How to Make Coffee

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Coffee. God. Thank God. Coffee is amazing. Coffee is life. Without coffee I probably wouldn’t have survived my brush with cancer and thyroid disease, and certainly not my depression (which I almost didn’t). Many times during my journey I often questioned whether coffee was hurting or helping. There is no shortage of people who believe it to be harmful. The society in which I grew up, Mormons, have actually codified a prohibition against coffee, describing it as an actively unhealthful and immoral beverage. During the religious brouhaha in the early eighteen-hundreds in the United States from which religions like Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventists emerged there was a strained effort by religious people to harmonize science with religion. Science was making advancements at such speed it made people’s head spin, and one of the more fascinating angles of Mormonism is its inclusion of scientific language about planets and space, which to that point in human history religion had either been ignorant or actively hostile. It was a very forward thinking religion for its time, in some respects. At the same time, the use of coffee was becoming increasingly popular and available. The story about such prohibition within the Mormon church is that the wife of the founder was one day disgusted by the tobacco-spitting congregants and asked her husband to come up with a revelation to ban it, which he did, which also included much of the popular conservative ideas about food and drink of the time and thus forbade the use of coffee and tea along with tobacco and alcohol, framed as a concern for the wellbeing of the body which in turn had been inspired by the growing scientific interests of the day. Today most Mormons get around the prohibition by drinking caffeinated sodas or consuming coffee in forms that aren’t brewed. Famously when I teased my Dad about his eating chocolate covered coffee beans as deviating from his religious beliefs his defense was the language on prohibition was for “hot” beverages. So the technical exception now includes cold coffee and Frappuccinos as well. And good for them.

My book discusses the use of coffee at times, and there actually are instances where coffee use can be detrimental. For instance, coffee always raises the metabolic rate, so if you take coffee in the morning before food all you are doing is blowing up your levels of cortisol and adrenaline to the point that you begin to shake. These levels of stress hormones occur because your body has run out of carbs and protein and must then catabolize your own tissues in order to fuel the demands brought about by coffee, so coffee and caffeine should never be used on an empty stomach. Coffee can also contribute to catastrophic drops in blood volume in those who don’t use it correctly or who are missing important nutrients, and can exacerbate the loss of important minerals we need to sustain our health (more information on these topics is discussed in my book). But coffee is usually a net-positive substance, if used correctly, which can effectively and actively support our health and wellness, because it supports rather than detracts from our healthful metabolic pathways, and it is for this reason that so many people instinctively reach for it, even those who are prohibited by their religious beliefs.

Most people do not know how to make proper coffee, though. Sure, you can just pop your coffee grounds in the pot and hit brew. It’s fine. But there are some points about coffee preparation which will not only make it taste much better, but also function better to support your health. The first mistake that most people make when preparing coffee is the method of bean grinding. When I lived with my ex boyfriend we had an expensive coffee mill and drip machine. One day a friend brought us a gift of really expensive coffee (almost $30 for one pound of this brand). We thought, Oh great! Now we can have some actually good coffee at home and won’t have to go to Starbucks everyday. Because even though we had our setup, Starbucks coffee always tasted better than what we made. I was extremely disappointed to find that our $30 a pound coffee tasted just as badly as all the other coffee we had at home, and we still went to Starbucks. At that point it became clear we were doing something wrong, and after much investigation I discovered that our method of bean grinding was the culprit. BLADE GRINDERS OXIDIZE BEANS. The speed of the blade and the vigorous aeration of coffee particles bathes the coffee in oxygen and heat, which is the exact recipe for severe oxidation of anything. We immediately bought a cheap, $30 burr grinder with a coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond and the first batch of coffee we had was better than any run to Starbucks. After we ran out of that expensive stuff too, even the cheapest, generic blend of coffee beans tasted amazing when prepared with a burr grinder. A burr grinder crunches the beans with slower moving gears, so there is no chopping, heat, or oxygen bath. There are various types of burr grinders, but even the cheapest is better than any blade grinder. Blade grinders should not even exist. They are an offense to coffee. Pre-ground beans are not as bad, but because they are stored already ground they can also oxidize and make coffee taste less pleasant than freshly ground, and burr grinders can be inexpensive and worth the investment. Some are even hand-cranked and super cheap, so there’s no real excuse not to have a burr grinder. A burr grinder will deliver non-bitter coffee every time, even if you use the cheapest beans available. Bitterness in coffee is only the result of oxidation prior to brewing, usually from inferior grinding processes.

The second part that can potentially remove some benefits from coffee are paper coffee filters. The major health benefits from coffee come not just from the caffeine. Coffee is filled with some vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Chiefly removed by paper coffee filters are the beneficial coffee oils which are unique to coffee and part of the reason it can help us feel good. These unique oils promote the synthesis of different hormones and steroids when consumed, but if they are removed by paper filters you don’t get this benefit, and in fact coffee is more effective in supporting health if these oils are present. Many drip coffee makers come with the option of a metal sieve, or they can be purchased separately to use in place of the paper ones. This also makes the preparation process less messy and more cost efficient, as the sieve just needs to be rinsed between uses, which you have to do anyway for the hard plastic part which holds the paper filter. Other preparation processes like French Press don’t use paper filters anyway, and turn coffee making into a relaxing, enjoyable ritual that also produces amazing coffee.

Less important but still worth mentioning is the type of water to use in brewing. Never use distilled water. Distilled water is water without minerals and will remove taste from the coffee. The water needs to have minerals in order for the flavors to develop. Likewise, tap water is not ideal as chlorine and chloramine can react with coffee, but it’s not a big deal if you don’t have access to better water. Ideally, fresh spring or mineral water is the best, or filtered tap water to remove the chlorine and chloramine.

Don’t settle for badly made coffee. Do it right. You are worth the effort.