While 2011 was the year of coffee research what most people still don’t know is that, when it comes to potential health benefits, the way you brew coffee matters.
In 2011, it seemed researchers couldn’t get enough coffee, and not just to keep them alert while writing up those long, dry reports. Drinking coffee—four or more cups daily, in some of these studies—may lower risk for certain cancers (liver, colon, endometrial, prostate). It’s also been found to reduce risk for type 2 diabetes, depression in women, Parkinson’s, dementia, stroke, and heart rhythm problems.
Abundant research shows caffeine improves athletic endurance, performance, and motivation. My favorite study, as a French Roast purist, was the one published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, which found that dark roasted coffee improves human antioxidant status more than (wimpy) lightly roasted beans.
However, the one thing I find most people still don’t know about coffee is: When it comes to potential health benefits, the way you brew matters.
Filtered vs. French press
Research has shown that “boiled coffee,” which is popular in Scandinavian countries and similar to French press coffee, can significantly increase cholesterol levels (8 percent in men, 10 percent in women) while filtered coffee does not.
That wonderful oily sheen on unfiltered coffee contains up to 80 times more coffee-specific fatty acids, one of which—cafestol—is a potent stimulator of LDL (bad) cholesterol, says Rob van Dam, assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.
Because most cafestol gets left behind in the filter, people with high cholesterol levels should choose drip coffee. (Espresso is apparently somewhere in the middle: some cafestol, not as much.)
If you have heartburn or an otherwise sensitive stomach, look into cold brewing. This method retains and concentrates coffee’s volatile flavor elements as well as the caffeine, but cuts out 85 percent of its oils and acids, making a smoother, nonirritating brew. Cold brewing is easy, you just need to do it ahead of time.
So go ahead and enjoy your hot, inky elixir. Just be selective about how you brew it.