Coffee: the Healthiest Brewing Methods

Updated: Mar 11

The previous article on coffee looked into the controversy surrounding coffee.

We concluded that there are things you can do to negate some of the downsides and take advantage of the benefits. In case you have missed it, read about it here.


During my research on the topic, I learned more about the background of coffee myself. 

I had heard about Arabica and Robusta before, but I didn’t know the ins and outs and the exact differences. I learned that the flavor of Robusta is coffee is more intense and reminds some people of wood and tobacco. 


One day, I happened to stumble upon some coffee in the supermarket with a label stating: “Butter and Tobacco, Creamy and Mild Mouthfeel, 30% Robusta” 


The odd combination aroused my interest.

 

Somewhat bizarre since the fact that both butter and tobacco aren’t things I particularly enjoy or hold in high regard.

It was purchased merely with the intent of exploring uncharted territories. 


Upon opening the bag, an aromatic smell of fragrant coffee beans filled the air. Not even a trace of tobacco.


In readiness for the discovery of the combined taste of wood, tobacco and butter, fumes of ambrosia released from a freshly made brew caressed the ciliated lining of my nose.


It was only when the first sip entered my oral cavity, that the horrifying realization struck. This substance resembled the taste of actual tobacco!


To be more accurate, it reminded me of an ashtray filled with several day-old cigarette buds.


Strangely enough, subsequent trials have not resulted in experiencing this cigarette like aroma with the same intensity and it became quite acceptable.

Robusta may not be the victor in the flavor department, but it may offer some advantages.

Robusta generally has a higher antioxidant content than Arabica(1)

Perhaps not always in regard to darker roasts, but among lighter roast there is a more significant difference. (2)


Though, an important note to make here is that most of the increase is due to the higher caffeine content.


As we’ve seen in the previous article that seems to be less beneficial if you have a slow caffeine metabolism. (3)

There is another distinct difference between the two varieties, namely in the cafestol and kahweol content. Kahweol and, more specifically, cafestol are potent cholesterol raising agents. (4)


Robusta contains only negligible amounts of kahweol and significantly less cafestol than its cousin Arabica. (5), (6)


Coffee blends that consist of 20% or more of Robusta clearly show a lower content of these two compounds. (6)


Brewing methods

We’ve known for a long time that the way you prepare your coffee affects how much of cafestol and kahweol ends up in it.


As you can see in the table below filtered coffee has the least amount of cafestol. Boiled coffee, sometimes called Scandinavian coffee, has the largest amount. (4)

Most of the cafestol and kahweol are retained by the paper filter, which substantially reduces the cholesterol-raising effects. (7)


Cholesterol

The more cafestol you ingest the higher your serum cholesterol rises. This means a boiled or Turkish coffee raises your cholesterol more than a French press (Cafetière) or an espresso does. Subsequently, an espresso or French press raises your cholesterol more than a filtered coffee does. The biggest increase in cholesterol is found to be LDL cholesterol, (4), (7), (8), (9), (10)


An increased LDL, even within so called normal or average range, is an increased risk factor for cardiovascular disease, where the lower the LDL, the lower the risk. (11), (12)


The most common illness of the cardiovascular system, heart disease, is the number 1 cause of death worldwide, even in the 15-49 age group. (13)


In this regard it seems filtered coffee is the best option, maybe even with a low cafestol content, like in a blend with Robusta.


Filtered coffee

Is the amount of cafestol low enough for filtered coffee not to create any spikes in LDL?

Most of the research done concludes that filtered coffee doesn’t increase cholesterol significantly, (9) but there have been some contradicting results. (14), (15)


One of these contradicting studies concluded that even a high antioxidant filtered coffee increases cholesterol. (14) What’s interesting about this study is that they also measured an increase in two inflammatory markers, so it deserves a closer look.


Participants in the study drank 4 cups of coffee daily, which doesn’t seem out of the ordinary compared with the average consumption of many people. However, every cup had 15 grams worth of coffee containing about 230 mg of caffeine, equaling to an astonishing 60 grams of coffee a day with a total amount of more than 900 mg of caffeine.


To put these numbers into context, that's 500 mg more caffeine than the maximum recommended amount in many countries across the globe! (16)


The average daily caffeine intake in the United states is about 185 mg. (17)

One single cup of coffee as used in the study, contains more caffeine than the total daily intake of the average American.


It might even trump world’s biggest coffee consumers: the Finnish. (18)

Not only that, the amount of cafestol was comparatively high. (14)

No wonder they measured a cholesterol rise. 


Although it's not realistic to apply these outcomes to the average person, it does indicate that filtered coffee isn’t completely bulletproof and you can certainly overdo it.


If you, for some reason, DO consume that amount of coffee, please consider a lifestyle change.


Instant coffee

Besides regular filter brewed coffee, instant coffee also contains little of the cholesterol raising cafestol. Instant coffee's are generally low in cafestol, because they are often made from robusta coffee or they are made from a blend of Arabica and Robusta.


There is not enough relevant data available to conclude how much precisely instant coffee can increase serum cholesterol. (19) We know of one trial that measured a mild increase, but that outcome was reached with an higher than average intake of coffee. (20)


Furthermore, due to the fact that instant coffee generally has a low cafestol content, the rise in cholesterol may be insignificant among average consumption.

Instant coffee is generally not favored for its flavor and most people prefer, at least taste wise, a freshly made cup of Joe. 

But don't count instant coffee out completely. In tea- loving nations such as India, Pakistan, Turkey and Morocco instant coffee is getting more and more popular. In Britain instant coffee has even outperformed its freshly brewed cousin for years. (21)


Summary

So, what is the best way to prepare your coffee?

Filtered coffee and instant coffee may be the best options for coffee consumers who drink coffee multiple times a day. Filtered coffee is the least processed of the two and is therefore preferred over instant coffee.


This does not mean that other brewing methods have to be completely avoided. There are, however, more factors involved that have to be addressed in order to obtain a clear picture in respect to their potential health positives and negatives. In another article we will highlight these.


Overall it might still be a good strategy to keep your coffee intake below the daily recommended maximum of 400 mg caffeine to be on the safe side.


The amount of caffeine that coffee contains varies. That makes sense because everybody uses different beans or blends and different quantities of coffee. The table below shows an estimated average of how much caffeine coffee contains.


Mind you that tea and some soda drinks like cola and energy drinks all contain caffeine and are not shown in the table.


  • Brewed coffee: 95mg on average

  • Instant: 65-80 mg

  • Decaf coffee: 3mg on average

  • Espresso: 63mg on average


If you are used to drinking coffee in the privacy of your own home and you decide one day you feel adventurous enough to try out a fresh brew at a nearby coffee chain, then please don't use above's list as a reference.


Take Starbucks as an example. Starbucks brewed coffee's caffeine content can go all the way up to an astonishing 410 mg, taking you over the maximum with just one single cup. (22)



References:

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00217-016-2643-y

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4665516/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5589785/

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9240930

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC481079/

  6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285533212_Discrimination_of_coffee_species_using_kahweol_and_cafestol_Effects_of_roasting_and_of_defects.

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510568

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5696634/

  9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12124404_Coffee_consumption_and_serum_lipids_a_meta-analysis_of_randomized_controlled_clinical_trials

  10. https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn201268

  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14623804

  12. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/70/24/2979

  13. https://ourworldindata.org/causes-of-death#deaths-in-15-49-year-olds

  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510568

  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12947437

  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266969/

  17. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#callout-caffeine)

  18. https://coffeforus.com/coffee-consumption-by-country-top/

  19. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/153/4/353/129046

  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8536656

  21. https://blog.euromonitor.com/premium-instant-coffee-takes-share-in-uk-reflecting-strong-potential-in-tea-drinking-markets/

  22. https://www.starbucks.com/menu/product/480/hot?parent=%2Fdrinks%2Fhot-coffees%2Fbrewed-coffees#size=1


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