Well hello there! Walker here: husband, father and coffee lover and I wanted to wish you Happy National Coffee Day!
In the holistic health community, coffee doesn't always get a lot of love. It's a stimulant that can cause a whole host of undesirable effects, including digestive problems, elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels, anxiety, and when abused can make other conditions far worse, such as adrenal fatigue.
On the other hand, research has shown that a cup of coffee can have positive health benefits, including lower rates of cardiovascular disease, liver disease and can even prevent cancer!
So who's right? Both sides perhaps.
You see, coffee, like many other commodities, ranges drastically in quality, and I think quality may be the difference between a healthy cup and a not-so-healthy cup.
Note: When I say coffee, I'm referring to black coffee. Mocha-frappa-lattes and such do not apply.
As an enthusiast who enjoys the drink but knew relatively little about it, I reached out to our good friend and coffee Czar Alan Smith of Rise Cafe (and husband of the lovely Julie Daniluk) to break down what makes a great cup.
Alan's been in the coffee industry for 19 years and definitely knows his stuff. We sat down for a coffee and a quick chat. Here's what I learned:
It all starts with the bean
Coffee starts as a cherry on a tree, which is grows naturally in bio-diverse, mountainous rainforest environments. In its natural environment, no pesticides or chemicals are needed to allow the tree to thrive natures natural balance takes care of that.
Unfortunately, like most foods and produce, coffee has become industrialized and large producers have brought crops off the mountains to the valleys where they can yield a larger harvest. Here, the coffee plant is treated with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides to help it survive outside of its natural habitat.
Like many other industrialized agricultural practices, mono-cropping introduces a whole other set of problems.
So how do you know if you're buying a quality bean? Look for these labels:
It means farmers are being paid a fair price for their product, which means they can afford to keep their land, and continue to harvest the best product possible on the best land.
Ensures no chemicals or pesticides were used on the crop. Also beneficial for farmers because they aren't exposed to toxic chemicals.
The gold standard In Alan's opinion. Bird-friendly status is issued by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and guarantees that not only is the coffee 100% organic, but that it was produced in a high-quality shaded, bio-diverse environment. Basically, it was grown the way coffee was meant to be grown.
Roast, grind, repeat
After the cherry is picked, it's dried to a "green bean," when it becomes extremely shelf stable (up to 10 years). After it's dried, the green bean is roasted, which takes its stable fats and converts them into volatile oils that start to oxidize immediately. As of this point, the bean is on the clock.
A roasted bean has a shelf life of seven days before it goes rancid. That bitter cup of black coffee you just had? That's because all of the oils have fully oxidized and have gone bad.
The shelf life of a ground bean is even shorter: 4-6 hours to be exact.
Which brings us back to industrialized coffee: the big three producers (Sara Lee, Kraft and Nestle) roast, grind and package their products months in advance, which means if you buy coffee from the coffee aisle in the grocery store, you're likely drinking a rancid, oxidized gross cup of coffee every morning.
And no, vacuum sealing or storing beans in a freezer does not help.
So how can you make sure you are getting a fresh cup?
So there you have it! I hope some of this info helps you in your pursuit for a better cup of joe. Much like anything else we eat, freshness and quality are absolutely key. Only then will we optimally benefit from the positive health effects of food, including coffee.
Thanks again to Alan for lending his expertise! If you're in Toronto, check out his excellent cafe Rise Espresso Bar.
P.S. Here are some fun coffee facts!
Do we have any other joyous coffee lovers out there? Let me know your favourite way to enjoy a cup or your favourite coffee shop (I'm always looking for good ones to check out) in the comments below!