Java. Bean Juice. Rocket Fuel. Black Medicine. Call it what you like, there’s no denying that coffee has had an outsized influence on human society and culture for at least six hundred years. And yet after all that time, we still can’t agree on whether it’s good for us, or not. Let’s see if we can settle the question - at least for now.
Coffee first got popular in the Arab world in the 15th century, where it was prized as an appetite suppressant and energy enhancer during periods of fasting. But it wasn’t long before it ran into trouble: it was first banned in 1511, in Mecca, by conservative religious leaders concerned about its stimulating effects. In 1675, Charles II of England attempted to close down London’s coffeehouses (although he may have been more concerned about his opponents gathering there to plot against him than he was about their caffeine consumption). King Gustav III of Sweden not only banned coffee from the country in 1746, he also ordered the confiscation of all coffee cups. More recently, health scares over caffeine consumption have led to dire warnings about the effects of too much coffee.
But every attempt to keep people away from their daily cup of joe only seems to make the stuff more popular: fast forward to 2020, and Americans are drinking around 400 million cups of coffee every day.
It’s the second most popular drink in the world (tea still has a slight edge) and for most of us it’s hard to imagine Monday mornings - or indeed any mornings - without it. So here’s the burning question: is coffee really so bad for us? Could it even be - whisper it - sort of good for us?
The short answer is, the dose makes the poison. In excess, caffeine can cause headaches, jitters and shakes, disrupt sleep, worsen depression and anxiety, and upset digestion. Heavy consumption carries additional potential risks for pregnant and nursing women, and people with diabetes. If you happen to be a bug, things are even more serious. In its natural state (inside coffee beans and tea leaves) caffeine acts as a natural pesticide, paralyzing and killing insects that try to feed on the plant.
But here’s the good news: moderate coffee drinking has been shown to increase mental alertness and improve sports performance. It may also reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, kidney stones, stroke, and even certain types of cancer.
When you think about the effects of coffee, you probably think of caffeine – the stimulant that gives you that much-desired jolt. Caffeine works on the central nervous system by slowing down the action of a naturally occurring compound called adenosine, which normally causes drowsiness. It also triggers a release of adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers caffeine to be a drug, and recommends a maximum intake of 400 mg per day - equivalent to two shots of strong espresso. For pregnant women, caffeine can carry greater risks; ask your doctor whether you’re someone who should avoid it altogether. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a daily limit of no more than 200 mg during pregnancy.
Caffeine is, of course, vital to coffee’s work, but like most foods it’s actually the interaction of multiple compounds that activates its health benefits. Coffee is rich in polyphenols, which act as antioxidants; in fact, it’s one of the most potent sources in the human diet and the primary source for many Americans. The protective effects of antioxidants may help lower your risk of developing conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies show that a moderate daily intake of coffee not only helps with memory performance in the moment, it also contributes to the prevention of cognitive decline over a lifetime.
That’s incredibly good news, considering how much coffee America consumes, and how much time and effort goes into it. A newly planted coffee tree can take up to four years before it begins to produce fruits – the coffee bean is the stone inside the tree’s ‘cherries’ – and then it will generate the equivalent of perhaps two pounds of roasted beans each year. Satiating America’s morning coffee habit requires a concerted global effort that’s worth $18 billion a year.
Pretty much all of the world’s coffee comes from the so-called ‘bean belt’ – the stripe of Earth around the equator, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn – and our kencko coffee is no exception. The coffee in kencko’s newest caffeinated flavor, mochas, comes from a cooperative in Uganda comprising more than 8,000 farmers who grow organic Robusta coffee. Since its inception in 2008, the Ankole Coffee Producers’ Cooperative Union has been helping smallholders in Uganda to move from subsistence farming to making a living from their land, by raising quality standards, securing a fair price for the beans, and redistributing profits to its members.
Our partners in the Ankole collective are committed to growing organic coffee cherries with minimum waste, producing a full bodied, mild and slightly nutty coffee. Robusta is a stronger bean than the more common Arabica, both in terms of caffeine (it contains about twice that of Arabica) and hardiness (it requires fewer herbicides and pesticides). In kencko’s mochas it’s combined with earthy chaga and shiitake mushrooms, chocolatey cacao, fruity berries and cinnamon to provide 2 ½ servings of fruits and vegetables – plus a caffeine kick – so that you can start your day with a new, healthy twist on America’s favorite morning ritual.
If coffee is an integral part of your daily routine, there’s no need to panic. To enjoy the health benefits without the risks, make sure you keep it to one or two cups a day, and drink them early in the morning to avoid disrupting your night-time sleep. Remember that other caffeinated beverages count towards your daily 400 mg limit too, and that the safe limit during pregnancy drops to 200 mg.
cup of tea (8 oz) - 30 - 50 mg
small bar of dark chocolate (>70% cocoa solids, 1.5oz): 32 mg
can of cola (12 oz) - 34 mg
kencko jades or mochas (10 oz) - 35 mg
diet cola (12 oz) - 46 mg
single shot of espresso (1 oz) - 65 mg
small cup of filter coffee (8 oz) - 100 mg
coffee shop Grande Americano (16 oz) - 225 mg
energy shot (2 oz) - 100 - 250 mg
energy drink (16 oz) - 160 - 360 mg
Read more about coffee as the primary source of antioxidants in American diets.