Ah, coffee. A favorite morning drink for many people. It’s practically a staple in our diets. We use it to keep ourselves awake during early morning shifts or classes, and we use it as comfort in the form of lattes and cappuccinos.
But despite how much we drink coffee most of us know little about it.
Did you know that coffee can only be grown in specific places? Or that it can cause bloating? Or that the average American consumes 3.2 cups of coffee per day?
Never fear! I’m here to help you uncover coffee’s secrets—starting with its origin.
From The Coffee Plant To Your Cup
Let’s start with a simple fact: pretty much all of our coffee in North America is imported.
This isn’t from lack of trying, of course. Lots of people have thought they could build a greenhouse, scatter a few coffee beans, and watch the plant spring out of the dirt. Unfortunately, coffee trees and shrubs are pretty picky, and any attempts to rear them outside of their native habitats end poorly.
Unsurprisingly, the area where coffee grows best is known as the coffee belt. These areas above and below the equator have the perfect blend of warmth, humidity, and precipitation for coffee to thrive, and include places like Brazil, Vietnam, India, and Columbia.
So, what’s the process of getting it from there to your cup? Do we just pluck the plant from the ground, throw it on a plane, and ship it off?
Not quite. The process of preparing coffee is pretty intensive.
It starts with a fruit the coffee plant produces called the coffee cherry. They might look a little like normal cherries, but you probably don’t want to go popping one in your mouth.
These fruits are usually harvested once a year and are taken to a processing plant. There, they are processed using one of two methods:
- The dry method. The cherries are set out in the sun to dry. This doesn’t take too long if it’s sunny; rain, on the other hand, means this process can last for weeks.
- The wet method. A little more intensive, but also a little quicker than the dry method. Basically, the pulp is removed from the cherry, which helps expedite the drying process.
Once the cherries are dried they go through a process called ‘hulling.’ This is where the skin is removed from the bean, and any defective beans are thrown away.
Finally, finally, the beans are exported. They’re not done yet though. They have to be roasted, which gives them their dark brown color. Then they have to be brewed and taste-tested for quality. (Any coffee experts out there thinking they want this job?)
Only once this process is finished can they be sent out—whether as whole beans, or as grinds. I’m sure you know how the process goes after that. It’s likely a staple of your morning, after all.
Caffeine: Coffee’s Biggest Draw
The United States imports over $4 billion of coffee per year—almost 20% of all the coffee that’s imported globally. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, but probably not surprising given how much we drink.
Coffee’s recommended serving size is 6 oz.—both for maximum taste and for health—but many people will drink far more than that in a sitting. Americans tend to drink 9 oz. a cup.
The reason we overload is simple: we’re looking for that sweet, sweet caffeine boost at a low carb cost: there are 0 grams of carbohydrates in a cup of black coffee.
Which seems great, until you realize that a cup of coffee very rarely comes with only coffee.
Now let’s be clear. Coffee, in and of itself, isn’t really that bad for you. In fact, when you drink in moderation it can be really good for your metabolism! But when you start adding a bunch of sugar and dairy products? Not so much.
We’ve all heard the spiel about sugar: it’s not good for you (no matter how good it tastes), it can be addictive, it can cause a sugar crash. But if you’re counting calories and carbs, milk products can be pretty bad too. Just adding a standard serving of milk to a cup of coffee can add 146 calories and 11.4 grams of carbohydrates. This can be pretty distressing for people who don’t like the taste of coffee, but want to get that caffeine boost.
And the people who drink coffee in excess aren’t off the hook, either. While coffee is mostly okay, it still comes with drawbacks for people who overdue their coffee consumption:
- Bloating: Coffee stimulates the digestive tract, which can cause spasms in the bowels. From there it can, unfortunately, lead to bloating.
- Headaches: These are specifically caused by caffeine and can happen because of withdrawal, poor caffeine tolerance, or because of too much caffeine. There’s really no winning with this one, is there?
- Fatigue: Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? But coffee can make you tired for a number of reasons. For one, caffeine blocks adenosine receptors (adenosine is what makes you tired), but doesn’t stop adenosine from being made. Once the caffeine wears off, all the adenosine your body made during that time will come flooding back. For another, coffee dehydrates you, which can make your blood flow more sluggishly and carry less oxygen around the body.
So what exactly causes this? Why do our bodies seem determined to make it difficult to enjoy our morning boost?
Well, a lot of it’s genetic. That’s right; if you can’t enjoy your coffee, you can blame your parents!
…Okay, don’t really do that. But it is true that there are a variety of genetic variables that affect our ability to process caffeine. These variables affect how much caffeine it takes for us to get a buzz, how many side-effects we experience from caffeine, and even whether or not we’ll have an allergic reaction. This is why some people get by with just a small cup, and others need several just to hope to stay awake.
When you don’t get that stimulation you’re looking for, you drink more coffee. If you don’t like the taste of coffee, you add more to it—you get the picture.
So How Can You Drink Coffee And Stay Healthy?
Remember when I said that coffee can have health benefits? That’s still true.
The key here is moderation… and, in some cases, a different brewing method.
Before we get into this, let me give you a little backstory.
The Healthiest People in The World (are on a Coffee Diet)
A man named Dr. Bob Arnot took an interest in the Ikarian people because of their unusually long lifespans. After studying and speaking with them, he noticed something interesting—they drank coffee with every meal. He theorized that coffee, therefore, had health benefits, and did a study to test that. He was able to confirm his suspicions, and published his findings in a book called The Coffee Lover’s Diet: Change your Coffee, Change your Life.
Dr. Arnot’s findings suggest that coffee’s good for losing weight because it helps stimulate your metabolism and prevents your body from absorbing fat. The coffee used wasn’t the standard American brew, but Greek styled, which likely plays into its effectiveness.
But the coffee’s not doing the work alone. Dr. Arnot’s suggested diet includes drinking coffee with every meal, sure, but it also suggests trying the Mediterranean diet or something similar. You need a healthy, balanced diet to keep you functioning, too, after all.
What is the best way to drink coffee?
Okay, so I’m sure you’re wondering: what is the best way to consume your coffee?
And that answer would probably be this: take black coffee, in moderate servings of around the suggested 6 oz., and make sure you’re supplementing it with leafy greens and other healthy foods. This way, you can experience health benefits such as weight loss as well as your daily caffeine boost.
If that doesn’t do it for you? Maybe try sticking to decaf.
A Little Bit Of Coffee Can Go A Long Way
Coffee is just one of those things that’s more-or-less become a staple in American life. We use it to help us function throughout the day and manage those long shifts at work. It’s practically second nature to brew a cup in the morning to prepare for the day.
It can also have a surprising amount of health benefits, provided it’s paired with a healthy diet and few additives are involved.
And yeah, it’s probably better to drink it black and in moderation if you’re going to have it on a day-to-day basis, but that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your lattes entirely. Hey, it’s okay to splurge once and a while, right?