so little, I want to drink the best. But which of these is the very best?
To find out I started with Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch. This book by a great connoisseur reviewed more than 800 single malts.
Dutifully, I bought and drank at least one bottle of every single malt that he gives top scores to. It was a lot of work but worth it.
For me a clear favorite emerged years ago, Talisker. Its nose, Mr. Jackson wrote, is "pungent, smoke-accented, rounded." Its palate is "smoky, malty-sweet, with sourness and a very big pepperiness developing." Its finish is "very peppery, huge, long."
He called it "one of the most individualistic of single malts," which is a good fit for me. You may label me as an individualistic mountain boy, but not as an East Coast elitist.