Coffee in brief
The coffee bean can be transformed into a multitude of coffee and espresso-based beverages: latte, cappuccino, macchiato, americano, mocha, and more. The world has done extensive research and development on this tiny little bean.
Let's briefly compare just a few types:
Hot coffee: produced in several ways ranging from drip coffee, french press, percolator, pour-over coffee and beyond. Each method produces a slightly different strength and flavour.
Iced coffee: hot brewed coffee that's been cooled down. This is the most common way to prepare iced coffee. Since it's often served over ice, it can have a more watered-down body and flavour.
Cold-brew: this method has become more popular with time. It's brewed cold, which impacts its flavour by making it more robust and less bitter versus iced coffee. It also contains significantly higher levels of caffeine compared to iced coffee.
Espresso: this uses the same coffee beans but is produced in a different way, using high-pressure forces to create an extremely concentrated shot of espresso. It generally has a more full and bold flavour compared to coffee.
We can find caffeine in a variety of plants such as coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves, and yerba mate. Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychoactive stimulant. This means that caffeine excites the activity in our brain which temporarily reduces fatigue, and improves alertness.
When it comes to the roast, depending on how coffee is measured, scooped or weighed, there will likely be only a minimal variance between the level of caffeine between a light roast versus a dark roast.
Note that coffee isn’t the only food item that contains caffeine. It can also be found in chocolate, some teas, energy drinks, colas, and some medications.
The Health Canada recommendations for caffeine intake are:
- Men and women 19+: up to 400mg/day
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women: up to 300mg/day
Keep in mind that some of us may experience increased anxiety or discomfort in the gut even when having less caffeine. We all know our bodies best and can listen to the cues we're given. Decaf coffee is an option that can be enjoyed to provide the smell and taste of coffee with less stimulating impacts.
Note that the caffeine content in different beverages will vary. For example, in 1 cup (250 mL):
- Brewed coffee: 100-150 mg
- Instant coffee: 75-105mg
- Iced coffee: 60-80mg
- Decaf coffee: 3-15mg (still contains some!)
- Cappuccino/latte: 45-75mg
- Black tea: 45-80mg
- Green/oolong/white tea: 25-45mg
Caffeine is also present in some other foods or beverages:
- Energy drink: 80-100mg
- Espresso, 1 oz (30mL): 65-90 mg
- Cola, 1 can (355mL): 30 mg
- Dark chocolate, 1 bar (40g): 27g
When we consider the caffeine content per serving size at coffee shops, such as Starbucks:
- a tall (350mL) coffee can contain 140-210 mg
- a grande (470mL) coffee can contain 200-285 mg
- a venti (590mL) coffee can contain 240-355 mg
Effect on vitamin and mineral absorption
Many caffeinated beverages, including coffee, can contribute to a lower rate of absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Here are some examples.
Consumption of large quantities of coffee each day may interfere with calcium absorption, and also lead to increased calcium excretion. Caffeine has been associated with reduced bone mass and increased fracture risk. This is only an issue if our overall calcium intake is low though. We can offset this effect by ensuring we consume our recommended intake each day. Learn more about calcium needs and bone health in our article on calcium.
Effect on health outcomes
Coffee and cardiovascular disease
Moderate and consistent consumption of coffee has been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Oddly enough, the lowest CVD risk was at 3-5 cups of coffee each day, which is more than some of us drink in a day! There's still much research to be done surrounding this topic, and this is by no means to suggest drinking so much coffee. As with many things, moderate consumption is generally best.
Coffee and memory
Caffeine intake appears to improve memory performance in certain situations. It's also been shown to have cognitive-enhancing functions at moderate intake. Caffeine does this indirectly, through actions on arousal, mood and concentration. This makes sense considering the main reason many consume coffee is for its stimulating effects before work or school.
Other potential health effects
Coffee is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson's disease. Coffee is also, though, associated with an increased risk of pregnancy loss, increased levels of serum cholesterol, and insomnia. These findings show that research is still incredibly inconsistent and inconclusive. We don't have enough data to know the exact benefits or drawbacks of caffeine consumption.
Here at PUL, we steer away from labelling foods and nutrients as "good" or "bad", so the same goes for coffee! We love starting the day with a cozy and warm beverage, whether it be coffee, tea, etc. We do aim to stick to the recommendation of keeping caffeine consumption to 1-3 cups per day, though, depending on the size of the beverage and the caffeine content of the beverage.
Tips when cutting back on caffeine
Some of us may feel we've become too dependent on caffeinated beverages or would like to cut back, here are some tips in that case:
|Do it gradually: caffeine withdrawal is a legitimate outcome that can result in those of us consuming even just one cup a day. Symptoms may include headache, fatigue, and inability to concentrate.
|Prioritize: as mentioned, caffeine is present in many other drinks aside from coffee. Prioritize the one category at a time to decrease, such as sodas or energy drinks.
|Half n' half: try mixing regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee. We can start with 80% caffeinated coffee mixed with 20% decaffeinated. Then decrease to 50/50, and so on until we reach a ratio we're content with. Most coffee shops are also really accommodating to creating this combination
|Use plant-based milk: opt for lattes or cappuccinos with plant-based milk. In this way, we can sneak in some extra nutrients in our regular cup of coffee, and sometimes the amount of caffeine served is lower.
|Brew time: the longer we brew our coffee, the more caffeine will be extracted. If we want less caffeine, we can try brewing for a shorter time.
|Drink water: sometimes feeling fatigued and cloudy can simply be a sign of dehydration. Before we jump to have another coffee, we can drink a large glass or two of water and see how we feel.
A note on conscious consumption
We recommend purchasing fair-trade and organic coffee, whenever possible, to support healthful labour practices for growers. It also usually means a higher quality bean is produced, so win-win if you ask us!
- It’s generally recommended to keep caffeine consumption to less than 400mg per day for adults, and less than 300mg per day for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Each of us tolerates a different amount of caffeine, though, so it may be lesser than 300-400 mg per day.
- Caffeine may interfere with the absorption of several important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron and zinc. To reduce this, we can consume caffeinated beverages apart from meals or multivitamins.
- How caffeine impacts health is still unclear. Although there’s a correlation between caffeine and several diseases, the research is still inconclusive.