New Year’s Health Kick – Drink Bad Coffee?

There are two things you’re guaranteed to see advertised on TV on Boxing Day: a furniture store sale and the latest celebrity fitness DVD. The later shows just how synonymous January has become to healthy living. After the overindulgence of Christmas and New Year, January might as well become know as Healthyanuary (or at least the first fortnight before everyone lapses and goes back to eating fry-up’s and takeaways). To help you on your road to good health you may want to consider drinking bad coffee.

Coffee and Antioxidants

Some of you may remember the headlines generated from a report published by the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania, USA) in 2006, claiming that coffee was the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. Dr Joe Vinson and his colleagues examined over 100 different food items and found that even though coffee (per serving) did not have the highest levels of antioxidants, as it was so widely consumed, it was the highest source in the average American diet.

antioxidant sources in the average American diet

Chlorogenic Acids

According to Emma Davies’ article in Chemisty World, the most abundant group of antioxidants in coffee are chlorogenic acids (CGAs). CGAs occur naturally in the coffee plant. They’re thought to be part of its defence mechanism, protecting it against: infection, insects and small animals; as well as acting as a screen to harmful UV radiation. In fact, CGAs are thought to perform this role in unison with caffeine. So it would be safe to presume that the higher the levels of caffeine in a plant (and therefore its beans) the higher the levels of CGAs.

Is Bad Coffee Better for us?

Given this research I’ve come up with a hypothesis that bad coffee is better for us as it has higher levels of antioxidants. What I mean by bad coffee, is coffee brewed using Robusta beans and steep for over 5 minutes. This is for two reasons:

  1. Coffee grown at lower altitudes, such as Robusta varietals, on average contains higher levels of caffeine compared to coffee grown at higher altitudes. This is due to the fact that at lower altitudes there are more natural predators to defend against. The more predators the stronger a plant’s natural defences need to be i.e. higher levels of both caffeine and CGAs.
  2. Davies states that CGAs give coffee much of its bitter taste. Now bitter tasting coffee usually signals one thing: over-extraction. As a perfectly-extracted or even under-extracted coffee tastes less bitter, do we assume that this coffee contains fewer CGAs? Are CGAs like caffeine and are one of the less soluble compounds found in coffee?

Acid Reflux

aerobie aeropressWhat would appear to support my second point is the development of the Aerobie Aeropress. When Alan Adler set out to design the Aeropress he had two main aims for his coffee maker: to make less bitter coffee and to not cause drinkers acid reflux. Through his research he found that a shorter extraction time reduced the occurrence of acid reflux. How is this link? Well, acid reflux is believed to be caused by CGAs, therefore this would suggest there is a relationship between shorter extraction times and lower levels of CGAs.

So Should we Drink Bad Coffee?

No way! This is only a theory. I’d love to hear from anyone who agrees or disagrees with it. But there are plenty of other food items with a much higher content of antioxidants, like dates, so there’s no real reason to sacrifice delicious, tasty coffee, just for the sake of our bodies.