It should come as no surprise to the avid coffee drinker that his or her favorite drink will routinely come under attack from the health establishment after a new round of studies announce their cuppa might cause cancer or worse!
That said, those same imbibers should not be shocked when proponents rally around this centuries old drink and counter those claims with still more claims of the health benefits of drinking not one, two, or even three, but four cups o’ joe!
All of this debate can be exhausting and leave you wondering whether or not to switch to tea (or something stronger!).
Before you give up on your daily fix, though, take a few moments to read the below definitive guide on caffeine, coffee, and the social benefits of brewing while drawing your own opinions around a better understanding of how studies (from both sides of the (coffee)house) are biased.
Bottom-line on who to believe: First off, we want to be fair to both critics and supporters of our favorite drink by recognizing that caffeine is a stimulant, or drug. The latter terminology obviously carries quite a stigma, and as we all know: too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.
Still, there are certain pros and cons when it comes to coffee, caffeine, and carefree living, but we’ll leave all of that up to YOU. Read on so as not only to learn more about this humble little bean (which it’s not, actually) and how it can quite possibly improve your health!
As we’ve discussed before, coffee was discovered by goats. No, seriously. In the 8th century, a goat herder from Ethiopia noticed that his animals were dancing after having had consumed some red fruit (see above comment regarding beans).
The goat herder, known as Kaldi, decided to try a few and soon discovered their ability to not only keep him awake, but more focused and energized. Of course, it did not take long for this story to spread and catapult this humble little the fruit into an agricultural and commercial powerhouse.
So, if coffee is technically a fruit, then how can it be ‘bad’ for you? Read on to find out more.
Fundamentals: Seeds and beans
While what we drink in the morning is most certainly not considered fruit, the coffee tree yields coffee fruit, which is home to the coffee seed. Got that? Good!
So, it should come as no real surprise that what lands in our daily cuppa is the little ‘bean’ inside the red fruit, which, again is technically a seed.
Fun fact: did you know that coffee trees take approximately five years to mature and will have a productive lifespan of more than 70 years?
There exists a multitude of different types of coffee trees yielding very different coffee fruits. Thus, different varieties will yield different amounts of caffeine as well as taste profiles based where they are grown, geographic region, harvest elevation, soil profile, drying method, and shipping and storage processes.
Despite all of these variables, however, it is safe to say, scientifically speaking, of course, that one bean has approximately one to two milligrams of caffeine.
Fun fact: Did you know that chocolate also contains caffeine and, so, chocolate-covered coffee ‘beans’ will house approximately five to seven milligrams of caffeine?
Read on to learn more about dosing and what caffeine really is.
Fundamentals: Caffeine, the drug of choice
We have touched on the topic of S-C-I-E-N-C-E before, but with regard to brewing and the chemistry behind the perfect blend. Here, however, we must delve into biology and aspects of human physiology.
Quickly, and so as not to bore, caffeine is a stimulant or upper. This means that it increases the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in our system (i.e., makes us feel happier) by depressing or inhibiting Adenosine, which, conversely, makes us sleepy.
So, scientifically speaking, we can chalk one up for coffee in that caffeine leads to higher levels of energy and increased brain function.
As for the cons, obviously you are monkeying with you central nervous system and dosing too much could lead to feeling shaky or irritated. The bloodstream also has to absorb your endless cups of coffee, which could further tax the liver and heart.
That said, everything in moderation is a good motto here as consuming too much caffeine by way of coffee day over day will only lessen one’s ability to wake up (i.e., you become addicted) and will require more and more cups o’ joe to achieve the same effect.
So, how much is too much caffeine in coffee? Read on to find out.
Fundamentals: What's in your cup?
No two cups o’ joe (or espresso) are the same. But you knew that.
Fun fact: do not let the names fool you, but did you know that these drinks pack a punch too? Specifically, did you know that espresso ‘only’ has 75 milligrams of caffeine while instant coffee goes all the way up to 173 milligrams? Compare that to the same amount of brewed tea (150 milligrams) and you might find yourself buying a Keurig!
What’s vital to note here, and regardless of your drug, er, drink of choice, is cup size. Nutrition values are based on 8-ounce servings and if you’re like us, well, we usually reach for a more ‘normalized’ mug.
That said, you do not have to watch precisely how many ounces you imbibe, but being cognizant of the strength and quantity of your brew could improve your overall mental and emotional health. In other words, you might realize that you need to scale back overall to feel less rattled or, conversely, brew a stronger cup so you do not have to suffer the many consequences of a weak cuppa.
Fun fact: Did you know that caffeine is present in more than 60 plants? Did you also know that coffee, tea, and chocolate are some of the most natural ways in which to get that hit, er, fix, er...you know what we mean...of dopamine? What’s more, though…
Fun fact: ...did you also know that coffee is the biggest way in which Westerners get a whole host of antioxidants? This includes 11% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin B2, 6% for Vitamin B5, 2% for Magnesium, and 3% of the RDA for potassium, so don’t put that cuppa down just yet...
Deeper dive: The health benefits of coffee!
Once you feel confident that you are consuming the right amount for you, then, yes, drink up! Studies both in the US and UK indicate that the optimal amount of coffee is three to four 8-ounce cups of coffee, or 380 milligrams of caffeine. There are several proven health benefits from drinking coffee, so drink up!
It is important to caveat all of these findings, of course, given that if one is genetically predisposed to certain biomarkers or already has diabetes or heart disease, increasing coffee consumption should only occur after speaking with your doctor, surgical team, nurse practitioner, or GP.
Another key point is caffeine and coffee could adversely affect women due to their already being susceptible to bone loss as well as the fact that, if pregnant, caffeine might impact the fetus or result in a miscarriage.
It’s not all doom and gloom, but we want to ensure you are armed with all the latest information when making your final decision about coffee and caffeine. And, so, without further ado, a few more cautionary considerations.
Deeper dive: High-risk behaviors
A big cause of previous coffee controversies is that few studies investigated possible correlations (which, as we’re all likely to remember from statistics, does not necessarily mean causation) between poor behavioral choices and drinking a cuppa.
To wit, it is not uncommon to smoke and drink coffee throughout one’s life, but the former is now known to directly cause heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. Thus, when researchers began investigating potential causes of these life-ending conditions, researchers did not consider the possibility that coffee was merely an accomplice to the crime(s) being conducted by smoking as well as a lack of physical activity.
Moreover, and more heartening (no pun intended), recent findings have actually shown a strong correlation between coffee consumption, improved metabolic health, regenerated fat burning cells (i.e., coffee actually aids in weight loss (and how could that be a bad thing?)), and improvements in physical activity as demonstrated by a variety of athletes!
Deeper dive: Coffee Substitutes
Another caveat we would like to stress is that all of the previously aforementioned benefits could be negated by overdosing, or consuming unnatural forms of caffeine.
This is a very real issue given the advent of energy drinks, colas, and five-hour energy boosters, which, and when coupled with cups and cups of coffee, could prove detrimental to one’s health by disrupting sleep and digestive cycles.
A final though, and a strange one at that, is the known negative side effects of consuming decaf coffee, which actually strips away the body-boosting antioxidants mentioned above. So, watch when you drink coffee and what you put in it, which leads us to...
Advanced: Coffee Additives
...the fact (yes!) that too much sugar and/or milk could negate the power of a good cup of coffee. We are not advocating that you go cold turkey, but do try to stay away from sweeteners, sugars, and milk if you are looking to maximize every last milligram of caffeine before you start your day.
Watch out for trends and fads as well (we’re looking at you, here, Bulletproof coffee), which, when done incorrectly or with poor ingredients, again, could negate the positive powers of this little bean, er, seed!
Conversely, trying add-ing (see what we did there?) a good habit to your morning cuppa and quit the nicotine habit or go for a brisk walk to optimize or your health and decrease the likelihood of your slipping back into those icky high-risk behaviors (cf. above commentary).
Advanced: Coffee Addiction (yes, it's a thing!)
Finally, it’s important to note that while caffeine by way of coffee has a great many benefits, there is still a risk of addiction as too much of a good thing (in this case) is not necessarily a good thing. Some warning signs that you may be imbibing too much of the natural stuff means watching out for headaches, upset tummies, constant bathroom breaks, jitters, and sleep loss.
Here are a few parting words on how to avoid these common issues with coffee so that you can, as always, continue to drink responsibly!
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Kate began her professional career in the US Air Force. She rediscovered her calling, however, through freelance consulting, project management, and writing. She is a Lean Six Sigma consultant and has worked for various organizations such as GE and Amazon, solving challenging operational bottlenecks. When she is not doing any of the above, she calls Glasgow home (for now) and continues to investigate the latest and greatest in caffeine throughout the world at CoffeeGrindGuru. Follow her journey online and feel free to drop her a note, question, or suggestion!