Are you a diehard coffee drinker?
Years ago, doctors told patients to avoid coffee because it increased the risk of health problems, including heart attacks, and cancer of the pancreas. These days, your doctor is more likely to urge you to drink coffee, thanks to the potential health benefits a steaming cup of java (minus all the sugar) offers.
Preliminarily, it looks like coffee lovers may enjoy a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, melanoma, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and gallstones.
Most exciting of all is a study showing that sipping three to four cups of coffee daily was linked with a 15% lower risk of all-cause mortality.
Keep in mind these are associations and don’t necessarily show cause and effect – but the evidence is growing that coffee drinking is a healthy habit. Yes, it’s a good time to own Starbuck’s stock.
Yet, you want to get the health benefits of coffee and get the “good stuff” in coffee in its purest form without the “extras” you don’t want – like pesticides.
Most natural food markets and many grocery stores now offer organic coffee – ground or unground. Is it worth spending extra money to get organic coffee?
FAST FACT: Coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity in the world. Petroleum is first.
We struggled with this issue ourselves. Most people think of organic items as being healthier since they’re grown or raised without pesticides, and if you like the reassurance that the coffee you’re drinking came from a pesticide-free environment, by all means buy it.
Is buying organic coffee worth it? Your money might be better spent buying organic fruits and vegetables, especially those on the “dirty dozen” list than investing in organic coffee.
Non-organic coffee may not be 100% free of impurities, but because of the roasting process coffee beans undergo, the conventional coffee you’re sipping likely contains only small amounts of pesticides, if any, by the time it’s packaged and sent to the supermarket.
How Coffee is Roasted
Coffee beans are green just after they’re harvested. The green coffee beans must be roasted to a high temperature of between 375 and 450 degrees F. to turn them into the coffee beans you grind and make into coffee. Green coffee beans wouldn’t be very tasty, right?
During the roasting process, the bean splits apart and reveals the tantalizing aroma of the bean itself. Green coffee beans can be roasted to varying degrees, leading to light, medium, or dark roast coffee.
FAST FACT: A coffee plant can live up to 200 years.
What does this have to do with pesticides? Even if the coffee was heavily sprayed with pesticides, research shows the vast majority of pesticides are broken down by the high heat the beans are exposed to during roasting.
In one study, researchers saturated green coffee beans with three different pesticides and measured the amount remaining after roasting the coffee.
The results? One of the pesticides was completely destroyed by the roasting process, more than 90% of the second one was destroyed, while less than 1% of the third pesticide remained after roasting.
More reassurance: When the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency analyzed 297 samples of coffee for pesticides. Only 2 out of the 297 samples contained measurable amounts.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the tea samples. Tea, as we’ll talk about in a future article, is something you should buy organic.
In another study, published in the Journal of Agricultural Chemistry, researchers found simply washing coffee beans reduced pesticide residues by between 14.63% and 57.69% while roasting reduced the pesticide content by a whopping 99.8%.
So, if you’re trying to avoid pesticides and you have limited funds, your money might best be spent on buying fruits and vegetables on the “dirty dozen” list, a list of the most heavily sprayed produce organic rather than coffee. You might also consider buying organic tea.
We don’t buy organic coffee on a routine basis. Rather we enjoy a delicious coffee a dear friend orders for us from Germany. If you’re reading – thank you!
From what I’ve read, Germany has more rigorous standards with regard to pesticides than we do in the United States. We’re comfortable with it even if it isn’t organic, especially since roasting seems to remove the vast majority of pesticide residues.
FAST FACT: Robusta coffee contains twice the caffeine of Arabica.
Decaf Coffee is a Different Story
Although roasting removes the pesticide from coffee beans, decaf coffee is more problematic.
Coffee beans are decaffeinated by one of two processes: the chemical method or the Swiss water method. Organic coffee uses the Swiss water method and some non-organic coffees do too.
If a particular brand of coffee was decaffeinated by the Swiss method, it should say so on the label. If not, it was probably decaffeinated using the chemical method unless it’s organic.
We avoid drinking coffee decaffeinated via the chemical method. The chemical used to remove the caffeine is usually methylene chloride or ethyl acetate. The solvent of greatest concern is methylene chloride, which, fortunately, most companies don’t use anymore.
Methylene chloride is a likely carcinogen. Ethyl acetate is less unhealthy but hardly something you want in your coffee. It’s the component in nail polish remover that has that sickeningly sweet smell.
Since it’s impossible to remove all of the solvent from the beans after decaffeinating, each bean is left with a small amount of chemical residue. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like chemical residues in my morning cup of coffee, do you?
FAST FACT: Coffee doesn’t taste as good as it smells because saliva wipes out much of the flavor.
Be aware that decaffeination doesn’t remove all the caffeine but about 97% of it. So, a 6-ounce cup of coffee would typically have less than 5 milligrams of caffeine.
The bottom line: If you buy organic or naturally decaffeinated coffee, you can feel pretty confident that you won’t have solvent residues floating around in your cup.
FAST FACT: A 6-ounce cup of coffee contains between 50 and 75 milligrams of caffeine.
Are Coffee Filters Contaminating Your Coffee?
The reality is we’re more worried about the coffee filters you’re using than whether you’re drinking organic coffee. Did you know those pretty, white coffee filters you’re using to filter your coffee are bleached?
The bleaching process leaves behind residues of toxic chemicals called dioxins, some of the most toxic chemicals in nature. Plus, you store dioxins in fat once you’re exposed to it, so you’re not going to get rid of it anytime soon.
Dioxins are linked with hormone disruption, infertility, neurological problems, cancer, and toxic effects on the immune system. Most of the exposure you get from dioxins is through meat and dairy products – you don’t need more exposure from coffee filters.
Suggestion: Buy unbleached coffee filters or invest in one of these nifty stainless steel filters. In our opinion, this is more important than buying organic coffee based on the research that’s out there.
Taking Coffee Making Up a Level
We make a lot of cold brew coffee, mainly because we like the taste and the fact that it’s less acidic. If you’d like to try it, here’s a link to an article we wrote on the topic. I drink cold brew coffee part of the time and use my mochi pot to make a reasonable facsimile of espresso on the stovetop.
If you buy a mochi pot, be sure it’s stainless steel and not aluminum. You don’t want aluminum seeping into your coffee.
Then, I use my milk frother to create foam for a homemade cappuccino. I’ve tried various milk frothers from handheld ones to electric ones. The best one out there is this one:
It’s superior to the Nespresso Aerocinno that we used to use. This machine makes such nice foam that I haven’t ordered a cappuccino from Starbucks since. I use non-dairy cashew milk BUT I add a very small amount of non-fat dairy milk. You need to do this to get a froth that doesn’t disappear.
It only takes about an eighth of a cup of dairy milk (non-fat, full-fat doesn’t work) combined with cashew milk to make luscious froth.
The Bottom Line
What would we do without our coffee? Fortunately, there’s growing evidence that drinking coffee is a healthy habit, although sugar destroys some of the health benefits. The quantity of pesticides in conventional coffee is pretty low, based on studies, because the pesticides are destroyed during roasting.
The only time we’d recommend buying organic is if you purchase decaffeinated coffee since the caffeine will have been removed through a non-chemical method. Finally, look for unbleached coffee filters to avoid exposure to dioxins.
What kind of coffee do you drink and is it organic? We’d love to know. Share your thoughts with us. 🙂
Shokuhin Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2012;53(5):233-6.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency. “2010-2011 Pesticides in Coffee, Fruit Juice and Tea”
J. Agric. Food Chem., 2015, 63 (38), pp 8568–8573.
NPR The Salt. “Drink To Your Health: Study Links Daily Coffee Habit To Longevity”
Circulation AHA.115.017341 Published online before print November 16, 2015, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.017341.
Fact Slide. “28 Facts about Coffee”
Eurekalert.org. “New study links coffee consumption to decreased risk of colorectal cancer”