TCM Properties of Chocolate and Coffee
TCM Properties of Chocolate and Coffee
By Eric Brand
The other day Yahoo news had an article on the health benefits of coffee. Coffee is somewhat new to Chinese medicine and the habit of drinking coffee is just beginning to catch on in Chinese society. It can be virtually impossible to find anything but atrocious instant coffee in the countryside of China, but for better or worse Starbucks and local chains have started to establish a presence in big cities. In fact, there is even a Starbucks tucked into the middle of Beijing's Forbidden City; a hundred years ago a man with intact testicles couldn't even set foot in that plaza but now tourists can stop in for cappuccino halfway through their museum tour.
In Taiwan and Hong Kong, coffee culture has exploded and one can find many competing chains all over the place (we used to try to count whether there were more betel nut shops or coffee shops when we'd drive through small cities in Taiwan, and they were invariably almost equal in number). That said, coffee culture in Taiwan remains a social thing rather than a morning fix, as evidenced by the fact that many coffee shops don't open until 11 am or so.
According to the Zhong Guo Shi Liao Da Quan (Great Compendium of Chinese Dietary Therapy), coffee is sweet, warm, and nontoxic. It arouses the spirit, strengthens the heart, and disinhibits urination. The text Zhong Yi Shi Liao Yin Yang Xue (Chinese Medical Dietary Therapy and Nutrition) describes coffee as bitter, slightly sweet, and warm. It enters the heart channel, arouses the spirit and awakens the brain (ti shen xing nao).
Chocolate is also a new item to Chinese medicine. China's chocolate culture is a bit behind the times, and until recently the only stuff that was widely available was horribly sweet milk chocolate. Taiwan and Hong Kong are slightly ahead of the curve, and good dark chocolate can be found there with relative ease these days. I remember a few years ago I would have to trek out to a specialty store in Taipei to get dark chocolate, and then one day the health benefits of chocolate hit a critical mass of public awareness and every 7-11 around the island started carrying Japanese and African dark chocolates.
According to the text Zhong Yi Shi Liao Yin Yang Xue (Chinese Medical Dietary Therapy and Nutrition), cocoa is sweet, balanced, and enters the heart channel. It arouses the spirit, relieves thirst, and disinhibits urination.
There are not any contraindications listed, but the books are not very complete. Relatively little source literature is available for these items, though the Zhong Hua Ben Cao (Chinese Materia Medica) does add that coffee is astringent, slightly bitter, and balanced in temperature. From these few entries, we can see that there is not a strong consensus on even the taste and temperature of coffee. Thus, while there is a lack of information on contraindications, the information as a whole is somewhat limited on these two substances.
I introduced cappuccino to Nanjing actually! In the Black Cat cafe there was a machine that non on them had any idea how to use, and a very excited group gathered round as i showed them the art of milk frothing.
I can't find any refs for the two texts you mention, so i assume they have not been translated into English? What year are they from please?
Zhong Guo Shi Liao Da Qua
Zhong Yi Shi Liao Yin Yang Xue
That said, I think that both coffee and chocolate are obviously bitter in terms of their flavor. Coffee is also somewhat downbearing (at least it tends to free the stool). The fact that coffee promotes alertness, energy and animation makes me think it is relatively yang in nature; it leaves the mouth dry and causes insomnia so I personally suspect it is warm. Likewise, good chocolate is rich and bitter; it makes me want water and leaves my mouth feeling a bit dry and warm, so I personally think of it as being warm as well. Just my own personal speculation. Both chocolate and coffee (at least without all the cream and sugar) appear to have significant health benefits but it will probably take some time and group brainstorming before we have a clear feel for how they fit into TCM theory.
Stefan, well done to bring cappuccino to Nanjing! You must have started the trend because decent cappuccino was reasonably abundant in Nanjing when I was there a few weeks back. The ISBN numbers for those two books (both in Chinese only) are:
Zhong Yi Shi Liao Yin Yang Xue 957-9101-46-9 (2001 traditional character Taiwan edition published by Zhuyin, but I think the original copyright comes from Ren Min Wei Sheng).
Zhong Guo Shi Liao Da Quan 7-5323-3353-1 (1993 from Shanghai Science and Technology Press)
There is a warm, soothing sensation around the lower hypochondriac region, reaching towards, but quite arriving at the lower back. This leads to a speculation that cacao may be warming and emolliating to the liver.
There may be a slight kidney fortification aspect as well. Quite appropriate for a dark, roasted, fermented bean.
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