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Health Benefits of Coffee

A woman's hands hold a white mug of black coffee

Is there anything more comforting that waking up to a freshly brewed cup of coffee? I’ll admit, sometimes I wish it were tomorrow already just so I could wake up and have coffee again.

I’ll admit setting out to write a blog post on coffee is a daunting task – where do I even begin? From history to culture to species to roasting to grinding to brewing to health implications, there is just so much to say about this noteworthy little bean!

Here are the highlights:

Coffee Basics

I visited my first coffee plantation earlier this year while on vacation in Costa Rica. We ended up getting a private tour and had a really amazing experience. And I greatly expanded my coffee knowledge!

While there are hundreds of species of coffee plants, there are just two species widely consumed today – robusta and Arabica. Robusta is hardier, produces more beans and has a harsher flavor. Arabica is more sensitive to growth conditions, pricier and tastes better. Therefore, Arabica is considered the superior species and why many roasters will proudly proclaim “100% Arabica” on their packaging.

Because coffee is grown all over the world, mostly in underdeveloped areas, it’s important to understand where your beans come from so that you’re not contributing to an exploitative market. Many smaller roasters have readily available information about the farmers they contract with, their working conditions and wages. Choosing coffee that is Fair Trade certified helps support small family farmers. Never be afraid to ask your roaster about where their beans came from.

A chorreador coffee set up in Costa Rica

Traditional Costa Rican pour-over. The wooden stand is called a chorreador (oh how I wish I could roll my Rs).

A big vat of coffee beans in a roaster in Costa Rica

Roasting in action – this room smelled amazing!

I like to think our taste preferences for coffee are much like they are for wine – it’s all about what you like, not what other people think. Try beans from different regions of the world to find what you enjoy the most. Personally, I’m a big fan of Central American coffee with South American coming in second. Others much prefer Ethiopian or from other areas of Africa.

While I won’t go into the variety of brewing methods, I will say if you’ve only ever had pre-ground coffee out of a plastic tub, made in an automatic drip machine that is only consumable once diluted with equal parts milk and many teaspoons of sugar, you’re missing out! Try purchasing some beans from a local roaster within a day or two of their roast date, grind them just before brewing and make your coffee using a pour-over method. You can get a decent hand grinder for under $20 and a pour-over cone for a few bucks. I promise you, it will be a seriously enjoyable experience and the best coffee you’ve ever had!

Hot water being poured into coffee in a filter in a Chemex sitting on a scale

At home, it’s best to get the perfect cup of coffee by using a food scale to ensure an accurate grounds to water ratio.

Health Effects of Coffee

Like most popular food and beverages, coffee has been both vilified and glorified in the media over the years. So what’s the truth? In most cases, coffee is beneficial to health when consumed by healthy adults in moderation (SURPRISE)! Moderation ranges from 1 cup per day to 5 cups per day depending on the health condition in question, with 3 cups per day generally considered as moderate.

Potential health benefits of moderate coffee consumption range from reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer  to helping prevent Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, a large 2015 study observed associations between coffee consumption and reduced mortality risk from a variety of other diseases and conditions (these associations persisted even for decaf coffee).

So if it’s not the caffeine, what is it? Well, did you know that coffee is one of the most significant sources of antioxidants in the average American’s diet? When it comes to metabolic health, coffee’s antioxidants and polyphenols play a big role.

Due to its caffeine content, consuming too much coffee can exacerbate anxiety and high blood pressure and cause headaches and chest pain. Consuming coffee that is very hot has been linked with esophageal cancer. Also, trying to mask insufficient sleep with coffee and other sources of caffeine perpetuates a dangerous cycle, especially when consumed later in the day. Drinking coffee even six hours before bedtime has been shown to disrupt sleep, so be sure to enjoy it in the morning only.

Like with other consumables, I hope you savor your coffee time mindfully, not just as a means to jolt up but indulging in a moment of stillness at the beginning of the day with a comforting warm beverage.

A cup of coffee next to a card that says "you a loved"

Coffee reflections with a deck of “love notes”

Further reading:

BBC: Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global

Harvard School of Public Health: Other Healthy Beverage Options

Mayo Clinic: Is coffee good or bad for me?

NPR: How Coffee Influenced the Course of History

The Atlantic: Coffee’s Mysterious Origins



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