We have put a man on the moon, split the atom, built the Taj Mahal, and invented chess — but we are still unsure if coffee is good for us or not.

Over the years we have been told the following: coffee is good for type 2 diabetes, coffee is bad for type 2 diabetes; coffee prevents heart attacks, coffee causes heart attacks; coffee keeps Alzheimer’s at bay, coffee hastens the onset of Alzheimer’s. Coffee reduces the risk of Parkinson’s/cancer/kidney diseases; coffee increases the risk of Parkinson’s/cancer/ kidney diseases.

Have at least three cups of coffee everyday; avoid coffee as far as possible. We have to make the Michael Jackson choice over coffee: black or white? Black is good for type 2 diabetes; black is bad for type 2 diabetes; white is good, white is bad — you get the idea. It is not the cure for cancer or cold fusion that will win the next Nobel, it is the final decision on the effects of coffee.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Coffee as well as a Society for the Prevention of Kindness to Coffee.

Voltaire, for instance, was told that his habit of drinking 40-50 cups of coffee every day would kill him. He died at 83. Proust drank two cups a day, and he died at 51. Inconclusive, you might say. An uncle of mine drank no coffee at all, and died at 28. He was run over by a truck; the driver was drinking a cup of coffee at the time. I don’t know what lessons one can draw from these examples.

I am not one of those folks who cannot put two sentences together or speak in a civil tongue until they have had their first cup of coffee in the morning. Nor am I what someone has called a “procaffeinator”, someone who can’t start work until they’ve had a cup of coffee. I can go without coffee for hours at a time — the hours between midnight and waking up time.

When I started out as a journalist, I quickly became a cliché. Just like others of my tribe, I drank many cups of coffee every day, looked unkempt, messy, sleep-deprived but always asking sharp questions and discovered things people were trying to hide.

Now only the coffee habit remains.

In some ways, like Alfred J Prufrock, I have measured out my life in coffee spoons too, but Prufrock didn’t have to deal with contradicting media stories. Therefore, send not to know for whom the coffee brews, it brews for thee.

More from Suresh Menon:

[Suresh Menon dredges up memories of what once were the greatest thing in trousers: one generation’s ‘cool’ is another generation’s ‘yuck’]

[The cell phone and the end of philosophy]

[How do you respond to a question that has no safe answer? Suresh Menon gives a try]