This is me (along with my older and younger brother) at 11 years old. Can you guess which one I am?
If you guessed that I am the big ol' hunk on the far right, you are correct.
Believe it or not, at that ripe ol' age of 11, I had already developed a keen interest in what my former podcast guest, liver specialist, best selling author and former Dean of Faculty at Harvard Medical School Dr. Sanjiv Chopra describes as “the healthiest beverage you can drink”.
See, my Dad, a serial entrepreneur who – over the course of my childhood was a paramedic, firefighter, ambulance business owner, communications company CEO, water filter designer and beyond – decided to take a deep, deep dive into the coffee business world just about the point I was becoming a teenager. My Mom and Dad had always seemed a bit more obsessed with coffee than the average couple, visiting destination coffeeshops, designing new coffee recipes, subscribing to coffee magazines and experimenting with all manner of fancy new-fangled coffee brewing devices.
But one day, my Dad announced he was purchasing a vintage Diedrich coffee roaster from Sandpoint, Idaho (the price of a small car), learning how to roast coffee from the best minds on the planet, traveling to coffee conventions to hunt down the best beans he could roast, and launching something he'd dreamed of for a long time: a fresh-roasted coffee company with a focus on quality, sustainability and extreme taste satisfaction.
He even had an elaborate “Greenfield Coffee” logo created by a local college student artist, complete with the story of coffee, from harvesting to roasting to cafe to cup. Yep, that's my old man, right there in the middle, proudly pulling the lever on a fresh batch of roasted coffee:
Each morning, I would awake at our home in the hill country of North Idaho to the unmistakable scent of roasted green coffee beans, and my brothers and I would rush downstairs to greet the big freight trucks that would arrive in our driveway jam-packed with burlap sacks from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Tanzania and beyond.
Eventually, my Dad branched out from simply roasting and selling small-batch coffee…
…launching a series of coffee shops and coffee stands, traveling with my little brother to compete in barista espresso-handle flipping contests and crazy coffee tasting competitions, and filling our family garage with high-end, expensive Italian espresso makers in for repair.
So as you can imagine, by the age of 13, I was a tiny little coffee connoisseur myself. I'd think nothing of starting the day with a couple shots of espresso, sucking down a big cup of black coffee at lunch, and pouring a shot of espresso over vanilla ice cream for dessert after dinner (trust me, that last trick is something everyone must try – even if it's coconut ice cream, you Paleo fiends, you). Heck, we even had coffee “cupping” and tasting social events at our house and coffee flavor wheels like this hanging like artwork at our house:
At the ripe ol' age of 21, during my time at University of Idaho, I worked as the manager of “Bucer's Coffeehouse & Pub” in Moscow, Idaho, and also worked at a French bakery down the street serving chocolate croissants accompanied by piping hot cups of designer coffee. The quaint brewpub and coffeehouse Bucer's turned out to be the final evolution of Greenfield Coffee, and although my Dad (serial entrepreneur that he is) moved on to the wonderful word of structured water filtration, Bucer's still exists today as a popular, historical stamp of the initial Greenfield foray into coffee.
As for me, I eventually graduated with a Master's degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics, launched a series of personal training studios and gyms, was eventually voted as America's top personal trainer in 2008, then branched out into speaking, writing, podcasting and ultimately founding Kion, a company I launched to fulfill my lifelong vision of enabling people to live more adventurous, joyful fulfilling lives. You can read that entire story here.
But along the way, I certainly haven't forgotten about coffee. Indeed, not only have I used coffee in facial serums, tinctures, supplements and enemas, but I've also tried just about every coffee that exists in the health world and beyond, including so-called “organic” coffees, smart drug infused coffees, superfood-infused coffee powders and any variation of coffee you can shake a stick at. As you learned in last week's podcast and as you can read about here, I've discovered some very scary facts about coffee, but I've also picked up quite a few tricks, tips and hacks to get the most out of your coffee.
So in today's article, I'm going to give you some of my top tips for making a cup o' joe taste really damn good, give you two of my top coffee recipes, tell you how to keep coffee from destroying your adrenals or giving you the jitters, the #1 smart drug to consume with coffee, and fill you in on the only coffee I now drink (based on a host of independent lab studies that completely shocked the hell out of me). So sit back, raise your shot glass of espresso, and let's jump in, shall we?
A Brief & Fascinating History & Health Of Coffee
Legend has it that the first to taste the coffee bean were shepherds in Ethiopia who were intrigued after watching their goats nibble on the coffee fruit and suddenly become infused with enthusiastic goat-like energy, possibly pulling goat all-nighters out in some pastoral field. Coffee soon became more prevalent around the world, serving as a precious antidote to and knocking from it's position on the podium the alternative popular drink of the day: alcohol.
Since then, health researchers have been infatuated with the beverage, progressing from full-blown vilification of coffee in the 1500's due to coffee drinkers being highly likely to be engaged in gambling and illicit sexual activity to the Pope Clement VIII baptizing the brew, declaring it acceptable for all devout Christians about the world to consume.
Of late, there are a host of fascinating studies on the host of health benefits derived from coffee, many of which I discuss in my podcast with Dr. Sanjiv Chopra of Harvard. For example, every eight-ounce cup per day reduces cardiovascular risk by up to 8% compared to folks who don't drink coffee, three cups a day can delay the onset of Alzheimer's, one cup a day gives an 11% lowered risk of developing diabetes, the cafestol and kahweol (which paper filters filter out, by the way) in coffee can provide significant protection against cancer and (most interesting to me)…
…in two recent studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers delved into the coffee drinking habits of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and 10 European countries. In both studies, people who drank more coffee had lower risk of dying, period. Then there's the effects of coffee on exercise: not only can the caffeine in coffee stimulate the mind and body to push harder and exercise longer, but coffee consumed post workout can enhance glycogen restoration, and increase fatty acid utilization during the workout.
In short, when it comes to drinking coffee, it turns out that three to five cups a day may be one of the best things you can do for your health.
How To Make Your Coffee Taste Really Damn Good
I've made a lot of mistakes with some very expensive coffees.
I've kept it in ziplock bags on the counter.
I've frozen it whole.
I've frozen it ground.
I've tossed it in the fridge.
I've ground then left overnight so I could just push the button when I wake bleary-eyed in the morning (sound familiar?)
But the fact is, if you've also been engaging in any of these all-too-common coffee mistakes, you probably aren't experiencing coffee at the mind-blowingly flavorful level that it can actually be, or perhaps you're sipping a mouth-puckering bitter brew that made you never really like coffee in the first place.
So let's go over a few of the coffee taste best practices I've learned in my seasoned years with coffee, shall we?
1. Coffee beans are best stored in an opaque, airtight container in your pantry – not in a ziplock bag on the counter and not in a glass mason jar on a shelf. Preferably choose a container that’s composed of non-transparent glass, ceramic or stainless steel. Here are a few of my favorite options.
2. Avoid keeping your beans in the freezer or refrigerator. This exposes them to moisture through condensation (although unopened bags of coffee are safe in the freezer for up to a month), and other odors. Coffee beans are very absorbent (similar to supplements like fish oil and fatty compounds like butter – two other items I tend to see people make these same mistakes with), so it’s best to keep them away from:
3. Grind your coffee within 15 minutes of brewing. Yep, not the night before.
4. Choose your grind wisely and use a good grinder (the best of the best is the Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill). Longer brewing times (like a French Press) use coarser grinds, while shorter brewing methods use finer grinds (like espresso) and modern countertop units (we use a Wilfa Precision for a smooth, buttery coffee) use a medium grind. Changing the size of the grind can largely influence the taste of your coffee, so experiment to find your preferred taste.
5. Don't wait for the pot to completely boil if you're doing a French Press or any other brewing method in which you have control over water temperature. Use water between 195-205 F, i.e. just below boiling temperature.
For all brewing methods: if the coffee tastes bitter, you probably need to use a coarser grind, and if the coffee tastes sour, you probably need to use a finer grind.
Oh yeah, and one other thing: if you simply must, must, must add flavor to your coffee, then do me a favor: use an organic butterscotch toffee or vanilla stevia. If you haven't yet used this stuff, you're missing out on a crucial “add to your bucket list” flavor-explosion. I use the same stevia in my recipes below.
My Top Hot & Top Cold Unique Coffee Recipes
Each day, I venture beyond my morning cup of pure black coffee, and begin to experiment with the wide and wonderful world of blenders, mushroom, cacaos, butters, healthy sweeteners, Ayurvedic herbs and other ways to make coffee, well, COFFEE.
While I'm constantly creating new recipes, allow me to give you two of my latest favorites: one hot (for those chilly, rainy days or when you're just craving the comfort of a hot brew) and one cold (for a pre or post-workout pick-me-up or a hot day cognitive enhancing treat).
My top hot coffee recipe is as follows – prepare yourself for an intense chocolate-sipping experience with a hint of java. Into a blender (I pretty much only use this Nutribullet these days for my coffee recipes as a big ol' fancy countertop blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix is just too much), blend:
-12-16 oz. hot coffee
-2 tablespoons organic cacao powder
-1 tablespoon coconut butter or (better yet) coconut manna
-1 tablespoon almond butter
-1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon (this helps to control blood sugar)
-1 dropperful organic butterscotch toffee or vanilla stevia
-1 scoop of collagen (optional, but good for active individuals)
-1 pinch cardamom or rosemary (optional, but blending coffee with these type of compounds enhances the free radical-scavenging and antioxidant properties of coffee).
Oh, and be careful when you open the lid. This stuff can get a bit…”fizzy”.
Place all ingredients in blender and purée until smooth, adding water and ice to blend as necessary
This one is a bit more like a milkshake-coffee combo with a bit of a superfood crunch you add in at the end. Into your blender, add the following ingredients:
-8-12 oz. cold coffee
-4 oz full fat organic BPA-free coconut milk or (better yet) coconut cream
-2 tablespoons organic cacao powder
-1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon (this helps to control blood sugar)
-1 dropperful organic butterscotch toffee or vanilla stevia
After blending, stir in cacao nibs and unsweetened coconut flakes. I'll occasionally even break off a few chunks of a nice, very dark chocolate bar and add that instead of the cacao nibs. Now don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with a big ol' cup o' joe but occasionally it's fun to spin the brain's dials with inventive deliciousness.
How To Keep Coffee From Destroying Your Adrenal Glands Or Giving You The Jitters
Now, I know what you're thinking…
…wait Ben: doesn't coffee destroy your adrenals, give you the jitters, jack up cortisol and blood pressure and render you addicted to caffeine?
I'll admit that one downside of frequent coffee consumption can be caffeine overload. Some people are fast metabolizers of caffeine, and some are slow metabolizer, and slow metabolizers tolerate far less caffeine (e.g. one cup a day) compared to fast metabolizers. You can easily test this via a 23andme genetic analysis. Or you can just listen to your body: if you start to feel that jittery feeling, you have likely reached your personal threshold for caffeine.
However, scientific evidence indicates that for the vast, general population of healthy adults, moderate caffeine intake is not associated with commonly cited adverse effects, and surprisingly, the health benefits are linearly correlated with the amount of coffee drunk. Acceptable caffeine levels for most adults with no major health issues comes out to about 4-5 mg per kg body weight and that about 400mg per day should be the max (that's around 4-5 cups of brewed coffee, although rumor is that the philosopher Voltaire consumed more than 60 cups per day). Even low dose caffeine can improve mental performance and protect against Alzheimer’s. But acting in a similar manner to anti-depressants, high doses of caffeine (or ephedrine, ephedra, guarana, Ritalin, and any other central nervous system stimulant) can flood the brain with excitatory neurotransmitters, creating neurotransmitter resistance or long-term receptor damage.
The solution I've implemented in the past to not being overcaffeinated? Simple.
For seven to ten days out of every month, I pull out a bag of swiss-water processed decaffeinated ground coffee and make myself a piping hot, muddy black cup of decaf as a substitute for regular. Here’s why this works: people who use frequently use coffee, tea, soda or energy drinks actually change their brain’s chemistry and physical characteristics over time. Because it is both water and fat soluble, caffeine can easily cross your blood-brain barrier, and as you dump more and more caffeine into your body, your brain cells actually grow an excess of receptors for an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine.
Adenosine causes feelings of tiredness, but the structure of caffeine closely resembles adenosine – so caffeine can easily fit into your brain cells’ receptors for adenosine. See what I mean below?
With its receptors constantly plugged up by caffeine, adenosine can no longer bind to those receptors and cause the feeling of tiredness. Unfortunately, your body’s response is to create more and more adenosine receptors, so you eventually need more and more caffeine to block the feeling of tiredness. Then, over time, you build up tolerance to caffeine’s ability to achieve this effect.
The good news is that to kick a caffeine habit and “reset” your adenosine receptors, you only need to get through about 7-12 days of caffeine avoidance, which is why in the past, I've recommended that you should consider keeping a bag of decaf coffee or decaf tea handy and taking a week-long break from coffee about once every one to two months. This allows you to tap into the wonderful aroma, taste, social benefits and bowel-moving glory of a hot morning beverage without exhausting your neurotransmitters.
But my recommendations have since changed, and I'm really not using quite as much decaf. Why?
It comes down to the roasting process of the coffee that I now use. As I learned from my Dad, roasting involves some pretty complicated science: it literally involves taking a substance that has 300 volatile aromatic compounds and converting it into a substance with over 1000 volatile aromatic compounds. As you can imagine, this comes down to a lot more than simply tossing a metal bucket of coffee beans into a giant oven.
Why is the roasting process so important when it comes to your health and adrenals, and the purity of the coffee you drink? Think about this: even the highest quality coffee beans contain a substance called acrylamide, which has been known to cause cancer in animals. Most roasters work to roast the hell out of the coffee bean to eradicate this substance, but this dark roast process will often introduce other cancer-causing chemicals. For example, at high temperatures, roasting produces Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and results in the burnt flavor that so many coffees are known for. Taste is also a factor: taking out the beans before they're too well0done preserves things like citric acid and malic acids, which provide orange and apple flavors. But leaving the beans in long enough to develop sweeter flavors like caramel, cacao and vanilla is also important! And if you leave the beans in too long? Burnt charcoal-ey carbon flavor. Ew.
But if a smokeless roasting process is used (this is pretty rare in the industry, but a few folks still do it), it obliterates acrylamide without sacrificing the numerous antioxidants found in coffee or creating PAHs. In addition, and most important the caffeine issue, this allows for a coveted sweet spot between a dense amount of antioxidants with only a low-to-moderate amount of caffeine. Compare your coffee to a nice cut of beef: you wouldn't blast a filet mignon to well-done – you'd instead gently cook to a tasty and tender medium-rare for the ultimate combination of taste and health.
In other words, with a medium roast and a smokeless roasting process, you can get all the benefits of coffee, without all the issues of adrenal exhaustion and the jitters. You can have your cup and sip it too, baby.
But just in case you really are in it for the wakefulness game, then keep reading for my next potent tip.
The #1 Smart Drug To Consume With Coffee
As you are no doubt well aware, coffee and cigarettes have long been a popular combination. Ah, nostalgia. Just think back to the 1950's and the man in the suit perfectly pairing his black brew with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth as he enjoyed the Sunday paper or rocked on a lazy afternoon out on the family patio. Heck, there's even a movie and a song called “Cigarettes & Coffee” (in the latter, you can see Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi and Cate Blanchett partaking in their fair share of smoking and sipping).
Aside from the obvious pleasure some derive from this traditional combo, are there any actual benefits to simultaneously smoking and drinking coffee? One study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health definitely concludes that the answer is yes. In the study, researchers analyzed 497 men and women with confirmed cases of papilloma, carcinoma and polyps of the bladder. All study participants, along with 1,113 control cases, were interviewed to determine the use of tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke and coffee drinking.
Turns out, when compared with smokers who drank coffee regularly, non-coffee drinkers had twice as much of the cell damage associated with tobacco use. In addition, the smokers who didn’t consume coffee were up to seven times more likely to be affected by the same cancer as nonsmokers. Regular smokers who drank coffee fewer than two times each week had double the chances of developing cancer compared to those who drank coffee frequently. So ultimately, coffee-drinking, cigarette-puffers have some kind of health advantage over their smoking counterparts who don't drink coffee.
Of course, as you can probably imagine, the antioxidant content of coffee (which you'll learn how to maximize below) may not be the only smoking savior here. And no, it's not the tobacco and nasty chemicals in a cigarette that's working the magic: as other studies have gone on to prove, it's the nicotine folks – and the nicotine is pretty powerful stuff, not only enhancing locomotor and cognitive performance when combined with coffee, but all on its own amping up exercise performance by 18-21%!
And hence the nicotine toothpick-coffee trick I demonstrate in the Instagram post below.
While I don't recommend nicotine toothpicks and coffee as a daily combo, it can certainly suffice in times of needs, such as sleep deprivation, a need to work on long flights, or simply a time when you want to emulate writers of lore like Hemingway and Twain and fuel your creative passions with something other than a cold shower and slapping yourself in the face.
So there you have: the #1 smart drug to consume with coffee would be…nicotine.
What Kind Of Coffee Do I Drink?
So now comes the moment of truth: what kind of coffee do I now sip out of my custom-designed, big-ass Man In The Arena coffee mug (what can I say, I'm a Theodore Roosevelt junkie).
As you learned in A Quest To Find The Purest Coffee On The Planet (& The Shocking Truth About Popular “Organic” Coffee Beans) and also How To Buy, Roast, Grind & Brew The Healthiest Cup Of Coffee You'll Ever Drink, I've officially sworn off just about every coffee that exists, including some very popular health brands you're no doubt familiar with.
Why am I so careful with coffee?
In a word, purity.
See, coffee has amazing general health and wellness properties, but big coffee companies now sacrifice health benefits for profit, due to shockingly poor production practices. These sub-standard processes not only destroy many of the health benefits of coffee, but also introduce harmful compounds that can cause upset stomach, jitters, and worse. Most coffee companies focus on low cost, speed, convenience and high-volume production. Others focus only on taste. Health benefits are not even on the radar screen for the vast majority of coffee companies.
The commercial coffee industry’s production practices are designed to produce their coffee as inexpensively as possible. Their distribution system is structured around keeping costs to a minimum, which usually means slow-boat cargo ships creeping through a maze-like distribution chain, making it impossible for you to get your hands on fresh, healthy coffee that is free from contaminants, fermentation and mold.
But what about the healthy coffee brands? Surely they're no Dunkin' Donuts or Folgers, right? Sadly, compared to the coffee I'm drinking now, even the healthy coffee brands test at 1/2 to 1/4 of the antioxidants, and of the brands tested for contaminants, over 60% came back positive for mold and ochratoxin A.
This is extremely surprising to me, because frankly, the health benefits of coffee can be greatly enhanced – and the adverse effects can be reduced, or even totally eliminated – through conscious sourcing, processing and roasting.
So, knowing this, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work to find the healthiest coffee on the planet. Over the past 2 years, I've talked with some of the top coffee experts on the planet to investigate every known strategy and technique to make coffee healthier, from sustainable farming practices, to healthy harvesting techniques, to state of the art production practices, to roasting protocols, to healthy packaging strategies. My goal was to discover the healthiest practices at every step of the production chain, combine them into one process, and create the purest, freshest, most antioxidant-rich coffee on earth.
Finally, I discovered coffee aficionado Andrew Salisbury, who I interviewed here and his coffee obsessed partner Jon Butcher, who I have now spent many hours emailing and talking on the phone with. We had many, many meetings and conversations about coffee, including the horrifying problems with the coffee industry – even healthy brands many of us all know and love.
Andrew and Jon had studied. They had tested. They had experimented. In their coffee research, they made every decision based on health – even above elements such as cost and convenience, and I deeply respected that. After more than two years of hardcore coffee research, and partnering with Andrew and Jon's company “Purity” to sip, test, analyze lab reports and study to pieces every tiny detail of the coffee bean, I have finally achieved my goal of bringing you the same 100% guilt-free, amazingly flavorful coffee I now wake to every morning.
That's right: I am now proud to introduce to you the brand new “Kion Coffee“.
Every single bag of Kion Coffee must conform to the following six health parameters (and less than 1% of coffee worldwide makes the cut):
1) Kion Coffee starts with the healthiest possible green beans. We test organic coffees from all over the world to find the green beans with the highest antioxidant levels – and we work to maintain those levels all the way through the production process. Since coffee beans are a moving target, this means we are on a constant journey to find the perfect farms and growing conditions for each new batch of coffee.
2) Kion Coffee is always organic. Less than 3% of coffee on the planet is certified organic. At Kion, we will never tolerate pesticide-soaked beans, or grow our coffee in fields that are doused with herbicides. This is especially important because coffee beans contain one of the highest pesticide residues in the world. In addition, organic coffee is far more liver-protective and health-promoting than non-organic coffee.
3) Kion Coffee requires “near zero defects”. Only the highest quality, specialty grade coffee beans meet our standards. We rigidly test for toxins and never select beans that are chipped enough to risk an uneven roast, or beans that may contain undesirable microorganisms.
4) Kion Coffee never contains mold. Ever. When searching for the freshest coffee possible, mold cannot be tolerated. We use an independent laboratory to test for 60 different types of mold – ensuring that our coffee is mold-free at every point of the production chain.
5) Kion Coffee is grown sustainably, then hand picked and hand selected. We only choose the best coffees from the best organic, sustainable farms in the world, where we have a direct relationship with the farmer. The farms that grow Kion Coffee use production practices that are good for the planet, good for the coffee crop, and good for the people who grow the coffee, both economically and ecologically.
6) Kion Coffee is roasted to perfection. Selecting roasts that fall within the middle of the roasting spectrum scale – specifically medium roasts – provide the highest levels of healthy phytochemicals while limiting excessive caffeine.
And now, along with its intense notes of English walnut, cacao and a pleasant citrus-like flavor, this same coffee is yours for the drinking. This is, bar none, the cleanest coffee on the face of the planet. I have cut no corners and made no exceptions. If health is your priority, and especially if, you are consuming coffee as a staple each day, this is the only coffee in existence that you can drink with the complete confidence that it is 100% pure and contains nothing that can damage your body.
Heck, it's pure enough and tasty enough that I even give my twin boys the option to take a few sips before school, and it's certainly healthy enough for college students, busy CEO's, athletes, and yes, even that young, ripped 12 year old boy in the photo at the top of this article, to consume 100% guilt-free…
…knowing that the host of scientifically proven coffee benefits which include longevity, decreased cancer risk, decreased diabetes risk, decreased stroke risk, decreased Alzheimer's risk and a whole lot more are now yours for the taking.
Ready to start?
You can grab your first bag of Kion Coffee now by clicking here. The cool thing is along with your coffee, when you order from Kion you can also bundle in any of the other formulas I've personally helped to develop, including the Kion anti-aging skin serum I use each day, the Kion mediterranean oil of oregano that I rely upon for daily immunity, and even the most complete, pure, jam-packed multivitamin in existence. Use code BENCOFFEE to get 10% off your Kion Coffee order and – better yet – 25% off your order when you subscribe for monthly delivery.
Bon appetit', happy sippin' – and leave your coffee questions, comments and feedback below!