The Deadly Sip
“This morning I had coffee as usual. While sitting on the barstool in the kitchen and sipping the hot liquid, I was imagining how the caffeine, known to penetrate all barriers as every suckling is aware of, could take its shortest way to my brain equipped with adenosine receptors already desperately wanting this stuff.
I knew that this alkaloid, a natural weapon of the coffee plant against many but not all pests, is readily taken up by the gums and mucosa of the mouth. Since people usually take the coffee in one gulp, caffeine’s chance to get quickly to its receptor is nil. The drug must take a 30-min-long and confusing journey starting in the stomach, then going through the portal vein or so. Ask Leonor, my wife. She’s an emergency doctor and must know.
Thus to increase dwell and uptake, I moved and washed the brew back and forth through the entire cavity, from root to roof. “What the heck are you doing with the coffee in your gob?”, she asked me. “I’m trying to get the caffeine into my brain as quickly as possible.” “Stop this nonsense! One day you will kill yourself with these silly experiments, and I will be left with posting your memoirs”, she laughed. “But pledge to do it in my Swiss style English!”, I tried to reply with full mouth.
She was drinking her usual maté which furnished her with the gaucho’s stamina since childhood. She is really a tough woman. When in my garden the snails were on the rise, I killed them with her powdered maté leaves. I assume that slugs and snails easily take up caffeine through their skin quite comparable to what actually happened around my gums.
I was still rotating the liquid in my mouth, when suddenly it came to my mind that I had read somewhere, that among the facial bones we have a spot or opening or so, where brain nerves are freely exposed, so to speak on the edge.
Have you ever observed a wine taster? First, he or she is chewing for a while on the wine. Then very abruptly, the liquid is gulped followed by a breath which ‘transports the volatiles to the naked nerve endings in the regio olfactoria through the back part of the pharynx’, as the scientific dictionary told me. Finally, the taster will say “gooseberry”, or other silly things.
Because caffeine is not volatile at body temperature, I had – after gargling with it - to ‘snore in’ the entire brew into the plate where these nerves are. I was lucky! I made it and fell straight away from the barstool.”
He died immediately. As an academic, never affiliate with a semi-educated person. You’ll get bored or lose him/her.
Leonor, freshly-widowed, September 2015, in the night of the blood-red moon.
Caffeine is a jack-of-all-trades signifying that it passes more or less freely through all biological boundaries such as the blood-brain barrier, the placenta, the blood-milk barrier etc. This is due to its dual physico-chemical nature: It is hydrophilic and lipophilic at the same time, meaning it is well soluble in water but also in less polar solvents such as lipids, which are components of our cell membranes.
The title image shows the caffeine structure and caffeine crystals. To produce the latter, a woody toothpick was immersed in a concentrated caffeine solution (in water). After a few days, crystals could be seen on the wooden surface. Subsequently they grew into bizarre ramified structures from which I took a close-up.
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