Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 12 2018

14 Ways to Make Coffee Healthier

By Mark Sisson
39 Comments

inline coffee.jpegAccording to the stats, more than 80% of American adults use coffee to get going in the morning. Increasingly, we’re getting collectively pickier about what we drink, too. A report released this year by the National Coffee Association found that, for the first time in 67 years, more than half of all coffee consumed daily was classified as “gourmet.” 

But let’s be honest. There’s a lot of junk in that category—syrups and whipped toppings, soy milk and sugar galore. It’s a damned shame because coffee can offer big health benefits when done right. When done even better? Well, let’s take a look.

Buying the Best Brew

Whether you’re getting your coffee to-go or brewing a batch at home, know which sources are best. What certifications should you look out for? What questions should you ask your barista? What’s worth avoiding altogether? Let’s dive in.

Organic

Coffee has one of the highest pesticide application rates in the world, with studies showing full-spectrum pesticide residues (including DDT) in many conventional coffee beans are more common than not. It seems like an easy win, but some research shows that washing and roasting together remove most of the pesticides residues from coffee beans. So, I wouldn’t sweat it for the sake of toxicity. However, other studies indicate organic coffee may be more liver-protective and higher in health-promoting compounds than conventional coffee.

Mycotoxin-Free

Recently, there’s been a surge of interest regarding the potential contamination of coffee beans and products with mycotoxins, and it’s a debate which continues to raise hackles. Essentially, mycotoxins are the by-products of fungi that grow virtually everywhere and on everything. In the coffee world, there’s two types of mycotoxins in particular that are known to cause their fair share of health issues when ingested—Aflatoxin B1 and Ochratoxin A.

Both Aflatoxin B1 and Ochratoxin A are known carcinogens (amongst other things), meaning it’s a good idea to avoid them when you reasonably can. But it’s estimated that they contaminate around 25% of all foods, leading many coffee aficionados to question the credibility of claims that certain forms of growing and processing can ensure (pricey) products labeled “mycotoxin-free” are much better than those that simply use fairly standard practices most higher quality coffee producers employ anyway. Those same folks also tend to quote a study showing roasting contaminated coffee beans reduced mycotoxin levels by an average of 69%.

As I’ve shared recently, I wouldn’t stress about this point because coffee consumption appears time and again to be protective against most types of cancer and shows a protective relationship with all-cause mortality.

Sourcing (Fair Trade/Single Origin)

For a company to receive the Fair Trade cert, they must employ strategies for environmental sustainability on the grow op. It’s possible that this could mean less chemical applications during growing and healthier soils, which means a less toxic, more nutrient-dense coffee…but that’s really just pure speculation. Either way, ethically, it’s still preferable to a coffee that isn’t Fair Trade.

That being said, Fair Trade coffee isn’t well known for having high quality standards. As an alternative, you could consider buying “direct trade” coffee—but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, meaning the quality (and therefore health factor) of the coffee in question is dependent on the importer/roaster.

Single origin is another area where there’s a decent amount of uncertainty, but the fact remains that drinking blended coffee makes it harder to determine whether the origins of your beans were good or somewhat lacking in the quality department.

While coffee connoisseurs might argue that blends produce tastier, more complex flavors, there can be a tendency for certain importers to select cheaper beans and hide behind the un-traceability of their brew. 

Shade Grown

In addition to the amazing ecological benefits presented by shade-grown coffee, there’s also a decent amount of research showing the nutritive advantages of shade-grown over conventional coffee beans. This study, for example, showed that beans grown under lychee shade had higher yield, greater phenolic content and superior antioxidant activity than conventional beans.

Roasting

It’s a well-known fact that the antioxidant potential of a given coffee bean can be vary considerably depending on whether it is green (aka raw) or roasted. Studies have shown that, while green coffee has higher levels of chlorogenic acid (itself a very desirable antioxidant), roasted coffee tends to have higher levels of protective antioxidants

If you have the choice, opting for roasts that fall within the middle of the scale (like blonde and medium roasts) should provide the highest levels of bioactive phytochemicals.

Arabica vs. Robusta

Ultimately, whether you choose Arabica or Robusta beans comes down to personal taste more than anything. The antioxidant potential of each varies considerably depending on the region it was grown in, the way it was processed, and how it was roasted…meaning recommending one over another is a bit of stretch.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Robusta generally has significantly higher levels of caffeine than Arabica. Depending on your needs (and considering the fact that caffeine is an antioxidant itself), this may be a more influential factor in choosing between the two kinds.

Decaffeinated

If you’ve made the decision (or had your hand forced by the powers that be) to steer clear of caffeine, decaf coffee is still an okay choice…provided you choose wisely. Typical methods of caffeine extraction include organic solvents, water, or supercritical CO2. Most is produced using solvents like methyl chloride and ethyl acetate, which you really don’t want, so finding a decaf that doesn’t use nasty chemicals to remove the caffeine is the name of the game.

Keep in mind that decaf does tend to be a bit lower in antioxidants than regular, and that it’s not completely free of caffeine. 

Storage

As with all perishables, coffee is not immune to the vagaries of air, light, heat and moisture. Here’s a few tips on how best to store your coffee to avoid significant declines in quality and taste:

  • Whole coffee beans are best, as the hygroscopic (moisture-retaining) nature of coffee means that the less surface area you have, the longer it will retain its nutritional profile and shirk oxidation. Pre-ground coffee has a larger surface area, therefore making it more prone to the ravages of moisture and air. 
  • Unsurprisingly, coffee degrades relatively quickly over time, so try to buy your coffee in smaller batches that you can consume within a week or so.
  • Store your coffee in an airtight container, preferably one that’s composed of opaque glass, ceramic or stainless steel. Because heat and light can quickly compromise the nutrient potential of your coffee, store it somewhere cool(ish) and dark like in the back of the pantry.
  • If you happen to “accidentally” buy a large batch of coffee, you can store the bulk of it in the freezer. Just make sure your storage vessel is thick and super-duper airtight, to avoid compromising flavor and allowing in moisture. 

Healthier Additions For Your Coffee

Coffee by itself is good, but coffee with strategic additions is even better. Here are a few health-minded upgrades that may not only make your coffee taste a whole lot better but amplify its already impressive nutrient profile as well.

Real Cream

If vegetable oil based “creamer” is the epitome of lousy coffee, real cream is the pinnacle of coffee excellence. Because of the high fat content, choose organic at least and (even better) grass-fed to get the most benefit from those healthy fats.

Healthy Cream Alternatives

While cream has less allergenic potential than the likes of milk, it still contains trace amounts of lactose and casein. Macadamia cream certainly comes to mind, as it’s almost as rich and fatty as dairy cream. Tahini is also a decent cream substitute, due to its high fat content and coffee-compatible taste. And coconut cream is another obvious alternative, but the taste isn’t for everyone and it’s essential to find a product that isn’t laden with additives, preservatives and plastics.

Butter

Butter is even less likely to provoke food allergies than cream, and it’s almost as tasty. Beyond all the Bulletproof-esque hype, there’s undeniable benefits to adding butter to your cup of Joe—like easier absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins in coffee, and the vitamins and healthy fats in the butter itself. This is especially true for grass-fed butter. Just make sure you’re giving the caloric content full due here

Collagen

I’ve written about this before, and the team will routinely offer up collagen coffee recipes on the blog here and on the PrimalKitchen.com blog. It’s become a go-to for me since the early days of Collagen Fuel mixes. (My personal favorite in coffee is the Vanilla Coconut.)

Cinnamon

Nine times out of ten its natural sweetness is enough to make up for any lack of sugar. Plus, there’s the fact that it can offset any blood sugar spikes if you also end up adding sugar, and the way in which its earthy spiciness blends seamlessly with the flavors of a robust brew.

Cardamom

In a study published last year, blending coffee with cardamom produced enhanced free radical-scavenging and antioxidant properties over coffee alone. And if you’re partial to a little cardamom in desserts, you’re bound to enjoy it in your coffee.

Cacao

If you’ve got a soft spot for mocha, you could do worse than to add some raw cacao nibs or ultra-dark (>85%) chocolate to your daily cuppa. Cocoa beans are loaded with polyphenols, healthy fats, and a bucketload of flavor that pairs swimmingly with coffee beans.

A quick and dirty method is to roughly chop some dark chocolate squares, pour some freshly brewed, hot coffee on top to melt the chocolate, and add a decent serving of fresh cream to complete a drink that can hold its own against any mocha out there.  

Finally, for anyone who’s craving some now, check out these 7 healthier coffee recipes that use many of the strategies above.

Thanks for reading, everyone. How do you make your morning brew the best? Got any great healthy additions I didn’t cover here?

TAGS:  cooking tips

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39 thoughts on “14 Ways to Make Coffee Healthier”

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  1. Here’s one of my current faves (I’m always experimenting!) I’ve been calling this my unicorn coffee, because I think it’s pretty magical. I’ve been throwing my (usually organic and fair trade) coffee in the blender with coconut oil, maca, raw cacao, cinnamon and collagen peptides. I learned about all the benefits of maca here on MDA, and the taste blends really nicely with the cacao and cinnamon. A big mug of this holds me for hours and helps me feel focused and energized.

    1. I used to cream maca powder with honey in the bottom of my coffee cup because the maca is gross. Alas, honey is now the quickest way to a gout attack and my seasonal allergies are especially brutal this year after giving up the local raw honey. Boo, hiss!

      1. Karen I don’t mind maca at all. Almost tastes like caramel to me. Especially blended with the other stuff:)

        1. I’ll give it a try with the other amendments. Loath to get out (and then clean up) the blender for my coffee, though. All that stuff is hydrophobic so it’s hard to incorporate without something to cream it into or by using a blender. I have a small milk whipper from ikea I use for matcha, will try that.

    2. Second that! Will be trying this too… wife adds bone marrow to our brew concoction sometimes. All sorts of interesting things can go in coffee.

  2. I make fresh pressed coffee every morning (grinding my beans), and add a 1/2 tsp of cocoa powder, tumeric, cinnamon, cardomom, and a few dashes of cayenne. Absolutely delicious! Also on occasion, I’ll take the brew above and throw it in the blender with a scoop of protein powder and a raw egg for those days when I know I won’t be eating until mid-afternoon.Makes a nice ‘frothy’ drink!

    1. l do this as well although I don’t had cardomom, cinnamon or cayenne. Sounds like a good addition. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions.

    2. Mike, that sounds interesting and I would love to try it. Do you put a 1/2 tsp of each of these spices in the mix (other than the cayenne)?

      Thanks!

  3. A scoop or two of collagen hydrolysate stirred in before the cream has a wonderful effect on mouth feel and it’s a great way to get more collagen in your diet.

  4. I’d love to hear more about coffee making techniques from a health standpoint.
    What difference does the preparation technique make in this respect? What is healthier?

    Espresso?
    Turkish style?
    Scandinavian brew?

  5. I never drink my coffee hot (hot drinks make me super sweaty and tired), almost always iced. Also don’t have a blender. Love cream in my unsweetened coffee, but it bloats me usually. Tried bulletproof coffee and it tasted honestly awful to me. Seems like black is the best bet for me… Which I do enjoy if it’s good quality coffee.

  6. Here’s my favourite recipe.

    1) Pour Coffee
    2) Add Nothing
    3) Drink

    Note: This recipe does not work well with Starbucks or Tim Horton’s coffee, which needs excessive amounts of cream to kill the sour flavour.

  7. Is “Swiss water process” all you need to look for in a decaf coffee to avoid all the nasty chemicals and solvents Mark talked about?

  8. I add a scoop of Primal Kitchen’s Collagen to my coffee–it’s tasteless, and I never forget to take it because, I’d have to forget to have my coffee–and that’s not going to happen.

  9. “Butter helps the absorption of fat soluble vitamins in coffee?” What vitamins in coffee? Am I missing something?

    My favorite version these days includes cocoa, coconut oil, gelatin, heavy cream, and a bit of stevia in the blender. I definitely think this is a pretty healthy drink and it keeps me going until I get around to cooking for myself in the late morning.

  10. Great article, but you really need to get your “it’s” and “its” nailed down.

  11. My hand got forced (so to speak) by my GI tract years ago. I quit drinking coffee altogether. I used to love a good dark roast with nothing but a little heavy cream in it, but it did a real number on me. Now I drink black or green tea–plain, no milk, no sweetener, no nothing. I’m amazed at some of the things people put in their coffee here. Seems like it wouldn’t even taste like coffee and would almost be more of a food than a drink.

  12. So great – especially appreciate your breakdown of the many considerations (and which ones matter most).

    These days, I’m drinking less and less coffee, but love freshly ground, organic beans from a local roaster…sometimes with roasted chicory…blended with coconut oil and/or local grass-fed butter. When living in Egypt, I’d buy freshly ground beans with cardamom mixed in – tasted divine (plus, in Chinese Medicine, we use cardamom as an herb to support digestion and metabolism).

  13. Great article as always Mark.

    Just wondering about mushroom coffee? The type that includes reishi & other varieties supposedly high in immune boosting compounds. Any benefit?

    Thanks,

    Allia

  14. Aroy-D Coconut Milk! I don’t want to have my coffee without it. I even take it to Starbuck’s with me!

    1. Jen, that’s my new go-to, but I drink it cold. If you make it the night before, by morning it takes on a rich, creamy thickness. So good.

  15. The problem with organic, fair trade or any type of certification is that the costs to get those certifications fall on the backs of the coffee growers. These people are often extremely poor subsidence farmers who grow a number of other crops in order to feed themselves and their family. This is especially true of African coffee farmers. In most cases they are often too poor to even consider buying fertilizers and pesticides let alone a certification to label it as organic.
    Essentially we want them to bare the burden so we can feel better about ourselves and that we’re making a change to better the world while getting our caffeine fix.

  16. How about a post of coffee alternatives for those of us that can’t (or won’t) drink coffee? Like brewed cocoa; white, green, and black teas; golden milk; herbal infusions; or even warm water with lemon.

    1. Good idea. I can’t drink coffee. It flat out makes me ill. I love iced tea, unsweetened with lemon, but my morning cup is plain green tea with nothing in it. Mark obviously isn’t a tea drinker so the focus is mostly on coffee. However, tea is a healthful beverage with many significant benefits and shouldn’t be sold short. Moreover, it contains less caffeine and is far more gentle on the stomach and GI tract.

  17. Just a FYI on storing extra coffee: according to a couple of different small batch roasters I have talked with over the years they recommend only putting ground coffee in the freezer to keep it from degrading as quickly. As far as whole beans, I’ve been told they contain water molecules that will freeze and crystalize thus significantly altering the favor and integrity of the bean and to only store them in the opaque vacuum canisters like mentioned above. Not sure if this has actually been verified but it seems to make sense…

  18. Black. What a lot of work otherwise…

    I find that a couple of mugs of good black coffee so very satisfying in the morning. My brew is organic, fair trade, locally freshly roasted by a small independent roaster. I buy a lb of dark roast blend, a lb of Swiss water decaf and have them ground together. That gives me about 4 weeks worth of full 10 cup pots of excellent half-caff coffee. Two mugs for me, one for hubby, and a 500 ml thermos full to go to work with me. All for about $1 Canadian per day.

    Lattes are a special once-in-a-while afternoon treat. Otherwise, it’s regular or herbal teas for the rest of the day.

  19. How do I love my coffee? Let me list all the ways!

    One thing I do is prepare gelatin ahead of time. I use the good stuff. Just put a couple ounces of cool water in a mason jar and sprinkle in gelatin powder to bloom it. Keep sprinkling slowly until the powder stops sinking down under the water. Give it a few minutes and then top off with boiling water. Stir very well and let it cool to room temperature. Stick it in the fridge to let it solidify.

    To use it, I add a big huge scoop to my tall latte mug while the French press is brewing away (BTW, get a Frieling!). On top of the gelatin goes some stevia and a splash of Organic Valley cream (raw cream in hot coffee = yuck). When I pour in the hot coffee, it melts the gelatin and ends up with a super rich mouth feel. It’s very filling, so if I don’t finish it I can stick the mug in the fridge and eat it later after it’s re-solidified.

    I always like to stick a tablespoon of cocoa powder in the French press with the ground coffee. I’m not a fan of cold brew, but I love pouring out the pressed hot coffee in to mason jars and them putting them in the fridge to chill after they hit room temperature. I do this right after work so the iced coffee will be ready in the morning. I pour the cold coffee into the blender and add stevia, cream, two raw eggs, a huge handful of spinach, and some whey protein powder. Super filling!

    Personally, the thought of putting butter in coffee makes me want to hurl, which is funny because butter is just whipped cream and I love cream in my coffee.

  20. Alas Mark, I wish you’d mentioned MCT Oil powder. I’ve started using it in my coffee (it’s tasteless, but acts like a creamer; plus I use a bit of heavy cream, cause the almond milk is too ‘light’ in mouthfeel). I’m HOPING it’s a good way to get some (2 TBS of) MCT Oil every day. I cannot deal with the “oil mustache” that results from using the oil directly in coffee. {shudder} (And the frother I bought broke after 2 uses (!) — and it was neither cheap nor junky!)

    I did just buy an expensive (for me — $150) coffee maker with stainless steel heating elements and piping, instead of aluminum ones… Engineer fellow treating his mom’s Alzheimer’s found that most coffee makers (he tried all his neighbors’ brands and versions too) put a HUGE amount of aluminum into the coffee! (Haven’t yet tried making his “silicade” — silicon-something-water — which he says binds and flushes out the aluminum in your body. He’s rather persuasive… and god knows you cannot avoid aluminum nowadays!)

  21. Ran out this morning after a two day splurge, but I had some cocoa powder for the first time in a while.
    I mixed it and honey with green tea. Pretty good.
    And it was nice to have pure cocoa to use, after eating a bunch of dumpster-scoured “dark chocolate” granola bars etc. and getting sick of the sugar.
    ……………………………..
    First, there was chocolate.
    Then, there was “chocolate” and “dark chocolate”.
    Nowadays, it’s all “dark chocolate”, if it contains the most minuscule amount of cacao.
    Will this comment make it through? So many of my comments don’t. Which is why, after getting regular internet access back after a long time and trying to catch up on posts, I’m saying again what I said before: Don’t expect to hear much from me, because it frustrates me that moderators are always blocking my comments for no reason. Mark, you should fire them.

    1. As I said after the above, under another post, it turns out the comments that I didn’t think made it through actually did, so I apologize.
      Anyways, I find cumin is sometimes enjoyable in coffee. I said years ago here that it gives it a bit more of an earthy taste (or somewhat close to “earthy”).
      Recently I saw a little coffee can on the ground near a pile of apartment building garbage bags and figured it was worth checking to see if there was anything left in it. There was only like a teaspoon full of coffee, but surprise!: there was a fair-sized unopened bag of cumin inside. That’s one of my favourite spices and a “smart spice”. Cumin: Smart Spice is a post. No, just looked it up. It’s Smart Spice: Cumin. Close enough.

  22. Hey Mark,

    That was very informative, thank you!

    I enjoy coffee occasionally and my favorite healthy additive is cinnamon, definitely. The taste is superb.

    However, I’ve had troubles with caffeine withdrawal a few times. What’s your experience with it? That boggles my mind: if coffee is healthy and good for us, why is it addictive?

    Thanks a lot in advance and keep it up!

  23. Thanks a lot for sharing these tips or tricks! They are really, really helpful. I’ve been wanting to use butter for a long time now and I think your posting convinced me a lot! 🙂