There are not many drinks more popular - and some would say, necessary - than coffee. Its signature flavor, robust aroma, and, let's admit it, caffeine levels have made it a daily staple to many. In the United States, 80% of adults consume caffeine every day. According to FDA, the average intake is 200 milligrams or about two 5 oz cups of coffee.
But that daily cup has been yanked back and forth in research studies - is it healthy? Is it harmful? Below, we look into what coffee is, what it means for your health, and how to pick the right type for you.
What Is Coffee?
Coffee is a drink made from roasted coffee beans. Coffee beans are the seeds of a coffee cherry, and coffee cherries grow on coffee tree Coffea plants. This makes coffee technically a fruit. And these coffee trees were originally grown in Southeast Asia and West Africa. Today, coffee cultivation of plants happens in over 70 countries, with most coffee being produced in Brazil. Brazil produces 40% of the world's coffee.
The coffee seeds are removed from the coffee cherry and are then roasted. The roasted coffee beans are then ground into fine particles. This ground coffee is steeped in hot water and then filtered out, and you have a cup of coffee. Of course, there are many different ways to vary this process.
There are two types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. The majority of the coffee beans are Arabica, and Robusta is slightly more bitter and has twice as much caffeine.
Fun fact: The world's most expensive coffee is $600 a pound. And it comes from the feces of a Sumatran wildcat. Yep! An animal is called a Luwak. Luwak is unable to digest coffee beans. In the process of digesting the bean, they are fermented in the stomach. When the beans are extracted, they produce a smooth chocolaty coffee.
How Does Coffee Taste?
Coffee is generally a bitter and slightly acidic drink. There is a wide range of flavor profiles, however. Some of this is based on the Coffea plant used to produce the coffee beans, to begin with, but the flavor can also be influenced by roasting times, roasting methods, and even how finely the coffee bean is ground. Some coffee drinkers use milk, cream, or various sweeteners to cut the bitterness a bit.
Different Coffee Types
The wide world of coffee can be a little bewildering, and the coffee you order at a coffee shop is going to be different from what you can brew at home. There are four things that define a cup of coffee - the type of bean used, how it's roasted, how finely it's ground, and how it is brewed. And then, of course, there's the choice between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
- Type of Bean - While there are a wide variety of coffee plants, there are two that are dominant. Coffea Arabica originated from Ethiopia and produced a milder flavorful coffee than other types. However, it's more sensitive to sunlight and humidity levels and requires a steady temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. So, it's more expensive to grow. Coffea robusta beans are more bitter, but the plant is much more cost-efficient to grow.
- Roast Level - The rich flavor and strong aroma that we all associate with coffee comes about when the green coffee bean is roasted. All coffee beans are roasted at high heat, but exactly how high the heat and how long they're roasted change their flavor. Roasting levels run a spectrum from light (or blonde) to medium to dark. Lighter roasts produce a light-colored coffee with less bitterness and higher acidity. Darker roasts produce a black coffee that isn't as acidic but is much more bitter. The popular French roast is medium-dark.
- Grind Level - The roasted coffee beans are ground more or less finely depending on how they are going to be steeped. A fine grind is used for espresso. A medium grind is used in drip coffee makers. A coarse grind is best in a French press.
- Caffeine Level - Coffee naturally has caffeine, but it can be removed by either using chemical solvents or carbon dioxide gas. Both methods will remove some of the coffee flavor and scent along with the caffeine.
Is Drinking Coffee Healthy?
Yes, yes, you say. That's all well and good, but is coffee even healthy in the first place? Coffee is a mixture of over a thousand chemicals, and so each person's reaction to coffee can vary widely. This makes it hard for researchers to reach a definite conclusion. Currently, the research seems to say that moderate coffee consumption has positive health outcomes.
Positive Health Outcomes to Coffee Drinking
- Coffee contributes to your daily nutrient value. A single cup of coffee contains 11% of the daily recommended amount of Riboflavin (vitamin B2), 6 % of Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), 3% of manganese and potassium, and 2% of niacin and magnesium.
- Low to moderate caffeine consumption increases alertness, energy, and concentration ability. These are all good things! (1)
- Cancer research has shown benefits to drinking coffee. Coffee seems to speed digestion, resulting in a lower risk of colorectal cancer. It decreases estrogen levels, reducing the risk of several types of cancer. It also lowers inflammation, which can lead to all sorts of cancers.
- While caffeine increases blood sugar in the short-term, long-term coffee consumption shows a slightly lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The polyphenols and magnesium in coffee seem to lead to a reduced risk of insulin resistance. (2, 3)
- While caffeine is a stimulant, it appears that if you drink coffee regularly, you have a lower chance of getting heart disease and stroke. This risk appears to get lower as coffee consumption increases, with people who drink upwards of 4 cups a day showing a 20% lower risk of stroke than people who don't drink coffee. Moderate coffee drinking (around 3 cups a day) also lowers the risk of heart disease and death by 21%. (4)
- Depression and suicide risk go down notably as coffee consumption increases. (5)
- Parkinson's disease is mainly caused by low dopamine levels. Studies have found caffeine to protect the brain cells that produce dopamine. (6)
Negative Health Outcomes to Coffee Drinking
- High levels of caffeine from drinking multiple cups of coffee daily can lead to anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and an increased heart rate.
- High coffee intake can lead to an increased risk of heart issues. Unfiltered coffee brews contain substances that can raise triglycerides and cholesterol, causing issues with blood pressure.
In short, drinking moderate amounts of coffee a day poses significant health benefits. However, if caffeine tends to give you the jitters, those health benefits are going to be outweighed by anxiety, lack of sleep, and the strain of a regular increased heart rate.
Coffees Drink Types
Coffee is a popular drink in the world, and there are many ways it can be prepared and presented: espresso, French press, caffe latte, or canned coffee.
Coffee can be served hot or chilled, and it is often added with sugar, sugar alternatives, milk, milk alternatives, or cream to lessen the bitter taste. This includes latte, cappuccino, Americano, cortado, macchiato, mocha, flat white and many more. But when you add milk, it weakens the effects of caffeine. Our bodies absorb coffee much slower than its added fat milk content, which decreases the stimulants.
Instant coffee is also convenient for anyone who does not want to prepare it themselves.
Caffeinated vs. Decaf?
Decaf does not mean it's caffeine-free. An eight-ounce brewed cup of decaf coffee actually has 2-12 milligrams of caffeine. In comparison, a regular cup of coffee has anywhere between 95 to 200 milligrams.