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The Perks of Coffee: The Breakdown of Health Benefits and Preparation

Coffee can stave off various illnesses and diseases; here are 6 ways to get the most from your roast

By Sheryl Stillman

Sitting in a diner with my grandmother at age four or five, I experienced my first cup of coffee — we were nestled in a booth, side-by-side; she handed me three creamers, two packets of sugar, and a spoon. I suppose that was to disguise the bitter flavor. It wouldn't have mattered if the coffee tasted like dirt; this was my first foray into adulthood, and I loved it.

Coffee beans coming out of a coffee bean roaster. Next Avenue, benefits of coffee, coffee vitamins
Store freshly roasted, high-quality beans in an airtight container to keep the antioxidants from dissipating.  |  Credit: Andrew Neel

My mother and grandparents often sat around restaurants or at the kitchen table, laughing and telling stories into the night, exhaling a cigarette in one breath and inhaling caffeine in another. I wanted to be just like them.

However, my mom was not so happy about my drink of choice back then or with her mother for allowing me to have it. But, Grandma retorted back, "it won't kill her."

Plentiful Health Benefits of Coffee

Recent studies have shown that coffee can decrease mortality; there are plentiful health benefits of this most popular beverage and its many protective compounds.

"People who drink coffee live longer against their peers who do not."

For example, research shows that for those without underlying conditions, pregnant, or under 12, consuming 3-4 cups per day can help to reduce the risks of Alzheimer's, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, it has been found that drinking coffee may minimize symptoms of depression and anxiety. Learning the perks of this pick-me-up was great news since it's been a daily staple of mine for the last 50 years.

Yet, after a recent physical, my "numbers" (if you're over 50, you know what this means — blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight) are all higher than they used to be. So, as I committed to a healthier lifestyle with my doctor, I wondered whether how I consumed coffee could make a difference.

My mother and grandparents often sat around restaurants or at the kitchen table, exhaling a cigarette in one breath and inhaling caffeine in another.

After chatting with an epidemiologist and an expert in the coffee industry, here's what I discovered:

"There have been hundreds of longevity studies, and the research overwhelmingly supports the positive effects of coffee," says Mark Pereira, professor of Epidemiology & Community Health at the University of Minnesota. "People who drink coffee live longer against their peers who do not."

Not only this, but it appears that decaf, vacuum-sealed pods, and capsules also deliver goodness in your cup. Moreover, many factors influence a single cup's flavor and total nutrients, including the type of bean, brewing temperature, length of time and maker, to name a few.

"Common sense," advises Pereira, "is that you should start with fresh, high-quality beans and grind and brew straight away because once the antioxidants are exposed to light and heat, they start to dissipate."

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6 Ways To Get the Most From Your Roast

1. Keep it fresh. Buying small batches of freshly roasted beans, storing them in a tightly sealed canister, and grinding them right before use, will rival any cafe. 

The National Coffee Association of USA (NCA) recommends using an opaque, air-tight container, keeping it at room temperature, and placing it in a dark and cool location.

2. Find your perfect grind. Investing in a coffee grinder may be more vital than the appliance you use for making a cup of joe.

According to Josh Fields, managing director for Compak, a specialty grinder company, how beans are crushed and ground directly affects how water permeates through the fruit, ultimately extracting essence, flavor and aroma.

3. Measure the Golden Ratio. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) developed The Golden Cup Standard: 2 tablespoons (30 g) of grounds to 6 ounces (180 ml) of water. You'll want to ensure you are getting enough coffee with its nearly 1,000 antioxidants to obtain the value of 3-4 cups per day.

4. Use a simple brewing method. From pour-overs to espresso, the coffee habits of those who live the longest and healthiest, otherwise known as residents of the Blue Zones, appear to have another thing in common: keep it simple!

In Italy, where espresso originated, and people believe that this refreshment is "one of the greatest pleasures in life," a favorite way of preparing coffee at home is with a coffee mocha machine. 

In the United States, this is more commonly known as a "Moka Pot" and is a stovetop maker that uses boiling water to pass through prepared grounds.

With coffee trees lining the roadside, Costa Rica is also home to more than 40,000 coffee farmers and is widely known for producing some of the best Arabica beans.

For many living in this country, a traditional brewing method is a device called a "chorreador," made of a wooden stand and a sock. First, grounds are placed in the fabric, and boiling water is then "poured over," creating an easy and delicious cup of joe. Eureka … a use for mismatched socks!

A fine grind delivers a higher concentration of antioxidants and boiling allows for more healthy compounds.

In Greece, on the other hand, "Ikarians boil their coffee rather than brewing it," wrote Dan Buettner, the National Geographic expert behind the Blue Zones. According to his blog, a fine grind delivers a higher concentration of antioxidants and boiling allows for more healthy compounds, resulting in less caffeine than an average American cup of coffee.

5. Go easy on the additives. While Pereira noted that ordering several milky, frothy drinks in a day may not be as healthy as downing it black, it was reassuring to hear that flavored creamers, shots of syrup, or other sweeteners won't erase the gains of the coffee itself. (My favorites are either an Americano or a cup of plain Costa Rican dark roast.)

"It appears that even when adding these extras to your cup, coffee still offers protection," says Pereira.

6. Clean the pot regularly. No matter which pot you select, professionals suggest you clean your machine after each use and thoroughly every 3-6 months according to the manufacturer's directions. These machines can be breeding grounds for bacteria, mold, and yeast.

Reaping The Advantages of Single-Cup Coffee Makers

What if you are like me, one of the 27% of households with a single-cup coffee maker? With the convenience, consistency, speed and plethora of flavors, one-cup prospects would be challenging for any connoisseur to resist. 

Yet these small bursts of energy come at a cost to the planet. As a result, many companies now utilize aluminum pods or capsules instead of plastic, which is 100% recyclable, and a healthy alternative for you and the environment. 

Another way to take advantage of a single-serve appliance is to consider purchasing a stainless-steel reusable pod for freshly ground beans, offering a sustainable-friendly option.

Experimenting on Your Own

In my quest to uncover the healthiest and best-tasting cooking method, what's clear is that it comes down to personal taste and preferences. But, regardless of how you prepare, benefits abound. 

Given that you can't go wrong with any of the above choices, my kitchen is now home to a few more pieces of equipment than I anticipated. Lastly, like cookies and milk, community and belonging often go hand-in-hand with sipping your coffee. 

My family may have been on to something back when I was a kid. (Minus the cigarettes.) Those memories of our good times together have fueled my love and desire for caffeine all these years. Being in the company of others while sharing something warm is a great combination and recipe for healthy living. So it seems Grandma was right after all.

Sheryl Stillman
Sheryl Stillman is a writer, professional coach, and change-management consultant focusing on helping older adults live their best lives. Learn more at Sherylonline.com. Read More
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