A fresh cup of coffee is one of the top ways people love to kickstart their day. In fact, there may be a cup on your desk right now. But are you getting the full health benefits of coffee? If certain parameters are met in its preparation and serving, coffee can actually provide multiple health benefits. Read on to learn a little bit about coffee’s history, the different roasts, and how to make your morning (or afternoon) brew even better.
Coffee – Coffea arabica (Rubiaceae)
The fermented, sun-dried and roasted seeds of the coffee plant are commonly known as coffee beans. Coffee beans contain between .06% and .32% caffeine, a powerful stimulant, along with theophylline, a mild stimulant and muscle relaxer. One of the few bitter foods remaining in the Western diet, coffee enhances perception and increases physical performance by stimulating the nervous system, increasing heart output, and improving the flow of digestive juices. A powerful diuretic, coffee is used for detoxification and cleansing and is also used to treat headaches. For those working first shift, coffee should only be consumed between 5AM and 5PM so as not to disturb sleep patterns.
While a short-term stimulant, coffee is thought to weaken overall vitality if used every day. Coffee should be avoided by people prone to chronic forms of diarrhea, acid indigestion, high blood pressure or heart palpitations.
Coffee is native to the East African tropics but is now cultivated in tropical areas worldwide. Coffee was discovered around 1000 AD when a flock of goats was observed jumping in an excited fashion when they grazed on coffee berries (each of which contains two coffee seeds or beans). The goatherd, an Arab referred to by some as Khalid and others as Kaldi, decided to eat some of the fruit himself and he immediately felt more alert. As for how it came to be commonly roasted, according to one account some beans were accidentally burned but found to be better tasting that way. However, it is also known that the beans were roasted to prevent germination as coffee was a trade secret, so that may have been the real reason they are now commonly sold in roasted form.
Fair Trade, Local and Organic Coffee
Coffee ranks along with oil as one of the top export crops in the world. As with oil, however, some areas that produce coffee do not distribute wealth appropriately, and in many cases, producers are exploited. Middlemen tend to steal the bulk of the profit and pay barely enough for coffee farmers to survive. Consumers who choose fair trade coffee ensure that the farmers who actually produce their coffee can make a living.
Coffee can be grown at home in southern areas and takes 2-3 years to fruit. Coffee seeds are expensive but can be purchased online.
Because pesticide residue can be compounded when coffee is roasted at high temperatures, choosing organic coffee is worthwhile. The finest coffee is available at an affordable price when purchased in bulk 5 to 10-pound bags. However, to avoid monotony it’s important to have at least two varieties. Coffee can be stored in the freezer for long periods and at room temperature if vacuum sealed.
Top 10 Ways to Make Better Coffee
1) Grind the Beans Fresh – For the freshest coffee possible, grind whole beans immediately before brewing.
2) Use a Mesh Grinder – The best coffee mills grind coffee in one chamber until the grinds are small enough to flow through a variable-sized mesh into another container. This ensures uniform size.
3) Try a Ceramic Kettle – To test your kettle, boil water, let it cool, and then drink a glass. If it tastes tinny, chances are your kettle is contributing unpleasant flavors to your coffee. A ceramic kettle is best, but make sure to get one that whistles or you will eventually hear the sound of expensive ceramic cracking. Avoid products made in China.
4) Filter the Water – Coffee is only as pure as the water it is brewed with. Distilled or reverse osmosis water is ideal. Sink water is not an option though many restaurants use just that.
5) Use a French Press – Course-ground coffee is directly mixed with very hot (versus boiling) water in a glass beaker where it steeps for about 4 minutes. A plunger with a fine screen mesh, built into the lid, is used to move the grinds to the bottom. The canister then serves as a coffee pitcher. The main drawback with a French press has been difficulty keeping the coffee warm, but insulated French presses are now available. The fine coffee dust that settles in the cup should be avoided as it is mildly carcinogenic due to the roasting process. As with all brewing methods, after 20 minutes the coffee grounds become acidic and should be discarded. Coffee grounds make great fertilizer for the garden as they provide nitrogen.
6) Choose Evaporated Cane Juice – The best sweetener is raw sugar. While some feel that stevia does not lend itself to coffee, real agave nectar is a great sugar substitute.
7) Buy Organic Cream – Perhaps the biggest key to the purity of your coffee is the cream, which is preferred by many people to offset the bitterness of black coffee.
8) Opt for Real Silverware – If you can, choose an actual silver spoon which is naturally antibacterial. In the old days a silver dollar was kept in the water barrel to keep it free of pathogens. Silver mechanically purifies water without breeding “super” bugs.
9) Find the Right Cup – As with wine glasses, the right size coffee cup is essential and impacts flavor. The cup radius determines what parts of the tongue the liquid hits first. In the super-sized world of today, the original coffee cup is a dying breed, but it was the ideal size, shape and material for coffee.
10) Alternate with Tea – To get the most enjoyment from your coffee it helps to take a break now and then (less is more). A great alternative to coffee is to periodically switch to Yerba Mate tea. Yerba Mate contains less caffeine and tastes great with stevia. Since decaffeinated coffee is often produced using solvents and/or still contains trace amounts of caffeine, it is not recommended.