If you thought, your favorite cup of coffee was unhealthy, think again !!
Coffee's origin can be traced to the 12th century in Ethiopia , where it is believed to have been first harvested. "Traders brought coffee to the Middle East , from where it began to spread outward in the 15th century, penetrating every corner of Europe over the next two hundred years". Brazil is one of the largest coffee producing countries in the world.
The last few years, urban India has acquired a new coffee culture. International coffee chains are opening coffee shops and doing brisk business, even in smaller towns. While, South Indian filtered coffee has been a tradition, India in general is waking up to coffee.
Coffee beans are cured either by air-drying or fermentation. The dried hulled beans are then roasted and ground. The green coffee beans have little flavor and aroma, until they are roasted. Beans expand to one-and-a-half times of their original size and become porous and are classified according to the colour of roasting into light, medium, dark, Italian or French roast which are very-dark.
Most coffee beans are harvested directly from coffee trees, while, a special variety called Kopi Luwaka also known as civet coffee beans are passed through the digestive tract of a cat-like animal called civet. The enzymes in the civet's digestive system break-down some proteins that give the beans bitterness and its unique mellowness. Interestingly, this is the world's most expensive coffee, which typically sells for $200- $600 / lb. These treasured coffee beans come from Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries, and their supply is limited.
While, there are several coffees, most of the world's coffee comes from two species-coffea Arabica and coffea Robusta. Both these kind of coffee bushes bear the fruit called cherry. Most cherries have two coffee beans in them, but a small percentage of cherries of the Arabica have only one coffee bean and this is the rare pea-berry bean. This pea-berry has much more flavor than its sister bean on the same Arabica plant, which is called the plantation bean. Arabica provides more taste and flavor, while Robusta, more body and caffeine.
Chicory is added to give a rich dark colour to coffee. It is a green, the leaves of which are used in salad and the roots are dried, ground and roasted. It is sometimes added to coffee substitutes for a bitter taste.
Coffee that is available to us, may be a blend of as many as 5-6 different varieties of coffee beans. The blends are controlled for flavor, aroma, colour, strength or body. Blending is done by creative artists of the coffee world, who choose beans that combine to produce desirable brews. Once, a blend combination has been developed, it is continuously produced so that one coffee blend always has the same flavor or aroma.
To prepare coffee, there are different methods, which include- filteration, percolation and steeping.
Filtration, also called drip-method, water filters through the coffee powder into the lower compartment of the coffee maker.
When coffee is percolated, heated water is forced upwards through a tube into the coffee compartment. The water filters through the coffee several times, before the coffee is of desirable strength.
Steeping, the beverage is made by heating the coffee and water together but not allowing to boil.
Other forms of coffee include- decaffeinated, instant, iced and flavoured coffee. Many health conscious people have turned to de-caffeinated coffee, but there have been questions regarding safety of the decaffeinating process itself. Several de-caffeination processes are available including water, steam, carbon-dioxide, ethyl-acetate, methyl-chloride or coffee oils. However, now most decaffeinated coffee is made from methods which use water and steam with no chemical solvents and are therefore safe. Instant coffee powders contain dry, powdered water-soluble solids produced by drying very strong brewed coffee. The flavor of instant coffee is similar to that of freshly brewed coffee but the aroma is somewhat lacking in comparison with the freshly brewed beverage. These coffees should be kept packed in air-tight containers because they tend to absorb moisture.
Coffee contains more than 400 chemicals including trace amounts of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Caffiene is the main stimulant. A regular cup of coffee contains approximately 100 mg of caffeine. The caffeine content varies enormously depending on how strong the coffee is made. Caffeine increases epinephrine (adrenaline) release, which stimulates the central nervous system, increases states of alertness anDespite, it's growing popularity, most people believe coffee to be somewhat toxic addiction taken only as an indulgence or to overcome sleep and boost alertness. Several, health concerns have been attributed to coffee drinking including it's addictive nature, ill-effects on digestion, bone health, cardio-vascular health, disturbed sleep, high blood pressure, infertility and increased incidence in pancreatic or bladder cancer. Numerous studies now, however, reveal that coffee consumption and caffeine does not contribute to cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and stroke, even in people who drink more than four cups of coffee a day. Even though, coffee does cause a transient increase in blood pressure, moderate coffee drinking does not pose a significant risk to hypertensives. A recent study reports that coffee is a major source of dietary anti-oxidants and may inhibit inflammation and thereby lower the risk of cardio-vascular diseases and other inflammatory diseases in post-menopausal women. Researchers have also found no link between coffee consumption and cancers of bladder, breast, colon, lung, pancreas and prostrate. Preliminary studies also suggest a protective role of coffee in liver cirrhosis.
Interestingly, numerous studies report that regular coffee consumption over long periods of time may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Infact, a study on elderly revealed that coffee helped older people think better, improve their memory and reasoning skills. Caffeine may have a beneficial effect on weight loss as it has been shown to increase energy expenditure modestly. Caffeine being a natural stimulant may positively affect athletic performance. In one well-controlled study, subjects who ingested a high caffeine load one hour before exercise used less muscle glycogen and increased their endurance. However, there are no recommendations to use it as an ergogenic aid, as it is a diuretic and may aggravate loss of fluids. However, drinking large amounts may cause irritability and anxiety.
Inspite of the good news, drinking coffee carries some concerns. It is certainly habit-forming and even a single cup of coffee / day contains enough caffeine to create the risk of withdrawal. In some people, it can induce heart-burn by boosting up acid production. For pregnant women, coffee consumption has been linked to risk of miscarriages. Some studies have shown that women who consume 1-3 cups of coffee increase the risk of spontaneous abortion by 30%. Caffeine is a diuretic, which increases output of urine, which can be a concern for men with prostrate problems. Since it is a stimulant, it can contribute to difficulty in falling asleep and may interfere with regular sleeping pattern for many people and may cause disturbed or reduced sleep for some, therefore, those sensitive to it, should avoid coffee at bed time.
Cafestol and kahweol, compounds in boiled / steeped coffee coffee can boost cholesterol synthesis by the liver. These are found in highest concentrations in Scandinavian, Turkish coffees and French-press brews. Apparently, these compounds are trapped during filteration of coffee that is why people who drink filtered coffee don’t have rise in blood cholesterol. Those with high cholesterol are advised to avoid boiled or steeped coffee and prefer drip or filtered coffee.
In a nutshell, it is better to use a moderate common-sense approach to coffee drinking. 1-2 cups a day should certainly not pose any risks for most people. Also, it does not increase the risk for any other health risk including heart disease, bone loss, cancer or infertility. People with irregular heart-beats (arrhythmias), pregnant women are advised non-caffeinated beverages. Since, coffee is a diuretic it must be avoided by individuals in sports as it can be dehydrating and affect their performance.
So, next time you go for your favorite cup of coffee, do it guilt-free, enjoy the ritual and stay alert. It can be enjoyed by all if taken in moderation.