Coffee is more than just a morning ritual. It’s a delicious medicine that humans have been enjoying since the thirteenth century. As one of the best sources of antioxidants, coffee helps eliminate excess free radicals, which cause inflammation and cell damage.
However, the wrong coffee prepared with too much heat can detract from both the tasty pleasure and robust health benefits of your cup of Joe. For example: heat causes aromatic oils to cook away or become rancid & inflammatory, acidic compounds can damage your teeth and stomach lining, caffeine can overwork the adrenal glands and disturb sleep, toxins from pesticides poison your cells and many flavorings add refined sugar and fat-substitutes.
Three ways to ensure you’re getting the most healthful brew for your buck are to: 1) choose high-quality coffee, 2) cold brew your coffee, 3) enhance your coffee by adding butter and coconut oil.
Coffee, like any other product, is available in varying degrees of quality. According to Troy Lucas of Lucas Roasting (www.LucasRoasting.com), a good rule of thumb is to choose Arabica beans from a single source. Arabica and Robusta are the two main varieties of coffee. While Robusta has some good qualities, it contains twice as much caffeine as Arabica. Since Arabica is more expensive, many lower quality coffees will use some Robusta beans as a filler to cut costs.
Your adrenal glands will vote for Arabica every single time because drinking too much caffeine is like digging spurs into a tired horse. The adrenals manage the stress response and since many of us feel like we’re running a daily Tour de Pony Express, caffeine-induced stress is certainly not recommended.
Reactions to caffeine can include agitation, difficulty concentrating and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Individuals who suffer from heart conditions, kidney disease and anxiety or sleep disorders should absolutely avoid caffeine to prevent worsening of their conditions. Those with attention-related disorders may benefit from small amounts of caffeine.
Decaffeinated coffee is not a valid way to avoid caffeine since it will never be 100% caffeine-free. By law, decaf must have 97% of its caffeine removed. But since total caffeine varies bean to bean and brew to brew, you’ll never know how much caffeine comprises that remaining 3%. A study by the University of Florida measured caffeine amounts in 16-ounce cups of decaf coffee from nine different coffee shops. They found caffeine ranging from 8.6 milligrams to 13.9 milligrams. Other studies have indicated that as few as 10 milligrams of caffeine can have effects on sensitive individuals.
Three different processes are used to decaffeinate coffee: chemical solvents (like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate), carbon dioxide and water (known as the Swiss Water method). The general consensus by many health authorities is that all three methods are safe. However, since the Swiss Water method does not involve a solvent that can leave residue behind, it’s likely the cleanest. Ethyl acetate is a compound found naturally in ripe fruit, so it, as well as carbon dioxide, are technically natural solvents. Methylene chloride, on the other hand, has caused cancer in lab rats when it is inhaled, but not when consumed as a liquid. It’s been approved for safe use, but any rat you ask may not endorse it.
Organic coffees do not use pesticides, which makes them much preferred by both your body and Mother Nature. Drinking non-organic coffee is not the end of the world, but the antioxidants in your coffee will be automatically diminished if they need to clean up stowaway pesticides. For the sake of coffee growers, it’s best to purchase Fair Trade coffee. Fair Trade is an official designation which ensures employees are paid a fair, living wage, and as such is an investment in the livelihood of families all over the world.
Cold Brewed Coffee
Cold brewing produces a cup of Joe that will support your robust health & sophisticated palate.When coffee is steeped heat-free, its flavor-making aromatic oils are retained and spared from any chemical reactions. That’s good because these oils are the very compounds that most benefit your health. On the other end of the temperature spectrum, heat can damage coffee’s precious oils. They may either be boiled away, made rancid or morphed by a chemical reaction into a different compound altogether.
Cold brewed coffee is also lower in acid, which may make it less prone to causing heartburn. Studies done by Toddy, maker of a cold brewing system, show that cold brewed coffee is 67% less acidic than hot brewed coffee. One reason for this may be that coffee’s chlorogenic acid converts to quinic acid as it cools. Quinic acid is much more acidic and astringent and can cause damage to the teeth and stomach lining.
According to Lucas Roasting, dark roast beans have the lowest acidity, so cold brewing a dark roast will produce a brew with minimal acidity. This is important for health management as well as gastronomical pleasure, as high amounts of acid may anesthetize the tongue, preventing it from detecting subtle flavors (like fruity, chocolaty, nutty and earthy).
Information about caffeine content of cold versus hot brewed coffee is contradictory. Some say cold brewed has less, others say it has the same amount. Since caffeine is soluble in water and its solubility is increased by heat, it may seem that cold brewed would have less caffeine. However, as a cold brew steeps in its room temperature bath for a good 12-24 hours, plenty of caffeine may have a chance to eek out. Toddy, maker of a cold brewing appliance, has conducted a side-by-side study that shows cold brew is 30% lower in caffeine than coffee extracted with heat. There are too many variables involved to be able to make a general conclusion (time, temperature, type of bean, coarseness of grind, qualities of water, agitation, etc), but cold brewed likely does not have more caffeine than its hotter cousin.
Making cold brewed coffee is incredibly easy. While appliances are available, no special equipment is required. All you do is add room-temperature filtered water to coarse-ground coffee, wait and then filter the liquid through a filter to remove the grounds.
Recommendations about the three variables of water, coffee and time are quite varied. Lucas Roasting suggests combining 1 cup of water to 1.2 ounces of coarse-ground beans and steeping for 12-18 hours, to taste. The recipe from America’s Test Kitchen suggests a ratio of water to coffee of 4:1 (4 cups water to 1 cup ground coffee), and steeping for 24 hours.
Keep in mind that the end product of a cold brew is a very concentrated coffee that is meant to be diluted with water (according to personal preference). Otherwise, it would be a very expensive drink! Cold brewed coffee can be kept in the refrigerator for two weeks with a consistently bright and fresh flavor. The taste of hot coffee deteriorates over time because of the chemical changes brought about by the heat. Some people freeze their cold brewed coffee in ice cube trays and add the cubes to warm milk or blend them into smoothies. Cold brew can also be used to make ice cream.
For even more fun, flavorings can be added to cold brewed coffee to make uniquely gourmet concoctions. For example, Troy of Lucas Roasting sometimes adds orange rind for a few hours of the cold brewing process. Other options are a cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods, a vanilla pod, slices of fresh ginger, star anise and different types of dried herbs. Some also recommend adding a pinch of sea salt after the coffee is finished to maximize and brighten the flavors.
Coffee with Butter and Coconut Oil
While Tibetans have been adding yak butter to their coffee for many, many years, a man named Dave Asprey recently Americanized and popularized the concoction… minus the yak. So-called “Bulletproof Coffee” is growing in popularity for good reasons. The fat slows the absorption of caffeine, which results in a non-jittery, steady source of energy.
Another benefit to this recipe is that it provides healthy saturated fats and cholesterol. “Healthy saturated fats and cholesterol” may sound like an oxymoron to those out of the health news loop. Saturated fats and cholesterol have been wrongly vilified since the 1950s, but are rapidly beginning to regain their good names. Since these nutrients have been blamed for heart disease and weight gain, people have avoided them like the plague. For more information, please see June’s cover story in Time magazine or this one by Anne Buzzelli: https://augustafreepress.com/seven-reasons-saturated-fats-valued-vilified/.
The recipe for Bulletproof Coffee is simple (www.bulletproofexec.com/how-to-make-your-coffee-bulletproof-and-your-morning-too), but requires specialized ingredients. Butter of any kind will not cut it- it must be organic. Ideally, the butter should come from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows because it contains higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs). CLAs are fatty acids that have been shown to boost heart health and enhance weight loss, especially belly fat. Kerrygold brand is grass-fed butter from Ireland that is widely available. People who are sensitive to the proteins in dairy can often eat ghee, a.k.a. clarified butter, which is easy to make at home (barely heat butter and scoop the protein out as it separates and becomes frothy).
Coconut oil should be organic and ideally unrefined. But, if you don’t like the taste of coconut, it’s okay to use refined organic coconut oil. The original Bulletproof Coffee recipe calls for MCT oil, a more concentrated version of coconut oil, which is available at www.BulletProofExec.com. Coconut oil has been shown to support brain health and weight loss. It also kills all kinds of microbes (viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi).
Once you’ve corralled all the ingredients, blend them for 20-30 seconds. Recommended amounts are 1 cup of fresh-brewed coffee (or ½ cup warmed cold brew plus ½ cup water), 1-2 tablespoons coconut or MCT oil and 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee. If your body is not accustomed to so much fat at one time, start with a little at first (1 teaspoon of each type of fat) and slowly increase to the full 1-2 tablespoons of each.
Anne Buzzelli is a Registered Dietitian with a private practice in Staunton, Virginia, called BuzzNutrition (www.BuzzNutrition.com). She offers integrative nutrition consulting to connect how you feel to what you chew, as well as a cutting-edge stress-relief technology called Neurofeedback (www.StauntonStressRelief.com). She can be reached at 540.414.7525 or [email protected].
Lucas Roasting coffees (www.LucasRoasting.com) are available throughout the Valley and online. Cold brewed Lucas Coffee is often available at The Store, Staunton’s only farm to table café (240 North Central Ave).