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The Complexity of Coffee

Although International Coffee Day is October 1, there isn’t a conversation about winter and hot drinks without discussing coffee. Especially because 63-65% of American adults have a daily cuppa jo. Within those who drink coffee, most drink two to three cups a day, next followed by those who drink just one cup, and then finally the rest of American adults who don’t drink coffee at all. Now, to the non-coffee drinkers, having 44% of the population drinking up to three cups of coffee a day and over half of the population drinking at least a cup daily, it seems like a lot. But Americans don’t even rank in the top 10 of coffee-drinking nations.

That said, surprisingly our percentage of coffee drinkers has stayed relatively stable in the last few years with drip coffee still being the most popular. Here in the US, we are definitely hitting innovation mode due to our increase in young coffee drinkers who enjoy coffee far differently than their elders. We are talking buying ready-to-go coffees (vs. brewing at home), iced coffees, sustainability, and harvesting.

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HEADLINE: Drinking coffee can expand your life if you live a healthy lifestyle.

Yes - coffee consumption, precisely four to five cups a day, is linked to a lower risk of early death. But here’s the deal according to this New England Journal of Medicine study...

In many US/UK studies, coffee drinkers die earlier than non-coffee drinkers, which then is reported as coffee consumption being linked to increased risk of mortality. But, in-depth research has found that coffee drinkers are also more likely to “smoke cigarettes and consume more than three alcoholic drinks per day and they also consumed more red meat. Coffee drinkers also tended to have a lower level of education, were less likely to engage in vigorous physical activity, and reported lower levels of consumption of fruits, vegetables, and white meat.” 

My fellow, coffee drinkers, please don’t go on the defensive. Stay with me because this study found that after adjusting the variates (explicitly disassociating smoking and coffee drinking) coffee drinkers - both men and women - were actually less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections. Coffee was shown “inversely associated” with early death. 

Now, there may be a one cuppa joe (a day) drinker patting themselves on the back after seeing this. Yes, moderate coffee drinking gives the body more antioxidants than a non-coffee drinker (fun fact: coffee is the leading source of antioxidants in the American diet, even more than fruits and vegetables, because of our high consumption of the delicious elixir). But when reading the benefits of coffee consumption, we are discussing 4-5 cups (8 oz) per day (3 being your minimum). 

Many studies point to reduced mortality and coffee consumption. But my favorite article, which is incredibly evidence-based (studies are included), is Healthline’s 6 Graphs That Will Convince You to Drink More Coffee.” In the article, it points to coffee reducing not only the diseases previously mentioned but the risk of: 

  1. Alzheimer's Disease

  2. Liver Cancer

  3. Parkinson's Disease

  4. Depression and Suicide (“people who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day were 55% less likely to die by suicide”) 

Definitely read the full article for deep deets and studies. 

Now, I should mention - we are talking about COFFEE and coffee only - BLACK. This is not describing a decadent cup of creamy delight that includes sugar, cream, factory-made substance, or tons of butter (yes, butter). I am not judging as we all have our coffee favorites, but I don’t want folks to misunderstand and charge into Starbucks asking for a venti with extra cream and whip. 


The Impact of your Daily Brew  

Grabbing a ready-made coffee or purchasing your favorite beans off the shelf isn’t so innocent. Like chocolate, another caffeinated bean, coffee has a deep history and existing relationship with slavery, labor violations, poor working conditions, child labor, and folks earning far less than a living wage. Brazil is primarily where this social injustice and abuse happens. Even at Starbucks, with its 99% ethical coffee commitment, there are incidents of Brazilian workers forced to work from 6 am to 11 pm without sanitation and decent food (there are reports of dead mice and bats in their food). Even Nespresso ended a relationship with a coffee plantation that had labor violations in 2018.  

The coffee impact doesn’t end with labor violations. There are also massive implications on both the environment and the animals; the harvesting of coffee leads to massive deforestation in Central America. We know that deforestation results in animal extinction/habitat loss, a decrease of biodiversity (think herbs, plants, etc.), and an increase in pollution (due to lack of clean air produced from trees). That's not to mention all the tools that make coffee (filters, grounds, single-serve capsules, “disposable” or one-time cups/lids) that end up in landfills and the massive energy usage. 

In all honesty, the problem isn’t coffee production - it’s the farming practices that are used to meet consumer demand. Back in the day, coffee was harvested under a canopy of trees: “shade-grown" coffee. This method wasn’t as hard on the earth because it required few pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides. It also provided a habitat for a diverse range of flora (plants), fauna (animals), and insects. We are now farming coffee in ways that rely less on natural circumstances and more on the harsh open sun. With this technique comes all the destructive environmental conditions mentioned above (deforestation, pesticides, soil erosion, and fertilizers). 



When thinking about what coffee to drink, we have to acknowledge the power of our dollar. Just like anything on Shalom & Polepole, there is no condemnation. If exhausted after a sleepless night with just $2.50 in your pocket and you happen drive by McDonald’s or a gas station - by all means, buy yourself a cup of coffee, give a prayer of gratitude to God and all the hands that touched the coffee, and enjoy it. Enjoy the cup just the way you want to - cream and sugar.

That said, on more mindful days or with more lucrative pockets, buy:

  • Fair-trade (fair wages for farmers)

  • Rainforest Alliance (environmental factors)

  • Buying coffee from small-scale farmers (fair wages and human rights)

Then there is always using:

  • Reusable cloth filters

  • Drinking from a non-disposable cup

  • Using recyclable/compostable single-serve pods

  • Brewing coffee in a French press machine or using the pour-over coffee method (no electricity)

  • Composting grounds

If this article does anything, I pray it stops folks from buying an $8 bag of “flavored” Arabica coffee without certifications and reach instead for the Aldi's $4.39 fair trade bag.

Here’s to you, friends. Polepole!


Copedited by Ashley Yancey


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