Coffee for Your Health: Can Coffee Combat Melanoma?

A cup a day keeps the doctor away...

A cup a day keeps the doctor away…

We’ve known for years that drinking coffee comes with a host of benefits. Coffee drinkers enjoy the taste and the mental alertness that comes with their morning (and mid-morning, and afternoon, and early evening) cup(s) of coffee, but there’s also a growing body of scientific research that suggests that drinking coffee brings with it a number of health benefits as well.

As it turns out, we can add one more benefit to the mix. The LA Times reports that drinking coffee can cut your risk of melanoma — a particularly deadly skin cancer that is the fifth most common, as well as the deadliest form of skin cancer — by up to twenty percent.

While scientific studies sometimes come with important caveats (especially if it’s a short-term study with a small group), this one doesn’t appear to be an outlier. Because of the size of the sample group and the number of test subjects — the study tracked nearly half a million test subjects for an average of ten and a half years each — there’s reason to think that there’s some weight to the study’s conclusions.

The conclusion? During the study, 2,905 of the test subjects developed melanoma, but it was found that the more coffee participants drank daily, the lower their risk for developing that cancer. Regardless of participants’ age, sex, body mass index (BMI), or alcohol and tobacco intake, their risk was lower. More interesting still, the results remained consistent even with ultraviolet radiation exposure, which is the single biggest risk factor for developing skin cancer.

The reason for this, the study hypothesizes, is that bioactive compounds in the coffee work like sunscreen, shielding the skin from the damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. But don’t head off to the tanning bed just yet; as with any other study, there are some caveats. For one thing, decaf drinkers didn’t get the same results. For another, coffee drinking seemed to have no bearing on melanoma in situ, the disease’s early form where it hasn’t yet spread to the deep tissue of the skin. This suggests that there’s more research to be done to uncover exactly what role coffee plays in halting the progression of melanoma, and what that might mean for treatment options later.

To find out more, read the LA Times’ article here, or the original study here.

Coffee News, 1/23/2015

Coffee: The Next Energy Future?

Futures from finvis dot com

The sagging prices of oil and precious metals have some investors panicking. As it turns out, they can perk up their portfolios without having to look much farther than their morning latte. What’s been bad news for coffee growers — namely, drought and fungus leading to lower coffee yields — turns out to be better-than-expected news for investors. Coffee futures have fallen to $1.65 per pound from an October high of $2.29 per pound, but that still translated to coffee prices outstripping everything else on the futures exchange, from crude to cattle. While production in 2015 is expected to meet demand, a number of factors point to the possibility of price spikes in both the short term (Brazil’s drought is still severe) and the long term (as climate change and geopolitical change stand to introduce uncertainty).


Not-Quite-Bulletproof Coffee

We covered Dave Asprey’s “Bulletproof Coffee” recently in this space, and I mentioned that I liked the taste, but was skeptical of the health claims. As it turns out, I’m not alone in liking the taste, nor am I alone in my skepticism. Fast Company’s Chris Gayomali (whose in-depth review of the stuff is here) reports on Gizmodo’s fact-laden takedown of Bulletproof Coffee (the Gizmodo article is here). The short version: as with anything else that makes extravagant claims for its health benefits, “caveat emptor” is a useful watchword.

The Coffee… Crime Blotter?!?


If you thought legendary barista Tim Wendelboe was serious about his coffee, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Thieves broke into Tim’s Oslo-based shop, passing over the top-of-the-line espresso machines, the rare books, and even his solid gold Aeropress trophies, making a beeline for the rare coffees displayed on the shop’s display counter. What’s even more bizarre is that this isn’t even the first time this has happened; a similar incident took place at the Bergen Kaffebrenneri in 2013, with the only significant difference being that the thieves in that case also took off with the store’s stash of cheesecakes (disclaimer: can’t blame ‘em — coffee and a good cheesecake is a definite guilty pleasure) (further disclaimer: I’ve never been to Norway).

Mind Your Coffee P’s and Q’s

Finally, closing out on a semi-humorous note, The 10 Rules Of Coffee Shop Etiquette Your Barista Wishes You’d Follow — For Everyone’s Sake, courtesy of I’ve seen several articles on bar etiquette over the years, but I’m glad to see one that covers coffee shops. That’s partly because my coffee consumption far outstrips my alcohol use, and partly because some of the behavior I’ve seen in coffee shops — where, I can only hope, the patrons are sober — is cringe-inducing. The tongue-in-cheek tone aside, if you’re a regular at a cafe or coffee shop, you owe it to yourself (and your favorite baristas) to give this article a once-over. I couldn’t agree more with number 5; people who don’t bus their own tables in cafes is a rather enormous pet peeve of mine.

Image Credits:

Futures graph:
Tim Wendelboe’s shop:

Coffee News Roundup, 1/16/2015

GE's Cafe French Door Fridge with K-Cup Brewer

GE’s Cafe French Door Fridge with K-Cup Brewer

Starbucks Flat (You Can Say That Again) White

We’ll be giving our take on the new Starbucks Flat White in this space soon, but in the meantime, it seems like many who’ve tried it would probably put the emphasis on “Flat.” Starbucks’ own blog entry introducing the product features many comments from customers who aren’t even sure the baristas were trained to make the drink, and found that the drink worked better as a concept than in its execution. The situation probably isn’t helped by the fact, as Quartz pointed out, that there’s not much consensus as to what, exactly, constitutes a Flat White.

By Any Other Name

Speaking of Starbucks, CityMetric reports on a new trend for the industry leader: what it calls “Stealth Starbucks.” In much the same way that the biggest beer brewers like Coors and InBev (owners of the Budweiser and Heineken brands, among others) have tried to hide behind faux “craft” brews (like MillerCoors’ Third Shift and Batch 19 and InBev’s Landshark and Diageo’s Smithwicks), Starbucks is trying to camouflage its presence behind one-off neighborhood cafes “inspired by” Starbucks. Some operate under the Starbucks Reserve imprint, while others have been given new names altogether (like Seattle’s 15th Ave Coffee & Tea). Largely confined to New York and Seattle, there are signs the company plans to take the brand(s) to a wider public, opening up to one hundred locations. Some coffee drinkers (and coffee shop owners) are less than pleased, but Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz insists it’s a benign move, designed to allow Starbucks to try new things that would not be in keeping with their traditional outlets and the expectations that go with the existing brand.

Ice, Water, or Coffee?

Gizmodo had an interesting write-up on GE’s latest offering in its Cafe line of refrigerators. The Cafe French Door refrigerator has the bits you’d expect (namely, an ice maker and water dispenser), and something you probably wouldn’t expect: an added module that brews Keurig K-Cups. The Cafe series already had the option to dispense hot water, so the addition of the Keurig feature wasn’t as much of a stretch as it might seem at first. What’s novel is that the fridge’s LCD changes with the addition of the Keurig module to show a display similar to that found on higher-end Keurig machines (including options for size and brew strength). The appliance debuts in late 2015, and will also have built-in smart technology that allows it to be remotely controlled and programmed.

Strictly Commercial

Finally, a bit of coffee-related humor, courtesy of the folks at I Need Coffee. There’s a decades-long tradition of celebrities who wouldn’t be caught dead shilling for companies on the American airwaves filming commercials overseas, from the unexpected (Sylvester Stallone advertising for Knorr) to the even-more-unexpected (like guitarist Adrian Belew’s endorsement of Daikin). They’ve uncovered coffee commercials starring the likes of John Malkovich, Edward G. Robinson, and Tommy Lee Jones, mostly made for Japanese television, with a couple of European markets represented for good measure).

Climate Change: Coming to a Coffee Cup Near You

SunThe first warning bells over climate change sounded more than a century ago, and picked up steam in the 1970’s as researchers began to observe and debate over the effects of greenhouse gases on global temperature. Several years on, it isn’t just the debate that’s heating up. The globe itself appears to be warming, and that warming trend is influencing everything from car and home designs to food prices. As it turns out, even your morning cup of coffee isn’t immune from the far-reaching effects of global warming.

We won’t belabor the mechanics of global warming in this space. If you’re interested in getting yourself up to speed, there’s a good overview here, thanks to Bill Nye and the folks at Smithsonian magazine. What does bear mention, however, is the mechanics of coffee growing. It’s typically done in higher elevations in tropical climates, since that’s where you get the right combination of cooler air, ample rainfall, and rich soil in which coffee — particularly the better tasting but somewhat finicky Arabica variety — grows (Robusta, as its name suggests, is a hardier plant, but it tends to be more bitter, with less flavor depth, and is typically used as an extender). Rising temperature upsets that balance, disrupting rainfall patterns, warming the temperature, and eroding the soil. It’s also turned out to be an ideal incubator for coffee rusts (fungi) and pests like the coffee berry borer that prey on, and decimate, stocks of Arabica plants.

As these things happen, the effects are manifold. For starters, yields are starting to drop as crops are decimated by disease and less-than-ideal growing conditions. Some types of coffee plants — especially of the Arabica variety — are starting to die off, reducing biodiversity and resistance to disease. Changing soil composition will, in turn, change the taste of your coffee, while reduced supplies will lead to higher prices and more reliance on hardier but bitterer Robusta plants.

Given those facts, the picture seems bleak, to be sure. However, some major players are taking notice and trying to affect changes at various points in their business or supply chain to try to mitigate the damage. The US military is shoring up infrastructure at its bases and home ports; governments are introducing regulatory regimes on everything from emissions standards to gas mileage; food companies are warning of price increases on key items; and coffee companies, for their part, are taking steps to address the impact of climate change on their businesses (Starbucks, in particular, has been at the forefront of these efforts).

The debate over whether climate change is real appears to be all but settled, save for a handful of outliers. What remains a moot point* is what those changes will mean over the long term and what, if anything, can be done to arrest or reverse the damage already done. From this remove, it seems obvious that global warming is wreaking havoc with biodiversity, and if you care about your coffee — or the earth in which it grows — that’s not a merely academic point.

*Not to be a pedant here, but we’re using “moot” in its original sense (i.e., something that’s open to debate)

Storing Brewed Coffee

Just about any serious coffee drinker faces a dilemma sooner or later. We’re all creatures of habit, and our morning coffee routine is no exception. Waking up without our favorite espresso, latte or pour-over leaves us tired and grumpy, and generally starts the day on a sour note.

Of course, there are alternatives. Single-serve machines from Keurig and Nespresso make it possible to get delicious coffee on demand. A pour-over or French Press requires only enough time to boil water and allow your brewing method of choice to do its work. In a pinch — God forbid — there’s always instant. But what if you like to sleep in, or if your method of choice is more time-consuming? Cold brew and single drip coffee are lovely, with a nuanced flavor that makes coffee drinking a joy, but it’s nobody’s idea of efficient. Even your trusty Aeropress still requires sufficient time to boil water, which doesn’t seem like much unless you’ve rolled out of bed at 7:10 with a 7:35 train to catch.

The good news is, you don’t have to add coffee stress to the list of other morning-related worries. All you need is your favorite coffee, an airtight container, and sufficent space in the fridge.

First things first: Make a sufficiently large batch of coffee (or, if you’re using a Toddy, Aeropress, or favorite cold-brew method, enough concentrate) to last you about a week. You’ll need to stick to black coffee. For one thing, the addition of sugar, cream, or milk keeps your coffee from storing properly. For another, it doesn’t fare well during reheating, especially if you’re using something like half and half that has a higher fat content.

Second, you’ll want to use an airtight container to store your coffee or concentrate. We’d recommend something in glass, which cleans easier, and won’t stain or retain flavors; if you prefer plastic, we suggest having one container that will be used strictly for coffee. We don’t suggest metal, since the acid content of the coffee — especially when stored for extended periods of time — interacts with the metal in the container. If the container isn’t quite airtight (as tends to be the case with plastic pitchers and some carafes, especially if they’re older), use a layer of plastic wrap to prevent exposure to the air and to prevent smells and tastes from the refrigerator from seeping into your coffee. I love coffee. I love curried chicken. I generally prefer that my coffee doesn’t taste like curry, chili, or whatever else might be lurking on the shelves.

Third, keep whatever you’ll need in the morning laid out the night before. Whether you’ll be having your coffee at home (in which case, your favorite cup will do) or taking it with you (keep your travel mug clean and ready), a little advance prep means a bit less stress in the AM.

Finally, keep everything clean between uses. By most estimates, coffee will last at least a week in the fridge (or longer if you freeze it). If you make a batch for the week on Sunday evening, we’d suggest dumping whatever you haven’t used by Friday morning (the coffee should still be safe after that, but won’t be as fresh or taste as good). Better still, work with smaller batches every few days for optimum freshness and taste. In either case, wash your storage container thouroughly with hot, soapy water, and make sure it’s dry before storing. And keep those mugs from piling up in the sink, since nobody likes doing dishes on their day off.

So there you have it — all you need for a quick cup of coffee in the morning, with a minimum of fuss. Best of all, you don’t even have to heat if you don’t want to. These steps will work just as well if you’re making iced coffee (though the same caveats about milk and sugar still apply — add, don’t store!).

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil | Creative Commons Public Domain

Coffee News Roundup, 1/9/2015

Our weekly roundup of coffee news from around the web. To find out more, click the section titles.


Serena Williams (Image Credit: Reuters)

Serena Williams (Image Credit: Reuters)

You’re not the only one who could use a cup of coffee to get through a tough day. Tennis star Serena Williams is in Perth for the Hopman Cup ahead of the Australian open. Between the heat and a nasty case of jetlag, she dropped her first set to Flavia Pennetta 0-6. After that “bagel,” she decided an espresso was in order. After checking in with the chair umpire, the espresso was duly procured, and Williams came back to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-0, giving thanks for the “miracle coffee.” We’re counting down the days ’til a cafe somewhere introduces a Williams-inspired Hopman Cup (with bagel, naturally) of their own… we can certainly think of worse ways to start the day.


No doubt Keurig would rather focus on black coffee than on the black eye it’s gotten in the press. They’re having a rough time of it lately. Their 2.0 Brewer, which was supposed to get the brand’s signature coffee brewers back into patent and the company back to its customary levels of productivity, has been savaged by a number of long-term fans (read our review here). As it turns out, that brouhaha — or, should we say, brew-ha-ha? — is a mere tempest in a teapot compared to the company’s other big news. They’ve had to recall more than seven million of their single-serve Keurig Mini Plus machines. The company received roughly 200 reports of hot liquid spraying from the machines, with nearly half of those reporting saying they’d suffered burn-related injuries. The company is offering a repair kit for the machines (manufactured between 2007 and 2014), and is advising users to stay at least an arm’s length away from the machines while they’re in use.


The Guardian reports on the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Independent Library Report has seen the future of libraries, and it’s beginning to look a lot like coffee. Alright, we’re simplifying a bit, but the report does note that as technology reshapes the information landscape, it’s only sensible that the library of the not-so-distant future might be a less staid environment. The report suggests — rather sensibly, if you ask us — wi-fi, coffee, and lavatories as a good starting point for revitalizing libraries. It would seem like a sensible move from here; as information becomes more shared and social, it seems only natural that the library should follow suit in becoming a more engaged and social experience. At the same time, we can’t help but wonder if the librarians will end up wasting time shush-ing the espresso machines.


Image Credit: Josh Hara

Image Credit: Josh Hara

Humorist and illustrator Josh Hara has been turning heads by turning his Starbucks cups into funny and whimsical works of art. Known by the Twitter/Instagram handle @yoyoha, Hara’s illustrated more than 100 cups over the last year, with subject matter ranging from identity theft to a particularly funny parody of some Kardashian’s* attempt at “breaking” the internet.

*Honestly, they’re all pretty much interchangeable at this point.

As the Cuban Embargo Lifts, It’s Time For… Coffee?

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to Cuban expat communities, there’s plenty of Cuban culture to be found across the United States. Cuban music is one example; Los Van Van and Irakere can set the dead to dancing, and Cuban expats and their descendents (like Celia Cruz, Arturo Sandoval, Willy Chirino, and the Estefan clan) have brought Cuban sounds to American audiences. Cuban “béisbol” players are among the world’s best, wowing Major League Baseball fans from coast to coast.

But for many people — Cuban and Anglo alike — it’s all about the food. If you’ve never had Ropa Vieja, Picadillo, or Lechon Asado, we feel sorry for you. Hell, even humble Cuban sandwiches, from the classic Cuban sandwich, made with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and roast pork marinated in mojo to the Medianoche (a Cuban sandwich on challah) or Choripán (chorizo with potato sticks) are a feast for the senses.

Now, if you’ve ever eaten at a good Cuban restaurant, you know that your meal is not complete without a good postre (dessert) like flan or tres leches, and a steaming cup of Cuban coffee. It’s an espresso with a caffeine content that does roughly the same thing to your heart as a good rumbero or salsero hitting his stride over a tight band. These days, “Cuban” coffee is generally Café Bustelo or Café Pilon, both of which have roots in Cuba but that are now sourced elsewhere and roasted and ground in the States using methods brought from the old country.

That might be on the verge of changing. As the Obama administration decides how to lift the decades-long embargo on Cuba, tourism and cigars have gotten all the press. What’s been overlooked is that Cuba once had a thriving coffee industry that’s fallen on hard times but that has the potential to be the next big thing.

Cuba was once a major coffee exporter, but the Revolution brought changes to the coffee industry as it had to every other facet of society. The island has the perfect climate for coffee growing, and prime coffee-growing lands in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The Sierra Maestra was the epicenter of the guerrilla activity that would eventually overthrow the Batista government, which was the first strike against Cuban coffee. The second strike came in the form of the American embargo, which closed off the American market to Cuban coffee and other goods. The third strike came as antiquated farming methods led to lower yields; Cuba’s coffee exports are now but a paltry fraction of coffee titans like Costa Rica and Guatemala.

As the long thaw in Cuban-American relations begins, expats and entrepreneurs are looking south. Cuba represents an untapped market, to be sure. But as it’s managed to do even through the blockade, Cuba has plenty of cultural exports to offer. Just as the Cuban sandwich and Salsa (the music, not the condiment) have gone mainstream, it looks like Cuban coffee might be poised to wake up a new generation of Yanquis to all that Cuba has to offer.

Want A Sweeter Cup of Coffee? The Eyes Have It

We already know that coffee teases and tantalizes the taste buds and tickles the nose. But if you want a less bitter cup of coffee, it turns out the eyes have it.

© Karlien Du plessis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This Coffee’s for the Birds.

A study conducted by George H Van Doorn, Dianne Wuillemin and Charles Spence in the online journal Flavour (abstract and full article) suggests that the taste of your cup o’ joe can be influenced not just by the things you’d expect, like the grind, process, and brew time used, but also by the color of the cup your coffee’s served in.

Two versions of the experiment were conducted. In the first, a café latte was served in three different mugs (transparent, white and blue), and participants were asked to rate the taste of each. The respondents rated the coffee in the white mug as significantly more bitter than the coffee in the transparent or blue mugs.

To eliminate the possibility that there was something in the makeup of the mugs used that was influencing the taste of the coffee, the experiment was repeated a second time. This time, clear glass mugs were used exclusively, with the addition of white and blue sleeves. The results were consistent — again, the coffee in the white mug was rated as more bitter. In both experiments, the clear and blue mugs tasted sweeter to the participants, suggesting that it’s the color contrast between the coffee and its container that influences how the taster perceives the coffee.

There’s no magic or sorcery here. There’s no special property of a white mug versus a clear glass coffee cup or your favorite blue travel mug that’s changing the taste of your coffee. What there is, instead, is a bit of subtle trickery. As with anything else involving your five senses, it’s all a matter of perception. In other words, what Van Doorn et al. have stumbled upon amounts to a placebo effect; there’s no actual change to the contents of your cup, all else being equal.

However, what the research suggests is that whether you’re serving coffee at home or in your own cafe or restaurant, it would probably be wise to pay attention to the interplay of color and coffee. Higher contrast (as would be found in a white, off-white, or light yellow cup) leads to the perception of a more bitter taste, while the use of clear glass, blues, blacks, and dark browns eliminate the color contrast and make the coffee seem sweeter. If you prefer your coffee to fit a certain flavor profile, now you know how to finesse your mind (and your tastebuds) into thinking your latte tastes a certain way.

Photo credit: © Karlien Du plessis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Better Napping Through Coffee

Coffee puts you to sleep?

Caffeine helps sleep? Falling asleep with coffee?

If you find yourself tired around midday, you’ve probably asked yourself whether you’re better off with a cup of coffee or a ten to fifteen minute power nap. You might be asking the wrong question. Science suggests the right question is, “Why not both?” As it turns out, a cup of coffee is the perfect way to turbocharge your power nap.
At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. After all, who hasn’t been kept up ’til two in the morning after an ill-timed double espresso with dinner? But if we dig a bit deeper, there’s evidence that coffee and a nap together will do more for your alertness and mental clarity than either would do alone.

Here’s how it works: Adenosine, a normal byproduct of brain activity, bonds with receptors in your brain to make you feel tired. Caffeine helps to block some of those receptors, but because it doesn’t block all of them, you’re still going to feel somewhat tired. The “mechanism” of a nap is somewhat different; it tidies up the brain, sweeping away some of the adenosine and making you feel less tired (as long as it’s a short nap and you don’t enter deeper sleep).
And here’s why the two working together is a magic combination: when you drink coffee, it takes about twenty minutes for the caffeine to absorb into your bloodstream and make its way to your brain. A short nap, therefore, is sweeping away adenosine and leaving more “room” for the caffeine to bond to the adenosine receptors, and the caffeine is doing its work just as you’re coming out of a light sleep.

These results have been borne out in controlled scientific studies, wherein some subjects got only coffee, or only a nap; others got a decaf placebo (which borders on cruelty, if you ask us); and another group got regular coffee and a nap. When given cognitive tasks, the coffee-and-a-nap group outperformed their counterparts, and they also reported feeling much better than the other participants who’d been deprived of either the coffee or the nap. The latter measure is a bit more subjective, but the results — in both cases — are telling nonetheless.
A couple of other findings emerged. For one thing, participants were helped even when they didn’t fall fully asleep for the fifteen-minute period. For another, the higher caffeine content of coffee was found to be more effective than the comparatively lower doses found in tea or most sodas.

With all that said, what’s the best way to take your napuccino? For starters, make sure you have enough time to nap. Drink your coffee quickly. It can be nice to linger over your coffee and savor it, but in this case, time is of the essence. Dawdle over your coffee and the caffeine will be doing its work too early to help you. Next, go to sleep. If you don’t sleep, don’t fret; even a sleepy or meditative state will be a big help. Finally, wake up within fifteen to twenty minutes (set an alarm to be on the safe side). It really is that simple, and that effective.
So the next time you feel droopy in the afternoon, don’t despair. Your choices just got much easier. You don’t have to choose between a nap and a coffee. You can have both, and now you have the scientific proof to back you up.

Adventures of Organic Coffee Bean

Meet Alexander.

Growing up as an organic coffee bean in Colombia is not always the easiest task, especially when all of your friends are chemical addicts. The peer pressure to experiment with pesticides and other chemicals was not always easy to cope with.

All of his friends took chemicals and made it look so cool. They were bigger than he was and always warding off unwanted visitors. Alex didn’t look the part, nor did he realize, but he was just as strong as his peers.

He knew intuitively that everything would be alright. He had bigger dreams than rural Colombia. He aspired to travel the world, grinding his way to the top. Rest assured, he made that dream a reality.

Alexander now lives in my coffee mug. Good morning.

Organic coffee beans cappuccino from HiLine