Coffee enjoyment or coffee annoyance

14. June 2021

How healthy is coffee?

How healthy is coffee?

Long before George Clooney advertised Nespresso, coffee was already the favourite drink – and not just for Germans. Coffee house culture is celebrated all over the world today, and hardly anyone wants to go without their coffee after getting up in the morning. For many, coffee is the start of the new day. 

In Europe, Luxembourg is the front runner among coffee drinkers (per capita consumption of coffee in Europe according to Statista 2019), closely followed by the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Austria. Only then do Germans come. The German Coffee Association reported that every German per capita consumes almost 150 litre per year. This makes coffee the most widely consumed drink in Germany, ahead of water, beer and wine.

Germany was the country of filter coffee for a long time

No wonder that many coffee brands were fighting over the huge market and were investing a lot of money in coffee advertising as early as the 1960s, especially in TV advertising. Jacobs Krönung advertised with the slogan “Jacobs Coffee. You can taste the whole aroma. Wonderful” and “The crowning of the best moments”. Melitta coffee advertised with Melitta filter bags (“… makes coffee a pleasure”). Furthermore, Dallmayr Coffee, Tchibo Coffee, Onko Coffee, Eduscho Coffee and Coffee Hag vied for the market and the consumer.

It should not be forgotten that coffee beans were a luxury product around 60 years ago and unaffordable for most people. A pound of coffee beans cost 30 DM back then – three times as expensive as it is today. 

Wealth in cups

Back then, you had to work almost 20 hours for a pound of coffee beans, i.e. half a working week. In 1960 a worker earned just under 500 Marks gross per month. In 1950 the gross hourly wage was around three DM. The “Spiegel” once wrote: “Coffee – after 1945 that was wealth in cups, a national drink and a German sanctuary of everyday life”.

Coffee was considered the drink of the economic boom and was something very special for the people. That has not changed until today, as you can see from the figures. In 2021, coffee sales in Germany are estimated at 18.5 billion Euro, and according to Statista, it will rise to almost 21 billion Euros by 2025. If we apply that to the size of the population, from infants to old people, every citizen will spend 220.14 Euro per capita on coffee in 2021.

The only question is, is coffee healthy or unhealthy?

There are many myths surrounding this question. At least it is known that caffeine strongly stimulates the circulation and blood pressure. That is why coffee gets us going in the morning – apart from a few people for whom coffee has no effect on the circulatory system.

So where does this effect come from? In the body, caffeine displaces adenosine from the cells, the substance that makes us tired. Incidentally, the discovery of caffeine is thanks to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He advised his friend, the chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, to distil coffee beans – actually because he suspected that there would be an antidote to atropine in them. It was during this process that Runge discovered caffeine.

A frequently asked question is how much caffeine is actually healthy?  This has even been investigated by the European Food Safety Authority. The good news came from the German Institute for Human Nutrition (DIfE): “Anyone who drinks four cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of liver cancer by 75 percent.

The bad news for some coffee lovers is: It should not be much more than that. The reason: Coffee contains a lot of caffeine. As the authority writes: “Consuming excessive amounts of caffeine can have consequences for your health. These range from increased nervousness and excitability to insomnia, sweating and palpitations. If too much caffeine is continuously consumed, this can lead to cardiovascular problems”.

For a healthy adult, an intake of 200 milligrams as a single dose (around two cups of coffee) and 400 milligrams during the day (around four cups of coffee) is considered harmless. As a rule of thumb, the EFSA states that around 5.7 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight are harmless throughout the day.

With a single dose, it should not be more than three milligrams per kilogram. Minors should generally not consume more than three milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight throughout the day. For pregnant or breastfeeding women, half of the value is considered harmless to the health of the foetus or the breastfed child.

However, the amounts of caffeine determined by EFSA to be harmless do not apply to everyone. They also do not represent recommendations, but rather quantities that are regarded as harmless to the health of the healthy general population. They do not apply to people who suffer from illnesses or who consume large amounts of alcohol.

In the past it was even believed that coffee was dehydrating, but this has turned out to be a myth. It has only been found that coffee has a slight diuretic effect. However, this only applies to filter coffee, as the water content is much higher there than, for example, in espresso. The ripening of the beans also plays a role. 

However, people who have a poor metabolism should drink coffee in moderation. It is also better to avoid caffeine if you have high blood pressure or stomach problems. People with a well-functioning metabolism, on the other hand, who eat well and exercise a lot, are allowed to drink an extra cup of coffee.

Where does coffee come from and how did it get to us?

The most important coffee varieties are Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee) with many sub-varieties and varieties. The coffee plant originally comes from Africa. Today it is assumed that the Kaffa region in southwest Ethiopia is the region of origin of coffee. Coffee reached Europe via Turkey, first to Italy, from there to France, England and the Netherlands and finally to Germany.

The first coffee houses were built in Mecca around 1511, from where they began their triumphal march across Europe. From then on things went quickly, coffee conquered the world. The first coffee house opened in Venice in 1645, followed by Oxford in 1650 and London in 1652. France followed suit in Marseille in 1659, in 1669 the Turkish ambassador Soliman Aga allegedly served coffee to the noble society in Versailles for the first time, and in 1672 coffee reached Paris.

The first Viennese coffee house was opened in 1685, but before that, in 1673, a coffee house was opened in Bremen. An Englishman opened a coffee and tea house in Hamburg in 1677, and there were already four coffee houses in Hamburg in 1694. Regensburg followed in 1686 and Leipzig in 1694. The first coffee house in Berlin only opened in 1721. Today there are probably thousands and thousands of coffee shops.

Coffee is now grown in over 50 countries. The largest coffee producers are Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia. Conclusion: Coffee is always a good idea. Have fun and enjoy it!