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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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May 10, 2018

Do Coffee Brewing Methods Matter For Health?

By Mark Sisson
37 Comments

inline coffee brewingCoffee is a perpetual topic of interest, and for good reason: Almost everyone drinks it, almost everyone is passionate about it, and it’s pretty darn good for you. A recent post covered whether coffee breaks a fast or not. Before that, I told you how to make your coffee healthier. And on a regular basis, I cover something coffee-related in the weekly Dear Mark. One aspect of coffee I’ve never explored, however, is how coffee preparation and processing affects its health effects.

What’s healthier—filtered or unfiltered? Dark roast or light roast? Pre-ground or whole bean? French press or drip? Let’s get to it.

Filtered vs Unfiltered

Filtered coffee is coffee that runs through a paper filter, which catches most of the oils. Unfiltered coffee is coffee that doesn’t go through a paper filter; either it’s completely unfiltered (grounds directly in water) or it runs through a metal filter, which allows the oils to pass through. Unfiltered coffee is often referred to in the scientific literature as “boiled coffee.”

Filtered coffee includes drip, pour-over (unless you use a permanent filter that allows passage of the oils), and any method in which the coffee passes through a paper filter.

Unfiltered/boiled coffee brewing methods include French press, Moka pot/percolator, Aeropress, espresso.

Cold brew coffee can be either filtered or unfiltered, depending on what kind of filter you use to strain the final product.

Conventional wisdom is scared of those oils because they contain two lipid compounds  called cafestol (great name for a coffee shop) and kahweol, high doses of which elevate cholesterol and suppress LDL clearance from animal models. That does sound bad; suppressed LDL clearance means LDL particles hang around longer in the blood to be oxidized and form atherosclerotic lesions. Do the animal mdoels transfer over to humans?

Maybe not. While 73 mg of purified cafestol a day for six weeks can increase cholesterol by a worrisome 66 mg/dL, the average cup of French press coffee contains between 3-6 mg; 73 mg isn’t a normal physiological dose. In one study, boiled coffee consumption was associated with a more modest 8% cholesterol increase in men and a 10% increase in women. That’s cholesterol, not LDL. Total. Besides, high fitness levels abolished the link in men, and boiled coffee was also linked to lower triglycerides in both sexes.

Or maybe. Another study found a modest association between high intakes of boiled coffee and non-fatal heart attacks. Then again, a similar (but smaller) association also existed with filtered coffee. Tough to say.

Cafestol and kahweol have beneficial effects, too. For instance, cafestol kills leukemia cells and kidney cancer cells. In mice, cafestol exerts anti-diabetic effects. Kahweol inhibits fat accumulation by activating AMPK (the same pathway triggered by fasting, exercise, and ketosis). Both compounds have anti-angiogenic effects.

Both boiled and filtered coffee reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, but only boiled coffee confers a lower risk of prostate cancerLiver enzyme levels drop when you consume boiled coffee, and when you inject rats with a known liver toxin, boiled coffee protects them against the expected rise in liver enzymes. Most evidence suggests that coffee, whether boiled or filtered, is protective against liver cancer, liver disease, and mortality from chronic liver disease.

If you want the unfiltered coffee with the most cafestol and kahwehol, brew a light roast using a French press or the boiling method. If you want the unfiltered coffee with the least cafestol and kahwehol, brew a dark roast using a Moka pot or use the Turkish method. If you want the least of all, use a paper filter.

If you’re a heavy consumer of unfiltered coffee and you worry about the cholesterol issue, get it tested. Go for a full lipid panel, one that includes LDL particle number.

Light vs Dark Roast

Coffee beans start out green and fairly uninteresting. It’s the roasting that brings out the flavors. The darker the roast, the longer it spends in the roaster.

Light roast advantages include less oil oxidation. The lighter the roast and the fresher the coffee, the lower the oil oxidation. Keeping it in whole bean form also increases the resistance, while grinding it prematurely will oxidize the oil and mar the taste.

Light roasts tend to have more caffeine, as the roasting process degrades caffeine. But caffeine content also depends on the bean; some have more than others.

Both are good, health-wise. Some studies suggest that dark roast has a better effect than light roast on antioxidant capacity in those who drink it. Light roasts tend to be higher in chlorogenic acids, which have been shown to improve subjective mood and ability to focus—even when the coffee is decaf. Medium roasts also have antioxidant effects.

They’re all good. Coffee just works.

Whole Bean or Pre-Ground?

Depends. I like whole bean, because keeping it intact until you’re ready to brew increases the oxidative resistance (more surface area means more oxidation), retains the aroma and flavor, and—this is seemingly minor but still important to me—I like the sound of grinding beans. The sound is a huge part of the ritual of coffee preparation. It’s the same reason instant coffee just isn’t the same as whole bean coffee. It’s almost too easy.

Healthwise, I imagine pre-ground beans are fine. Despite a huge number of people buying and drinking pre-ground coffee, coffee is consistently associated with health benefits in observational studies. If you believe the observational studies are pointing toward causality, ground coffee is good for you. And if you have the opposite relationship to grinding beans, and having whole coffee beans makes it less likely that you’ll drink coffee, go with the ground. It’s fine.

Water Quality

The quality of the water matters. Mineral content is the primary concern. A 2014 study sought to determine the optimal “hardness” for coffee water and found that the specific minerals causing the hardness made a big difference.

You don’t want too much bicarbonate. Bicarbonate is bad for coffee flavor.

Sodium was also bad for coffee flavor.

You want some magnesium. Magnesium is good for coffee flavor because it enhances the dissolution of coffee flavor from beans into the water. Since coffee flavor comes from the coffee compounds, and the coffee compounds are responsible for many of the beneficial health effects, better coffee is also probably healthier coffee.

I find adding a few dashes of Trace Minerals to my coffee brewing water helps the flavor.

My Favorite Way To Make Coffee

When you include coffee:water ratios, water quality, brew method, filter choice, ground size, and all the other variables, there are millions of ways to make coffee. I won’t get into all of them. I’m actually not a big coffee snob, although I do know a good cup when I taste it. I’ll just give my basic method.

  • French press, usually with a dark roast (although I’ll sometimes do medium, dark or light if I’m feeling wild). I’m really liking Caveman Coffee’s Blacklisted.
  • Grind size is a bit finer than most people recommend for French pressing. I use a blade grinder, which would get me excommunicated from most coffee geek circles, so my grind is probably less uniform than those using a burr grinder. Eh, tastes good to me.
  • 1:12 coffee:water ratio.
  • Spring or filtered water, sometimes with a dash of Trace Minerals. Boil it, then turn off the heat and wait ten seconds.
  • Add it to the grounds, stir until it froths, cover, and press after 4 minutes.

Sometimes I make cold brew coffee concentrate:

  • 12 ounces of light roast, something fancy and floral and fruity and acidic from a local 3rd wave coffee shop.
  • Grind medium-fine.
  • Mix with 60 ounces of cold spring water with a dash of Trace Minerals in a large glass jar.
  • Stir to combine, then let sit for at least 12 hours at room temperature. I’ve also experimented with letting it brew in the sun. That works quicker, but I prefer the taste of room temperature brewed cold brew.
  • Run it through a French press, store in glass bottle in the fridge. Drink it straight up, like little cold espresso shots, or with a dash of heavy cream.

That’s it for today, folks. I think I’ll go make another cup.

How do you make coffee? Tell me all about it down below.

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37 Comments on "Do Coffee Brewing Methods Matter For Health?"

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Charley
Charley
17 days 13 hours ago

So, nothing on decaf vs. regular?

Time Traveler
Time Traveler
17 days 11 hours ago

If you are concerned about high caffeine, use 100% arabica beans

Shary
Shary
17 days 12 hours ago
I’ve used all kinds of coffee and every method known to man for brewing it. Unfortunately, my body didn’t like any of it. I hated giving it up but had no choice. I switched to tea years ago and felt better immediately since tea seldom causes GI issues. Most tea is considerably lower in caffeine, making it more suitable to drink late in the day. All types of tea are healthful, green tea in particular. It would be nice to see an article on the many health benefits of tea for those of us who either dislike or can’t tolerate… Read more »
Sylvie
Sylvie
17 days 6 hours ago

Me too! I love the stuff, but it doesn’t love me. I agree that an article on various kinds of tea would be great.

HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
17 days 4 hours ago

Hear hear Shary I’m with ya on that one.

Mathieu
Mathieu
17 days 12 hours ago

Mostly doing cold brew. If hot, french press with freshly grinded beans with a mortar. The importance of the ritual. I could not use a machine.

Time Traveler
Time Traveler
17 days 11 hours ago

My drink of choice is espresso but when out, I cook Turkish Coffee. Speaking of espresso and methods of brewing, you forgot to mention the makineta. Also, one should always aim for the highest quality 100% arabica beans rather than robusta.

Zoltan
Zoltan
13 days 18 hours ago

Almost always drink espresso/ristretto with nothing added to it, except in the morning, when I usually have an espresso with lots of milk.

Matthew Glennie
17 days 10 hours ago
Hi, I use Aeropress and have for couple of years. Easy, convenient, I bring carry pouch with me, and great tasting, the way I brew it. I used to grind but I get locally roasted coffee and doesn’t last long. Drink my coffee Black only, except for cold brew and love cream and little sugar. I make cold brew and can’t beat it. I love to cook and making coffee is very individual and I like my coffee and not many others. Nothing worse than weak watery tasting coffee. Coffee first thing in the morning watching the news.
Joe B.
Joe B.
17 days 10 hours ago
Aeropress kits are sold with paper filters. As per the Aeropress FAQ: https://aeropressinc.com/faqs-for-the-aeropress-coffee-maker/ Cafestol and kahweol are diterpene molecules found in coffee. They are powerful agents that cause our bodies to increase the low density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) in our blood. Cafestol and kahweol are removed from coffee by paper filters. Any coffee maker using a paper filter (such as the AeroPress coffee maker) removes virtually all of the cafestol and kahweol from the brew. We had this verified by an independent test lab for AeroPress brewed coffee. If you buy an aftermarket metal filter for your Aeropress,… Read more »
Terry Hummer
17 days 10 hours ago

I use an Areropress with paper filters. How is that unfiltered?

Elizabeth Resnick
17 days 10 hours ago
Coffee is a big part of my life, and I honestly think my morning coffee ritual contributes to my health and well being. Not just because the coffee itself is good for me, but because I love the whole routine of preparing it, taking that first hot sip, and then snuggling with my dog on the sofa while I drink it and have a little quiet time. I definitely go for a dark roast, but my brewing method varies. My favorite is the French press. I also have a drip coffee maker which is nice if you want to make… Read more »
Greg Armstrong
Greg Armstrong
17 days 9 hours ago

I use a Chemex with light roasts like Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso or something akin to that. I used to drink really dark roasts for a long time, but the way some of the new wave of roasters like Intelligentsia or Ruby out of Wisconsin are approaching the roasting process makes really full bodied light roasts. Very chocolatey without the bitter overroasted taste. I did notice one small error in the filtered/unfiltered categories above. You listed Aeropress in the unfiltered category, but it uses a paper filter in the cap.

Patricia
Patricia
17 days 8 hours ago

I use a Cona pot–a glass-only vacuum pot that doesn’t require a filter. When I got it (twenty years ago!) my theory was that my coffee would taste better if it didn’t touch paper. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it does make really hot, really clear coffee. It’s old fashioned and sort of a pain to use, but I love it!

Shary
Shary
17 days 3 hours ago

I use loose tea versus teabags because it tastes better. I can always taste the paper if I use teabags.

Ross
Ross
15 days 7 hours ago

+1 for loose leaf. Tea bags are the instant coffee of the tea world. Well, maybe not that bad but they have a detrimental effect on the whole process. I can’t taste the bag but the difference in flavor due to the leaf size is stark. Most tea bags contain a very fine grind to allow quick extraction.

Anna Watson
Anna Watson
17 days 8 hours ago

Here in the UK we call it a Cafetiere (French Press). My coffee grinders always kept breaking so I just use the mill attachment for my blender to grind the beans, which are organic from Costco.

Qness
Qness
17 days 8 hours ago

I do pre-ground light roast decaf in a metal filter.

Steve
Steve
17 days 8 hours ago

Great read! I’m curious to know your thoughts on California’s plan to require a cancer warning on coffee. I’m not worried about it, but you likely know more than me.

Shary
Shary
17 days 3 hours ago

California often seems to be on the cutting edge of what usually doesn’t amount to a hill of beans–literally, in this case.

Ross
Ross
15 days 7 hours ago

Oh, it’ll happen. And soon everything will have a warning on it, which means nothing will have a warning on it. Humans filter out the noise. But it’ll keep a lot of “health authorities” in well-paid jobs.

Elenor
Elenor
17 days 7 hours ago
Hey Mark, You didn’t discuss the (actual/physical) coffee makers in relation to health. There’s a fellow on YT whose mother has Alzheimer’s and he (an engineer) began studying the coffee he made for her each day. The aluminum piping IN the maker, over time, puts more and more aluminum into the coffee… He tested a whole bunch of coffee makers (his, his mom’s, some neighbors’ and some he bought). They all put a LARGE amount of aluminum in the coffee! So he studied up some more, bought a bunch of makers (and tested the few he found in his ‘local… Read more »
Suzan
Suzan
17 days 6 hours ago

I use a pour-over cone with an unbleached filter, or a French Press, depending on my mood. I’m the only coffee drinker in my home, so I use a blade grinder. My current coffee of choice is Specialty Java’s Organic New York, New York. They roast it when you order it, so the taste is quite good. I love coffee with a splash of heavy cream. I can’t drink it after 2pm unless I want to be up very late.

diamondheart
diamondheart
17 days 5 hours ago

What about instant? I usually drink Mt Hagen Organic Fair Trade instant. Pretty good taste, low acid, and no mess.

Nocona
Nocona
17 days 5 hours ago

Pour over mostly. Sometimes French press. Always medium roast.

Carl
Carl
17 days 4 hours ago

Woohoo! Can’t make coffee tomorrow morning cause my mind will still be spinning about the possibilities and can’t work cause my mind won’t be spinning yet.

Such are the great possibilities in our lives!

Kaitlyn
Kaitlyn
17 days 3 hours ago

A friend of mine swore by adding egg shells to the grounds when using a french press. I never understood how that affected the results, but this makes me think magnesium may play a role!

Chantal
Chantal
17 days 2 hours ago

Great article! Found a great coffee you might enjoy. Black Rifle Coffee Company … veteran owned and operated. Enjoying the BeyondBlack at this time! Love my morning coffee with coconut oil/MCT powder. Cheers!

Mister_Root
Mister_Root
17 days 1 hour ago
The more we know the better we can make choices, but to each their own tastes for sure! I was never a coffee guy (ok I left 15 years of high carb energy drink abuse, thank God I was addict to the only organic one around) but nearly a year ago I discovered espresso and all of its variables, barely tapping into it after several months! The only thing I know for sure (and it’s very personal) is that if it has no crema it’s barely interesting to me. One funny point is that crema is the result of proteins… Read more »
Tuba
Tuba
16 days 22 hours ago

Coffee always smells far better than it ever tastes. The aroma in 101, the actual flavor 3 or 4…

saltybones
saltybones
16 days 18 hours ago

I use a French Press with Bullettproof coffee beans. Added butter and coconut oil blended with the coffee has been the morning ritual for the past 4 years, and the only thing I have before lunch. Dave Asprey from Bulletproof warns about Mycotoxins forming during the processing of coffee beans, and being the source of the ‘jitters’ as opposed to the caffeine content. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Chris
16 days 4 hours ago

I have tried and owned half a dozen devices for brewing coffee and my preference is the French Press. I generally drink medium roasts at around the 17:1 golden ratio or light roasts with a lower water:coffee ratio.

Wasabi
Wasabi
16 days 4 hours ago

so….I am guessing that since I did not see Keurig K pod mentioned, is because they are not a good option? I’m usually rushed

Tiffany
Tiffany
16 days 2 hours ago

I only use instant coffee. Good quality stuff, I’m picky about how it tastes. But instant is significantly cheaper than ground or whole bean coffee, and all I have is a plastic coffee maker which I’d prefer not to heat repeatedly to make my coffee (though I do really really enjoy the taste over instant). I’m sticking with my instant until I can regularly afford the other stuff and maybe get a French press.

Joanne
Joanne
13 days 16 hours ago

As a couple of other readers have mentioned, what about instant coffee?
I’m serious – coffee snobbery aside – are any of the benefits mentioned above present for a good quality instant coffee?

Rob
Rob
13 days 13 hours ago

What is good quality instant coffee? Starbucks Via is the only one I am aware of

Terrell
Terrell
12 days 8 hours ago

If you use pre-ground coffee, you are also getting cockroaches. Maybe that makes it more Primal? 😉 It can be a concern though for people with allergies and asthma apparently. https://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/are-there-ground-up-cockroaches-in-your-coffee

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