6 Common Questions About Coffee Answered

Filled coffee mug on wooden table

Looking down at your morning coffee, both hands clutching the mug, a question pops into your mind that never occurred to you before: "where do beans even come from?" or "did I brew this wrong?"

Whether that is out of genuine curiosity or the surge of caffeine running through your bloodstream, we set out to answer 6 common coffee-related questions we hear time and time again.

So pour yourself another cup and read on.

Related: Recommended coffee & espresso machines for your den

1. Where do coffee beans come from?

First of all, coffee beans are the seeds of evergreen shrubs within genus Coffea. The two most common species, Arabica and Robusta, grow in different warmer (59 F - 75 F / 15° - 24° for Arabica, 75 F - 86 F / 24°-30° for Robusta) which is why you see countries specialize in one or the other depending on how far they are away from the equator.

In South America, Brazil and Colombia are the largest producers whereas Vietnam and Indonesia dominate Asia. Special mention goes to Ethiopia who is by far the biggest exporter in Africa.

Once picked by hand and/or machine, they are cleaned, sorted, and either put out in the sun to dry (which can take over a month) or put into another machine that strips off the outer layer, leaving only the bean, and then machine-dried.

Due to equipment costs and lack of facilities, beans are often exported for the drying and roasting process to be done offshore.

2. What is the best temperature for brewing?

Having the right temperature is the key to extracting the most flavor, caffeine, and oils from your coffee so it is an important question to ask. Too cold (below 200 F / 93°) and extraction barely works. Too hot (212 F / 100°) and you risk burning it which ruins the taste.

The general consensus is to get as close to 205 F as possible except when using frozen beans where you can get closer to 212 F.

Note: 212 F (100°) is when water boils. If your kettle doesn't have specific temperature settings, turn it off 10 seconds before you normally would.

3. What are the differences between the roast types?

Aside from the double roast and espresso, roasts fall into three categories: light, medium, and dark. The key characteristics of each being:

Assorted coffee beans at different levels of roasting
Assorted coffee beans at different levels of roasting

Light:

  • Reaches a temperature between 350 F and 400 F (178° and 204°)
  • Beans are pale with hints of brown; some even keeping their original green shades
  • Less of a rich, refined taste compared to what you get from longer periods of roasting
  • Acidity still dominant
  • Since the roasting process destroys some of the caffeine, light roasts have the highest concentration of the stimulant
  • Ideal for when you need a morning jumpstart

Medium:

  • Reaches a temperature between 410 F and 430 F (210° and 221°)
  • Acidity and earthy flavors are less pronounced
  • Sweeter taste due to caramelization of the outer layer
  • Retains less caffeine than light roasts but still enough to give you a good kick

Dark:

  • Reaches a temperature between 435 F and 445 F (224° and 229°)
  • Second crack occurs which indicates that the coffee is starting to break down
  • Taste changes from sweet with mild tones of the roasting process to something richer, bittersweet, spicy, all undercut with a strong roast character
  • Caffeine levels are at their lowest, making it ideal for afternoon/evening consumption (one type even being called ‘After Dinner Roast’)

Think of a coffee bean being steak and the caffeine being the blood. Cutting into a rare steak leads to pools of blood. Medium-rare steak still has blood but the meat is cooked nicely and the outer layer has a decent sear. Well-done steak is black all over with no blood in sight. Everyone has their personal preference.

4. Is coffee good or bad for me?

Depending on genetics, the amount you drink, and what part of the body/mind you’re talking about, coffee can be both good and bad for you.

Let’s first look at the good:

  • Fat loss. Extended consumption of caffeine is strongly associated with weight loss due to the process of “thermogenesis and fat oxidation" [1]. This is also seen in people who drink green tea, something with substantially less caffeine
  • Vitamins and minerals. Not even the roasting process can destroy all the nutrients inside coffee beans, retaining everything from vitamin B1, B2, and B3, to potassium, magnesium and manganese [2]
  • Cognitive performance. Caffeine has been shown to temporarily improve accuracy, speed, reaction time, and short-term memory in a range of tasks and activities [3]. By delaying the onset/effects of sleep deprivation, it also helps you perform for longer periods of time

And the bad:

  • Weight gain. “Wait, I just read it leads to fat loss!". Well, it’s not the coffee—since it contains nearly zero calories—so much as the things we put it to make it taste better. Milk, sugar, whipped cream, chocolate and everything else cafes put in to drive up the price. Some manage to pack 1000 calories into a plastic cup with a misspelled name on the side. Luckily, this is less of an issue if you just add a little milk and stevia to sweeten it up
  • Dependence and withdrawal. Being a central nervous system stimulant, extended periods of caffeine intake can result in physical dependence [4] with withdrawal symptoms ranging from headaches and irritability to tiredness, brain fog, and more
  • Cost. Routinely buying coffee before work can add up to spending over $1,000 a year. If you feel your wallet being squeezed, try brewing your own at home, switching to tea (bulk loose leaves is surprisingly inexpensive), substituting for caffeine tablets a few days a week, or simply going cold turkey

Disclaimer: Effects vary from person to person. Talk to your doctor or health care professional to determine if coffee is doing more harm than good.

5. What coffee machine should I get?

To avoid repeating what we have already said, check out our recommendations here which cover standard coffee makers, espresso machines, and even a few manual ones.

6. Are coffee pods recyclable?

Coffee pods have exploded in popularity solely because of their convenience. 1 pods = 1 cup and no mess. However, people often toss them in the landfill as they aren't sure if they can be recycled or not.

The answer depends on what materials your pods are made out of.

If your pods-of-choice are plastic, check the bottom for the recycling code (between 1 and 7.) This page goes through each code in detail.

Aluminum pods should in most cases be treated the same as standard aluminum cans.

The other option is to skip inorganics entirely and look for compostable pods made from organic materials. A lot of the top brands now stock them, however, they cost a premium.

With the focus on reducing single-use plastics from ending up in the ocean, expect to see massive changes in the coffee pod industry where manufacturers are incentivized to move to compostable/biodegradable alternatives. The cost will likely go to us (the consumer), but at least we won’t be left with millions of empty pods floating around the sea.

Sources

[1] Body weight loss and weight maintenance, NCBI

[2] Coffee nutrition facts & calories, SELF Nutrition Data

[3] Effects of caffeine on cognitive performance, NCBI

[4] Caffeine physical dependence, NCBI