I have seen tons of memes making fun of me. Yes, I am the kind of person who recommends drinking black coffee without sugar and cream.
In my defense, I don't suffer after every sip. On the contrary, I enjoy black coffee every day. But there are few secrets to having a pleasant experience with plain black coffee.
Curious? Good, that's the key.
Why do people like coffee?
Let's be honest: most people see coffee pragmatically. They drink coffee to wake up, extend their effective work time for long hours, or keep pace with a busy life. However, coffee isn't only a drug to keep us going. Far from that, it has become part of our identity, and coffee enthusiasts can be very passionate about their favorite drink.
Nowadays, we can drink coffee of the highest quality that ever existed. Today's specialty coffee is a delicacy, finely selected, carefully processed, roasted, and brewed.
That said, we like coffee for its aromatic properties too. Learning about coffee origins and all the factors that play a role in aroma and taste is a pleasure in itself.
In short, we could say that we like coffee for many reasons: practical, experiential, and sentimental, to name a few.
Is black coffee good for you?
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Did you know that coffee is the primary source of antioxidants in the Western diet?
Not only that, coffee has many beneficial health-promoting properties for the heart, accelerates metabolism, and protects the body against chronic illnesses like diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and some types of cancer. And those are only examples.
However, many of us are familiar with negative perceptions about coffee's impact on our health. For some people, coffee isn't any good, but most of the time, it has to do with a problematic lifestyle, not only coffee.
For instance, when I was an undergraduate student, I got nasty habits: a sedentary lifestyle, a lousy diet, heavy smoking, and binge coffee drinking. Now I know that I was taking the wrong path, but when my doctor told me to change my way of life to feel better from my stomach issues, I couldn't believe it. I was so young!
The most painful bit was quitting smoking and cutting down my coffee intake. I drank dozens of lattes a day and later learned that the most serious health hazard was sugar and dairy, not coffee.
As you may know, whole milk contains a lot of unhealthy fats, and white sugar is extremely harmful to our health. My doctor claimed that I was eating a glass full of sugar every day, just by adding a couple of tablespoons of sugar to every latte I drank.
Using a nutrition calculator, I noticed that I ate more saturated fats than I needed for the entire day before lunch while taking a third of the recommended sugars.
The main problem with black coffee is that it can produce stomach unrest. However, some brands are taking great care to reduce the harmful effects of black coffee. Primarily, these companies reduce acidity and safeguard coffee beans from chemicals and toxins commonly found in low-quality coffee production.
On balance, black coffee is healthier if we compare it with sugary and fatty drinks. It's particularly true with specialty coffee, carefully selected, processed, and roasted.
Additionally, it's easier to enjoy black coffee without sugar and cream if you pick high-quality coffee beans and brew them fresh shortly after grinding them.
How old do you have to be to drink coffee?
Remember that coffee isn't the only thing out there with caffeine in it! Kids shouldn't get caffeine before 12, according to pediatricians' recommendations. That's the main reason children shouldn't drink coffee before the recommended age. However, the same applies to tea, sodas, and energy drinks.
You could think that anyone familiar with kids' energy levels would keep them away from coffee. However, tradition is hard to change. For instance, giving refined sugars to a kid is even worse than coffee, and it's considerably more widespread.
Typically, coffee doesn't provoke any unexpected change in kids' behavior or health. It increases blood pressure and can induce restlessness, depending on the dose. Still, experts recommend avoiding caffeine when the nervous system is still so young for processing a psychoactive drug.
Start drinking black coffee 101
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Learning to appreciate black coffee and enjoy it takes practice, but mostly, it takes picking high-quality coffee beans. Currently is becoming more common to find high-quality coffee beans on supermarket shelves. However, most regular brands of ground coffee don't have the quality to offer a pleasant taste without adding sugar or cream.
Now, experimenting requires taking some calculated risks. In my experience, some common mistakes make the first days of drinking black coffee unnecessary torture.
For this reason, I am sharing some advice I learned from personal experience and thanks to other experts who generously shared their insights on this.
Reduce cream and sugar slowly
Counterintuitively, adding sugar to food and drinks is an acquired taste. Sadly, after using sugar for long enough, it changes our taste buds and makes us crave sugary flavors.
As sugar consumption is so popular, drinking black coffee without sugar is an acquired taste for most adults. Even a cup of single-origin of specialty Gesha can taste off for an undiscerning palate, hammered with tons of sugar for years.
So, my recommendation is to take baby steps. If you don't have any health condition that requires dramatic measures, you can reduce cream and sugar slowly.
Don't get me wrong here; I still have a caramel macchiato now and then. However, I enjoy black coffee every single day. The difference here is building habits and dealing with the flavors we get used to and appreciate.
Check the roasting date in the bag
If you want to brew coffee that's safe to drink, you can still buy a bag of commercial coffee with a "best before date" printed on it. It won't taste well black, but it's unlikely to harm you.
Now, if you want coffee that's interesting to drink and that you can eventually enjoy without sugar and cream, choose a coffee with a "roasting date" on it.
In short, as a rule of thumb, switch from coffee bags with a "best before date" to a "roasting date" on them.
Regular commercial coffee gets roasted, ground, and bagged before going in large batches across huge distances inside countries and sometimes beyond national frontiers. Commercial coffee is stale compared to coffee beans sourced locally at a specialty roaster and ground at home.
Floral and fruity notes go away first. The last aromatic compound to disappear in ground coffee are essential for bitterness. For this reason alone, it's almost impossible to find the aroma of specialty coffee in commercial coffee. And that's without considering the radical differences in quality controls between them.
Learn to read the coffee label
Besides the roasting date, specialty coffee labels can be intimidating. But, learning the meaning of each section of the label is crucial to know what you like in coffee and avoid what you don't like in the future.
I keep notes of my favorite coffees, and it has become part of my passion for coffee. You might not need to go this far, but it's helpful to discern the most basic and crucial aspects for taste and aroma.
The basic factors I look for in the coffee label are:
- Roast type: dark, medium, or light
- Processing method: washed, natural, honey (red, black, or yellow)
- Flavor notes: usually describe chocolate, nutty, fruity, or floral flavors.
For instance, you might prefer dark roasts if you look for a familiar taste and a pleasant mouthfeel. Then, it's essential to keep that in mind when getting your next bag of coffee.
Washed coffee beans are the most common in the market, and naturals are so counterintuitive that some people dislike them. I could say they don't smell nor taste like "coffee," as we are used to. The same happens with honey-processed coffee beans, which acquire a whole range of exciting aromas.
As for flavor notes, they tend to be hard to grasp, even for experts. So, don't suffer if you can't find a watermelon note in a cup of coffee. Use them as a reference to buy coffee that's more interesting for you.
Indeed, varietals and coffee origins are relevant too. Still, it takes serious training to discern their impact on flavor and aroma. For that reason, I consider they aren't part of the most fundamental aspects to read in a coffee bag label.
Overall, I recommend starting with nutty and chocolate notes, which are more familiar.
Grind on demand
Freshness is crucial for coffee taste and aroma. In minutes, coffee releases tons of its fragrance after grinding. For this reason, people who get passionate about coffee eventually get a grinder for daily use.
You won't need to spend a lot of money on this, but I recommend grinders with steel burrs.
When I started, only cheap ceramic burr grinders were below 100$. Some good burr grinders can be pretty affordable and provide a delicious black coffee drinking experience.
Try different brewing methods
Coffee isn't just coffee. The taste and aroma that you can get from espresso, pour-over, AeroPress, and the French press are radically different. Even with the same coffee beans!
That's why it's so interesting to try different brewing methods with different ratios, water temperatures, and grind sizes.
Drinking black coffee isn't too popular because low-quality coffee tastes terrible without cream and sugar. Experimenting with black coffee takes some time and a lot of curiosity.
In my experience, it's the best way to drink top-quality coffee. But, what do you think?