"Coffee is addictive! Coffee is evil! Coffee is bad for you!"
These are some of the sentences we've all heard throughout our lives. They have been going around since the very first discovery of coffee back in 500AD when a young goatherd names Kaldi watched his goats bouncing around after eating these strange cherries from a bush.
THE FIRST GOLD RUSH (OF SORTS)
Upon returning to the village with the cherries, the elders immediately proclaimed them as the fruit of the Devil and threw them in the fire. When they cooked in the flames, the other villagers were drawn out of their homes by the aromatic smells and were intrigued by these strange new fruit (yes, FRUIT!) seeds. Thus Coffee was born.
From that moment onwards, coffee has had a rollercoaster of time, weaving its way through history. For centuries, religions have banned it, countries have enslaved people to grow it and others have criminalised it, nations have gone to war for it - and against it - and even in today, with all modern science, the debate rages on: Is Coffee Bad?
One thing no one can deny is that coffee is the MOST consumed beverage on the planet after water (and one could argue that coffee IS actually water... just filtered... through coffee!).
I, myself, have had a long love/hate relationship with the golden liquid. First introduced to it when I was a teenager, I hated the drink. It tasted about how I imagined bitumen to taste, I didn't need the energy it was supposed to provide (I was later diagnosed ADHD which made a lot of sense.), and I needed 10+ sugars just to choke it down - which was about the only upside if you asked 13 year me.
Of course, that was instant coffee and we all know how bad it can taste. But when I was 17 I was introduced to a new way of making coffee: Espresso. However, this wasn't just any old espresso (in the 1990s espresso was pretty terrible tasting too) this was liquid gold! The Godfather of coffee, David Schomer had travelled throughout Italy and figured out why it was so good there. He brought that back to America and this was the birth of great tasting coffee as we know it today. But is coffee just good tasting or are there actual benefits too?
COFFEE > CAFFEINE
Let's get this straight: Coffee is greater than caffeine. I mean that in the sense of there's so much more to a coffee bean than purely caffeine. Oftentimes people write or talk about caffeine and coffee as the same thing. They literally interchange the words. I'm amazed at how ignorant people can be about it!
Yes, caffeine is not a great substance in high doses. It's the plants mechanism for protecting itself against predators (not goats obviously). The bitter flavour of caffeine repels most insects and herbivores that destroy it allowing for it to reproduce and spread.
In high doses caffeine can kill you.
Most people would read that statement and immediately think, a lot of coffee will kill you. Firstly, you'd have to drink an insane amount of coffee for this to even be close to true (like 50 cups of straight black coffee in a single session). But even then, there are mitigating factors in coffee absorption through drinking it.
But what studies are really saying is that "Caffeine" (as in, the pure powdered form) can be lethal in high dosages.
If search up "Can you die from too much coffee?" or "Has anyone died from coffee?" you'll get a million stories about people dying from "caffeine" overdoses equivalent to 200 cups of coffee. They are all from energy drinks, pure caffeine powder, or caffeine substances but I have scoured the internet and have yet to find an actual death related directly to drinking coffee. I did find one site that says its almost impossible to die from drinking too much coffee.
Interestingly, if you consume 200 litres of water you are going to die. So is water bad for you?
So why does the search for keyword around "Coffee Overdose" lead to results about "Caffeine Overdose"? Because we have, for hundreds of years, used the word caffeine to describe both the chemical and the beverage.
A SINGLE COFFEE BEAN IS NOT MADE UP OF JUST CAFFEINE
It's my biggest bugbear: ask anyone - even in the industry - what makes up a coffee bean and they'll invariably say caffeine. Ask them what else and you might just get crickets.
The fact is that caffeine only makes up a staggering 2-4% of the whole bean. So what makes up the other 96% you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let me open your eyes.
Complex Carbohydrates (not the carbs you think of as fattening)
The list goes on.
In fact the list of complex chemical compounds goes on for about 1,500 more lines!
Wine is complex. We already know this fact. We talk about all the different flavours that we experience in wine and its complexities.
But wine has only about 500 complex chemical compound - only a THIRD of the compounds in coffee.
Coffee is the superfood that exists right under our noses (and to be honest, I love having it there because it smells so darn good!)
WHAT MAKES COFFEE SO SPECIAL?
Lets start with the obvious benefits of coffee.
Now that we've almost perfected the way to extract the liquid from the roasted seed, we can quite resolutely state that it's DELICIOUS!
I've surveyed many customers and asked if they had to give up one thing between coffee and alcohol which would it be? 100% of people who drank coffee said they would give up Alcohol before they would willingly give up coffee. So Why?
Well, it is like having a warm hug of a morning from your favourite person on the planet. That feeling you get, especially on a cold winters day, of the warmth in your hand, the first sip of sweet nectar, and how it spreads through your body quite literally warming your soul. That's quite hard to replace.
Because coffee is a stimulant it helps processes in the brain act more quickly and carries messages around the body faster. This makes us feel like we have more energy. It also blocks the receptors, adenosine, in the brain that make us feel drowsy so this helps us wake up and feel more alert. It opens up our capillaries which allows the heart to pump blood around our body more quickly giving us the "rush". Adenosine in our body is often related to depression and since coffee blocks these signallers, the body feels less depressed as a result.
Harvard researchers have concluded that having just two coffees a day can dramatically reduce suicides in men and women up to 50%.
These are just the few ways in which coffee makes us FEEL better. But underneath that there's actually some very important health benefits that we don't even realise we're receiving.
ANTIOXIDANTS IN COFFEE
There a dozens of powerful antioxidants within coffee such as
Acids have a bad name. When we think of acids we immediately think of sulphuric and hydrofluoric acid that dissolve virtually anything. But in coffee there actually a lot of good acids - and lets not get confused by the other term we use in coffee - acidity (which relates to the tingling sensation like sparkling water.)
ACIDS IN COFFEE
Coffee is often though to be acidic. Really, its just NOT Alkaline so its considered to be acidic but its closer to NEUTRAL than Tomatoes & Orange juice. There are a lot of great acids in our foods, even in milk so we have to adjust our perception of acids and understand that there are good acids and bad acids for your body.
So what are the good acids in Coffee and what do they do for your body?
I like to start with Chlorogenic acid because its a little controversial. Chlorogenic acid, along with caffeine, is responsible for the bitterness of the flavour in coffee. The compound breaks down during the the first stages of roasting but builds up the longer the roasting continues. That's why dark roast coffee tastes more bitter than light or medium roasted coffee.
But there's a lot of great reasons to want Chlorogenic acid in your coffee cup. For instance, it helps balance your blood sugar levels which reduces the risks of Diabetes type 2. It also helps balance your metabolic system and reduce fat cells in your body meaning dark roasted coffee could help you lose weight (but you're going to have to drink it black, sorry guys!).
Phosphorous is the most abundant (and important) mineral found in your body after calcium. Along with the other nutrients, Phosphorous helps strengthen and build solid teeth and bones. Not only that, but it helps balance your kidney function and flush out all waste, while also helping the body conserve and store energy. It also plays a role in helping repair and grow body tissue and cells and a key role in recovery which is why coffee is often great to take before a workout or sport (again, it should only be consumed black here as the milk will feel awful in your gut during intense physical exercise).
Phosphoric acid makes up only about 1-2% in coffee but unlike other nutrients can actually be 100x more effective and also help promote the effectiveness of other vitamins such as Vitamin D, Iodine, and magnesium. It's also a lot sweeter than many of the other acids (think blueberry and blackberry flavours) and you'll often hear people describe a great Kenyan Single Origin as having a strong berry flavour.
Malic acid affects the tingling sensation on your tongue to give you the same sensation as Pears and Green Apples. It has a grippy tingling and is very pleasant.
Malic Acid is great for your skin cell regeneration and energy levels and is a very important part of the Krebs Cycle (Your body's process of maintaining energy and breaking down carbohydrates). So while the Caffeine might block adenosine receptors from feeling drowsy, the malic acid actually also contributes to giving your body energy. For this reason, Malic acid has been helpful in treating fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It also helps with boosting your athletic performance which is another reason why a quick shot of espresso before a sports activity is great choice (especially instead of a Red Bull).
Malic acid helps with the fruity flavours of coffee and often a tropical tasting long black will have a higher Malic acid content present.
This is probably the most commonly recognised acid in coffee. It has the flavour of lemons and is most often an undesirable taste because of the sourness it presents. If your coffee tastes sour it most likely is under extracted or the coffee was only light roasted. Sometimes citrus tasting coffee is more enjoyable without milk. This is because some of the proteins in the milk react with the citric acid and create a sour milk experience. A lot of coffees from Ethiopia are high in citric acid and give those gorgeous and intense citrus flavours that I absolutely love.
Citric Acid is responsible for energy metabolism in a similar way to Malic Acid in that it is an important part of the Krebs Cycle.
Citrus also is largely responsible for helping your kidney function as it reduces the chances of forming kidney stones and breaks apart those that have already formed. Citric Acid also enhances the nutrient absorption in your body making it easier for your body to retain minerals such as magnesium and calcium. I'm not saying you should down your daily vitamin tablets with your Ethiopian washed processed coffee, but it wouldn't hurt!
Quinin is a little controversial. Its health benefits include helping with DNA repair and assisting your gastrointestinal tract but it also can be the same thing that turns your stomach sour. We all know that feeling when we've had too much coffee and it hits the bottom of our stomach. This is often the acid that causes that sensation. It is more often found in dark roasted coffee and coffee that's gone stale (ie: when you make a pot of coffee and leave it warm on the hotplate for hours). In high quality specialty grade coffee that's well prepared, you won't notice this feeling unless you drink huge quantities of it and eat nothing else.
Lactic Acid is the fuel for your cells in intense exercise. It's a myth that the soreness is caused by lactic acid trapped in your muscles. Lactic acid is flushed out of your muscles too fast to do damage and the soreness is actually from microtears. The Lactic acid in coffee helps give the mouthfeel a "creaminess" which rounds out the body of the flavours.
Ferulic acid has a variety of functions, including promoting glutathione levels, acting as an antioxidant, and promoting an anti-inflammatory environment.
Acetic Acid is not altogether pleasant to taste on its own as it's the base of Vinegar however its still important in our body as it helps metabolise fats and carbohydrates and a little Acetic acid in coffee add to the complexity of flavours too
There are many other great acids and antioxidants in coffee and these are just a few but needless to say, these acids are important for our bodies. Coffee contains thousands of these complex compounds in small enough doses that, at the very least, contribute positively to our general wellbeing.
TANNINS IN COFFEE
Tannins are often thought about in tea but they are just as present in coffee as well. Too much tannin can give you a taste of "chalkiness" or astringency and this usually means the coffee is over extracted however, the upside to tannins is that they are responsible for helping with cuts and skin cell repair. Tannins removes harmful bacteria, microbes and fungi as well as viruses (I'm not saying coffee helps immunise you from Coronavirus but I have gone asymptomatic so far (touch wood) whenever I've contracted Covid-19, so read that how you want!).
Tannins remove harmful fungi from your stomach and helps stabilise the blood to assist in clotting and healing of wounds.
MINERALS IN COFFEE
Coffee is rich with minerals such as Magnesium and Potassium which help with balancing your blood sugar balance and keeping those sugar cravings at bay. If you're suffering from Type 2 Diabetes, coffee is rich with the minerals that can help get your health back on track.
COFFEE AS A MENTAL BOOST
Coffee stimulates other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine in our brains giving us the warm and happy fuzziness we wake up to each morning. It also gives us a short memory boost which has been now linked to helping with brain functions that affect Alzheimer's disease. This reduction in the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer's was has undergone many studies since 2007 but there is a strong argument that regular coffee consumption could reduce AD up to 65% in adults.
COFFEE REDUCES RISK OF PARKINSON'S DISEASE
Not only have studies shown that coffee consumption is the most likely causal factor in reducing the risk of PD, it also is highly likely to reduce and delay the ongoing symptoms.
COFFEE IS A SUPERFOOD AND... NOT JUST FOR HUMANS!
I could keep writing about all the thousands of complex chemical compounds within a coffee but I'm sure if you've read this much you know it is nothing like the "addictive drug" it sometimes get referred to.
In fact, coffee isn't even addictive! Yep, you read that right. It's not classified as an addictive substance (not sure who even coined that term for coffee), it's technically classified as a "dependence substance" which means while we have a physical dependency, it has a mild withdrawals of irritability, headaches that typically last only a day or two.
So I'm going to make a stand and say that Coffee is the superfood right under our nose (where it smells absolutely delicious!) and we should be promiting the health benefits more loudly.
I haven't even gotten to the part about how good coffee is AFTER you drink it. We only consume about 25% of the nutrients in coffee, the stuff we throw away (in your compost hopefully) is just as nutritious to the rest of the world as it is to our bodies. This is why coffee scrubs are great to use. Spent coffee can be turned into some amazing products such as:
Shampoo (just not for blondes)
Firewood (YES! They burn 30% hotter, longer and smell the best!)
But that's another blog. Thanks for reading.