If there's one thing I've learned in my years brewing, drinking, selling, and writing about coffee, it's that there are a lot of questions. I'm sure you've even got a few yourself. Some of them--what region produces the best beans? do milk and sugar ruin the subtle flavors of coffee?--I've got opinions on but not answers, since they depend on personal preference and not hard-and-fast rules. But others--does coffee have more caffeine than tea? how shall I keep my beans fresh longest?--have actual answers that will help you better understand this life-sustaining beverage.
I've compiled a list of a few of coffee's common myths and misconceptions. If you've got a question, or if you think I've made a glaring error, please let me know here. Otherwise, read on:
Myth #1: Coffee causes ulcers/stains your teeth/stunts your growth/is bad for your pregnancy/is otherwise terrible for you.
No, yes, no, no, no. Excessive coffee could leave a brownish hue on your pearly whites (not as badly as tea does), but there's no scientific evidence to back up the rest of these negative health claims. Coffee's acidity can irritate gastric ulcers but doesn't cause them, and the bit about it stunting your growth is just an old wives' tale that your parents told you to keep you away from their Kona stash. My own midwife told me--and I've read repeatedly elsewhere--that a regular cup of coffee daily is totally fine while you're pregnant. The key to coffee consumption and health is, as with all things, moderation.
Myth #2: Energy drinks have more caffeine than coffee.
No. If you're the sort who drinks coffee purely for the caffeine intake, you're likely not reading this anyway, but if you are, take note: ounce for ounce, most energy drinks have less caffeine than a generic brewed coffee. Even NoDoz has less caffeine in a single tablet than an average 12-ounce cup. Another good thing to know about coffee is that, despite popular belief, lighter roasts contain more caffeine than dark roasts, since caffeine burns off in the roasting process. Still think your roommate's a sissy for drinking that Starbucks Blonde?
Myth #3: The best way to keep coffee fresh is in the freezer or fridge.
No. I've had so many conversations about this with the people in my family: coffee beans absorb moisture and easily take on the flavors of other things, which you don't want if it's sitting next to a bag of salmon and some brown bananas in your freezer. Try to use your coffee within a couple of weeks. If you don't go through it quickly, go to your local roaster and buy quarter-pound bags. For the best result, keep those beans (or grinds, if that's your thing) in a dark, air-tight container in the cupboard.
Myth #4: You have to spend a lot of money to get great coffee.
No. This is just plain silly. Though it's fun to tell your guests they're sipping coffee that was crapped out of a cat, it's not necessary to spend big bucks on a decent cup of joe. At Ballard Coffee Works the other day, I was reading a flyer they had posted on their notorious $100-per-pound specialty coffee. They reported that only about half the people polled in a blind taste test could taste the difference between the uber-expensive coffee and one of their standard blends. Coffee in this regard is a lot like wine. The average person can probably taste the difference between a cup of Folgers and what you'll find at your local café, but not the difference between a $4 cup and a $40 cup.