Ever since - as the story goes - a goatherd brought coffee beans down from the Ethiopian highlands, humans have been held in the thrall of coffee. Espresso is a "pressed" and concentrated form of coffee, and when you add a dollop or a dose of steamed, frothy milk to it you get - respectively - a cappuccino or a latte. Once an acquired taste of more metropolitan coffee consumers, espresso is now a major part of many North American's coffee routine.

And where once you would just order a regular old cup of Joe (or a double-double), now you have many options for dressing up your "coffee drink." Too many, if you listen in on an order at most coffee shops these days: flavoured syrups, toppings galore, whipped cream, various levels of dry or wet foam. But what's the cost of all of this coffee extravagance - to our health as well as to our savings accounts?

Coffee is one of those items that come in and out of favour with the health community. To some, it's practically a health food; to others, it's like poison. Like dark chocolate, coffee contains antioxidants that can protect your body's cells from the kind of oxidative damage that may lead to certain kinds of cancer. On the other hand, coffee consumption can also elevate blood pressure and trigger heartburns or migraines in some people. Pregnant women are advised to reduce or eliminate caffeinated beverages all together. Too much caffeine can cause irritability, anxiety, muscle tremors, and restlessness.

One thing that you can know for sure when you order up your favorite coffee drink is its basic nutritional value.

  • Lattes: Suppose you go for the average, the middle of the road, the medium. A 16 fl. oz. medium caffè latte with 2% milk is going to run you 190 calories, 60 of those from fat. Wow! Coffee's supposed to be low-fat. Where does it all come from? Clue: Moooo. Opting for nonfat milk to whip your espresso into a frothy foam will cut your fat calories down to just 5! When you trim the fat, you also trim your cholesterol intake from 30 mg down to only 5 mg. The trade-off is also in your favour in terms of calcium. Take the fat away and you're getting 45% of your daily calcium versus only 40% with the fatter foam.
  • Mochas: Say you're feeling indulgent. A medium caffè mocha with whole milk and whipped cream. It may sound extreme, but it's normal for some sweet-coffee-drink addicts. What's that going to run you in fat, calories, and cholesterol? Nearly 400 calories, almost half of them from fat, and an artery-clogging 55 mg of cholesterol! Skim off the whipped cream, and you're still at 15% of fat and still more saturated fat than a chocolate cream cheese muffin.
  • Iced, blended cappuccinos: What about those icy blended drinks you see attached to the hands of so many people during the summer months? These drinks get some of their bite from a spike of sugar and sodium, perhaps added to balance out the watering-down effect of the ice. Compared to a similar-size hot cappuccino drink, the iced variety has 68% more sodium and 45% more sugar.
  • Basic coffee: Take your regular old coffee black with no added sugar? At just 5 calories, zero fat, zero cholesterol, a medium coffee won't set you back on your diet, but it may kick up your energy for a little while. Undiluted by the portions of milk added to blended drinks, a standard cup of coffee packs quite a caffeine punch: 330 mg. Pour yourself a café au lait, one part milk (nonfat, please!), one part coffee, and you naturally cut the caffeine intake in half.

It's tough to resist coffee's siren song, especially when there seems to be a café on nearly every corner. The health cost is one impact of copious coffee consumption, but what about the financial cost? How many loonies and toonies do you toss into café tills? Not to mention into the tip jar for the toiling baristas of the world? Let's imagine that you buy a medium caffè latte 3 times a week for a year at a hypothetical and modest estimate of $3.00 a pop:

$3.00 × 3 days = $9.00/week.
$9.00 × 52 weeks = $468.00/year.

Does any of this amount to a hill of beans? Let these thoughts percolate next time you visit your corner café: Coffee is not food, but those high-calorie "coffee drinks" can really fill you up. You may be inclined to skip meals or skimp on healthy snacking. And because caffeine can cause jitters and become addictive, moderation is necessary.