Category Archives: Health

Health Watch: Say ‘Hello’ to Coffee and ‘Goodbye’ to Diabetes

For those of you who’ve been trying to find a legitimate excuse to cut down on your coffee intake for health reasons, hold that thought for a second and thank UCLA researchers who’ve given all of us another reason why we shouldn’t kick that caffeine habit quite yet.

For quite some time now, researchers have had an inkling that coffee has had a connection with preventing type 2 diabetes. And in fact they were right.

What researchers have found is that caffeine aficionados were least likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as the java works as a protective agent by increasing the plasma levels of sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHGB). The SHGB protein regulates the biological activity of the body’s sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen which has been long been thought to play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.

As Science Daily reported, after Atsushi Goto, UCLA doctoral student in epidemiology, and Dr. Simin Liu, professor of epidemiology and medicine with joint appointments at the UCLA School of Public Health and the David Geffen School, tested 359 new diabetes cases with 359 said to be healthy controls out of 40,000 women varying in both age and race, “they found women who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee each day had significantly higher levels of SHBG than did non-drinkers and were 56 percent less likely to develop diabetes than were non-drinkers,” explained Mark Wheeler of the UC Newsroom.

“Early studies have consistently shown that an “inverse association” exists between coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes,” Liu said. “That is the greater the consumption the lesser the risk of diabetes. It was thought that coffee may improve the body’s tolerance to glucose by increasing metabolism or improving its tolerance to insulin.”

Liu adds, they now know that SHBG is indeed critical as an early target for assessing the risk and prevention of the onset of diabetes. They now know the protein can be influenced by dietary factors like coffee intake in affecting diabetes risk. The lower the levels of SHBG, the greater the risk beyond any known diabetes factor.

But diabetes prevention is only the beginning of the health benefits coffee may give us. In a number of other studies, one in particular published in the Wall Street Journal and referenced by Top News, coffee has been found to possess antimicrobial agents that aid in the prevention of tooth decay. Other studies have said it decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases in women by no less than 24 percent, protects men from Parkinson’s disease while also increasing their metabolism and may also help the condition of short-term memory loss and is a helpful factor in aiding headaches.

So before you back away from that latte, just remember that one cup of espresso can provide you with loads of health benefits, so you might as well ask your barista for that double shot.

Keeping You and Your Machine Healthy

We’ve heard concerns from customers on whether or not they should worry about trace amounts of lead or metal poisoning within their machines’ boilers and parts. So we’re going to  break down the makeup of particular metals that are housed within your unit to ease your mind — and your fears of  caffeine withdrawal.

Water corrosion is where it all begins and understanding your machine and what conditions cause corrosion — oxygen, water, metal and a catalyst — will help you manage and maintain your espresso machine.


Used for some espresso machine boilers and stovetop espresso makers as it heats up the fastest, ‘aluminum is protected from corrosion by increasing the amount of naturally occurring aluminum oxide (Aluminum + Oxygen) on its surface.’

As a mixture of  metals, also referred to as an alloy, and under ideal circumstances, Sergio Louissant of explains that this combination protects the aluminum but also has a quicker turn around time in breaking down the aluminum oxide causing the aluminum to corrode.

Chloride in tap water wears down the catalyst that breaks the shield that is the oxide layer between the metal and boiler water, as stated in a piece in the JL Hufford Coffee Tea Supporter Forum. This causes damage to aluminum parts over time so it is best to use filtered water or to regularly clean and descale your machine to slow down the deterioration process.

However, even though machines with aluminum parts are less expensive, that doesn’t mean they’re frowned upon. With its ability to maintain good resistance against corrosion, it just may take more of a closer eye and knowledge to understand the chemistry of it’s maintenance and when its time to switch out parts to prevent the quick deterioration of this material. Because the connection between aluminum and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s is still unclear, many folks try to avoid aluminum as a precaution.

Stainless Steel

Very resistant  to corrosion, stainless steel can be found in Saeco, Nespresso and Capresso machines. But its downfall is being the life of the party when it comes to hosting bacteria for a longer period of time on its surface compared to any other metal.

However, bacteria aside, since you won’t be cutting, dicing or chopping any raw meat on or with stainless steel espresso machine boilers and parts, as long as you keep the stainless steel within your machine clean, this material is ideal for espresso machines as it provides excellent heat retention and assures rapid steam function.


Unlike stainless steel and aluminum, espresso machines that use copper/brass boilers and parts, such as Rocket, Rancilio, Quick Mill, Pasquini, LaPavoni and Francis Francis, not only act like a repellent to those grimy germs and retain heat longer, but they also are the most resistant to corrosion than any other metal.

However, even with it’s popularity in higher end machines, some users are still left worried about the lead content in brass boilers.

While lead is added to some brasses, most manufacturers plate brass with nickel, such as Rocket Espresso, preventing any lead from leaching into water, reducing corrosion and acting as a barrier between brass and water.

But taking extra care when it comes to lead in products, it was in October of 1999 that the California State Attorney General sued 13 key manufacturers and distributors over lead content, leading to the reduction of lead content to 1.5 percent from it’s original 2 to 3 percent in products sold within that state. Following this action manufacturers were asked to reduce lead or to follow the requirement to warn consumers about lead content even if it didn’t have the ability to leach into materials such as water.

Hopefully this trend will catch up to the rest of the 49 states in the U.S. but for now, whether you choose a machine with aluminum, stainless steel or brass, taking precaution is key but knowing how your machine works and what it reacts well with will also keep you happy, healthy and caffeinated.

The ABCs of BPA

Do you find yourself slowly backing away from your drip coffee maker or espresso machine because of all the hullabaloo about BPA (Biosphenol A) in plastics? As you have no doubt heard by now, there have been a wide range of reports regarding BPA — an organic compound found in polycarbonate plastics — examining how safe it is to have in containers from which we eat, drink, etc.

A chemical that’s been historically used to make a variety of items (from children’s toys to food containers to water bottles to coffee makers), researchers have recently found that BPA emits toxins over time — especially when it’s heated. The long term affects of such leaching can cause health problems like cancer, reproductive abnormalities and neurological problems, just to name a (very nasty) few.

But don’t fret! Many coffee equipment manufacturers, such as Technivorm, AeroPress and Hourglass, have made a point to notify their customers or state on their products that they are BPA-free or that they’ve decided to switch to a safer alternative. As for Rancilio, Rocket, Delonghi, Saeco and Jura, we’ve searched high and low for some BPA-free facts, but have only received a verbal guarantee that they are BPA-free and FDA approved.

Here  are a few tips on how you can make sure your java gear is safe and free of any dangerous toxins you don’t want floating around in your cup o’ joe:

  • Hard, Clear & Unbreakable: Plastics that are hard and clear are usually made from polycarbonate. Unless the manufacturer states that it is BPA-free, it’s the BPA chemical additive that makes plastics clear instead of cloudy or opaque. Check on the manufacturing packaging for an explicit statement, otherwise skip it.
  • Too Hot to Handle: Heat accelerates the possibility of BPA leaching into beverages stored in plastics. Make sure your to go cups are stainless steel where your coffee touches it.
  • Unlucky #7: Take a look at your plastics and find the triangle stamp on or near the bottom of your product. Products consisting of polycarbonate should have the number 7 or sometimes the letters PC.

However, not all plastics with the number 7 mean they contain BPA. The number 7 can also mean that that certain plastic is in the ‘other’ category. These plastics are usually soft and pliable, and are not made with BPA. Because some of their products contain components with the number 7 on them, Technivorm has tried to clarify this, also specifically listing which materials are utilized in those products:

Although judged safe by most testing agencies and reports, a few misleading negative studies have identified plastics marked with recycling no. 7 as unsafe. Some — but not all — plastics with the recycling no. 7 are polycarbonate. — Technivorm

While a few of their components are a mixture of polycarbonate, they do meet FDA requirements. Technivorm hopes to get closer to being a totally BPA-free manufacturer by getting rid of the use of any polycarbonate in their current and future products.

But if you’re still worried about BPA in your coffee maker, just know that most coffee maker brew baskets are made of ABS plastic and polypropylene for their water tanks — both of which are BPA-free plastics.

Steam Test: Non-Dairy Milks

Maybe the moo juice just doesn’t agree with you or perhaps you’ve got philosophical dietary restrictions that say coffee is okay but animal’s milk isn’t and you still want a latte. Whatever the reason, it’s well known that achieving microfoam with non-dairy milk is next to impossible.

We recently requested samples of Pacific Natural Foods’ Barista Series soy blenders, which are specifically formulated to achieve better steaming and foam results. They also sent along some samples of rice and hemp milk, so we took those out for a spin, as well, to see how they stood up under the pressure.

Watch Gail test ‘em out! Mmmmmnnnnnutty.

Giving New Meaning to the Phrase ‘Empty Calories’

This infographic from awhile back laid out the different caloric intake of foods and drinks and the required energy output to balance their input, but we recently ran across this blog entry over at World of Mysteries that evaluated and named what they think are the 20 most harmful drinks in the US. Comparing each drink’s sugar content to another not-so-healthy food, they list several drinks that you’d expect to find on there — and painfully outline some coffee drinks as well.

Ever thought about what sucking down 68 strips of bacon would be like? Stop into your local Cold Stone Creamery to find out. Ijole!

Yeah, we’ll stick with our straight espresso shots, thanks.

Better Living Through Chemistry: Caffeine

We get so wrapped up in the cornucopia of flavors it offers that we sometimes forget that coffee is also a drug delivery device. Caffeine is widely consumed around the world and is the stimulant of choice for many folks in the morning to get their day going or for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Like so many things in life these days, the geeks have taken the intake of caffeine to the limit and devised a guide on how to get the most out of it. This is a fun and fact-filled read that will teach you some tips on how to keep your caffeine use high and tight.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Cataracts

The caffeine contained in your daily dose of java may play a part in keeping your eyes in check. A recent study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that caffeine might provide protection against the lens damage that can lead to the formation of cataracts.

They engaged in two different studies:

The team studied the oxyradical effects in vitro by incubating mice lenses in medium exposed UVA in the presence of kynurenine with and without caffeine. In vivo studies were conducted in rats by incorporating caffeine with galactose in their diet. In both cases, caffeine was found to be effective in protecting the lens against damage. (Source)

Yet another reason to enjoy your morning cuppa — if you needed another one, that is.

Health Watch: Dark Roast = Tummy Friendly?

Having GI distress after a cup of coffee is more than enough reason for some folks to swear off the stuff. Like so many things around food and how our bodies process it, the subject of what causes such distress is often up for debate. Edwin Martinez of Hario USA & Finca Vista Hermosa posited that the negative reactions to coffee could be based in rancid oils or over-roasted beans. Some folks think that maybe it’s just sheer acidity in the bean itself.

But a new group of scientists who are studying the nutritional benefits of processed foods versus totally raw foods have found that a stomach-friendly compound called N-methylpyridinium (NMP) that appears in coffee beans only after the roasting process actually decreases the amount of acid that stomach cells produce in response to coffee. To test out stomach cell reaction to coffee, they used a combination of water and solvents to extract compounds from some different coffee blends, then exposed them to the cells. Except for NPM, the cells increased their acid production in response to the compounds.

So maybe darker roasts aren’t going to give you the same rainbow of flavors that a medium roast coffee might, but it may be easier on the ol’ tum tum — and if that’s a concern for you, choosing a darker roasted bean may be the key to you enjoying a cup of morning java.

Field Trip: Hario USA – Coffee: Acidity vs. Bitterness vs. Rancid Oils

Folks will often ask us for info on coffee that has less acidity because they have a real problem with that and their GI tract. So when we visited Edwin Martinez at Hario USA, we posed this question to him because we figured that someone with his extensive end-to-end knowledge of the coffee world might have some good recommendations.

What we learned was that it might just be that folks are working under the misconception that bitterness is the flavor of acidity. In this video Edwin talks about acidity vs. bitterness — and how the culprit may also be rancid coffee oils. Yeech.

Newswatch: Caffeine & Alcohol

Let’s face it: Life can be a little rough around the edges sometimes — and we’re not afraid to smooth out said edges by administering a well-crafted cocktail. We’ve written in the past about a delicious stout that incorporates espresso and about one of our favorite espresso and hazelnut-infused vodkas on the market, so you can imagine our concern when we started reading news last fall that the FDA was examining whether or not the combination of caffeine and alcohol was safe for public consumption.

In November of 2009, the FDA sent out requests to manufacturers who have been producing drinks that have both caffeine and alcohol in them, asking that the companies provide evidence that the combination can be safely ingested. Included in this investigation, however, were a few smaller breweries and distilleries that were incorporating coffee into their drinks.

With health agencies around the world examining the energy drink market because of the adverse impact it has had on the health of some populations (specifically college students), it’s no surprise that alcoholic beverages with an additive of caffeine might also come under scrutiny. But will the FDA’s inquiries lead to the discontinuation of the gourmet microbrews and distilled spirits that have a little kick in their step?

We followed up with PR rep Michael Herndon of the FDA to see where the investigation was at, and what type of impact — if any — the ruling may have on our favorite java stouts and coffee vodkas. According to him, none. “This FDA action is not directed at products that are flavored with coffee.  At this time, the FDA is focusing its attention on products in which caffeine has been intentionally added to alcoholic beverages by the manufacturers.” As of this writing, only 19 of the total 27 inquiries have received responses, and the next step is to review any scientific data on the subject. While there is no specific timeline in regard to when the FDA will make its final ruling on the subject, Herndon noted that it is a high priority at the agency.