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History and properties of coffee (I)

From Medicine to Pleasure and Forgetful Drug

Following a logical order, after telling you about the history of brandy, we want to tell you the story of coffee and its health properties.


Coffee and tea are the most consumed beverages in the world, and their popularity is based on the same principle as herbs and spices: the plant materials they consist of are packed with chemical defenses that we have learned to dilute, modify, and appreciate.

Coffee beans have a strong defense, which is caffeine, a bitter alkaloid that has significant effects on our body.


Caffeine is the most consumed behavior-modifying substance in the world. It is an alkaloid that interferes with a specific signaling system used by many different cells, and therefore has several different effects on the human body.

Above all, caffeine:

  • Stimulates the central nervous system.
  • Relieves drowsiness and fatigue.
  • Accelerates reaction times.
  • Increases energy production in muscles, thus enhancing their working capacity.

Less desirable effects:

  • In large doses, it causes restlessness, nervousness, and insomnia.
  • It has complex effects on the heart and arteries and can cause abnormally rapid heartbeats.
  • There are indications that caffeine accelerates the loss of calcium from bones, so regular consumption may contribute to osteoporosis.

Caffeine reaches its peak level in the blood between 15 minutes and two hours after consumption, and its levels are reduced by half after three to seven hours. Its effects are most noticeable in those not accustomed to consuming it, and withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, but they usually disappear after three days.


Currently, coffee is recognized as the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet (semi-roasted beans have the highest antioxidant activity).

Certain types of coffee have an undesirable effect on blood cholesterol levels. Two lipids (substances similar to fats), cafestol and kahweol, raise these levels, but they only appear in coffee when the brewing technique does not filter them out. Percolated coffee, French press coffee, and espresso contain them. The significance of this effect is not well understood, and it may be small, as these cholesterol elevators are accompanied by a large amount of substances that protect cholesterol from oxidation that could cause harm.


Coffee infusions are 95-98% water, so their quality is greatly influenced by the quality of the water used to prepare them. Secondary flavors and disinfectant compounds based on chlorine in most tap waters are largely removed by boiling. Very hard (alkaline) water with a high content of calcium and magnesium carbonates has several undesirable effects. In coffee, these minerals:

  • Slow down flavor extraction.
  • Cloud the infusion.
  • Clog espresso machine tubes.
  • Reduce the fine crema of espresso.

Very soft water excessively extracts coffee and imparts a very salty taste. Extremely pure distilled water provides an infusion that could be described as tasteless, lacking a flavor dimension.

Ideal water has a moderate mineral content and a pH close to neutral, so the final infusion will have a moderately acidic pH, around 5, ideal for maintaining and balancing other flavors. Some bottled mineral waters are suitable. Many municipal tap waters are intentionally alkalized to reduce the acidity and liveliness of very dark roasted coffee (lightly roasted beans provide a lot of acidity). Alkaline tap water can be corrected by adding pinches of cream of tartar until it starts to taste slightly acidic.


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