As I sit here writing this, I am sipping on a cup of – you guessed it – coffee. The purpose behind today’s post is not to share the health benefits or risks associated with the infamous drink; nor is it a plea for anyone to ditch it completely or even to drink less. (Though, I’m sure the average coffee consumer certainly could stand to cut back a bit.) But no, today is not about that.
Today is about eliminating unnecessary toxins in our coffee that we are to blame for putting there, and 6 easy ways to reduce our exposure to them while we sip away.
1. DITCH THE BREW-THROUGH-PLASTIC TECHNIQUE
It tastes better
When we ditched our drip coffee machine a few years ago & replaced it with this ceramic coffee dripper by Hario, we hadn’t even thought about lurking toxins yet; the only thing on our minds was quality and flavor.
Pour overs are considered to be a favorite implement of coffee-snobs with good reason; they extract the coffee more purely than drip machines and bring out the best of the roast’s flavor without the bitterness. This really is one of those cases where healthier tastes better! The only down side, if you could call it that, is that they only make 1-2 cups at a time, so when hosting company, we pull out our French Press.
French Presses are praised for the full-bodied flavor they yield through their steeping method. Instead of hot water just passing through the grounds, coffee truly bathes or steeps in the boiling water for several minutes (but beware, this is also thought to produce additional caffeine). We have this 8-cup press by Bodum.
It creates less waste & is more cost effective
Unless you completely shatter your pour over or french press, it will never need to be replaced or thrown away. There is nothing mechanical inside to go faulty, so it will never just stop working. This, clearly, makes either one of them a far less expensive option than conventional drip machines that inevitably die after a few years of regular use. French presses also eliminate waste & save money by not using filters.
It is less toxic
It certainly won’t come as news to any of you, but as a gentle reminder: Toxins and hormone disrupters in plastic can leach into food and drinks and then take a free ride right into our bodies. BPA-free plastics can be even more harmful to our health based on the chemicals known to replace it. Leaching is accelerated in heated circumstances (ie hot water used to brew coffee).
Do the math and feel free to make your own choice, but in my estimation, better flavor + less toxic = ample reason to brew coffee sans plastic.
2. SWITCH TO UNBLEACHED FILTERS
Most coffee filters (the standard white ones) are bleached with chlorine during manufacturing, which can transfer small amounts of toxic chlorine compounds (dioxins) into our hot drinks & bodies. Updated information from the EPA in 2012 not only confirms risks associated with this group of toxins, but mentions their persistence: “(Dioxins) do not readily degrade; therefore, levels persist in the environment, build up in the food chain, and accumulate in the tissues of animals.” Dioxins are considered a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization‘s International Agency for Research on Cancer & the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Exposure is also “associated with endometriosis, decreased fertility, inability to carry pregnancies to term, lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, birth defects, and learning disabilities,” for starters.
Though it is debatable whether the amount of dioxins found in coffee filters can truly have adverse effects, the reality is that so many of our day-to-day household items carry the toxic substance and readily accumulate in our fatty tissues, eventually creating a world of hurt.
Switching to unbleached filters is such an easy change though; same price, no difference in your routine. UPDATE: We used to use unbleached paper filters for our Hario, but have since stepped our eco-friendliness up even more by using these reusable hemp ones.
3. SWITCH TO ORGANIC COFFEE
Back in the day, coffee used to be grown organically and in the shade. But now, full-sun coffee plantations are the norm, allowing for higher production rates by allowing plants to be grown closer together. This change resulted in less nutrient-dense soil and the introduction of pesticides and chemical fertilizers to compensate. Like other organic produce, organically grown coffee is grown according to strict U.S. standards that prohibit the use of toxic chemicals throughout growing, harvesting, and processing. Organic farming ensures non-contaminated soil and less use of non-renewable resources.
Ideally, local organic coffee from your farmer’s market or a local roaster would be the way to go. We have found the most affordable organic coffee to be from Trader Joe’s, but even Costco sells an organic Peet’s roast, and Thrive Market has great discounted prices.
4. CUT THE CRAP
Let’s be honest, the changing-my-coffee-into-dessert-and-pretending-its-not movement has got to stop (unless, of course, coffee consumption is limited to only the times you would allow yourself dessert and replace your dessert with it). I won’t spend a lot of time on this because I’m pretty sure that even the most devoted of Coffee-Mate lovers get where I am going with this. High amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed syrups and flavored creamers just aren’t good for anybody. We have a rule in our house: If we want coffee, we drink coffee. If we want dessert, we bake a clean, real-food dessert. End rant.
5. STAY CONSISTENT AT WORK
Making changes at home is a wonderful place to start, but your coffee consumption at work should be a closely followed consideration as such a high percentage of waking hours are spent there. Papa Bear’s employer generously provides unlimited K-Cup coffee, which unfortunately provides unthinkable amounts of waste (and leaching due to plastic). We opted to make coffee at home every morning and Papa Bear brings it to the office in this super-well insulated travel mug by Zojirushi.
6. DRINK OUT LESS (or bring a refillable cup with you)
The final point I want to touch on addresses one of the most highly regarded social phenomenons of my generation: going out for coffee. Though this, in itself, is a great activity, the disposable cups we are automatically served are not so great.
Contrary to popular belief, plastic-lined paper coffee cups are not recyclable (well, at least not usually). There is a complex process involved to separate the lining from the paper before recycling can take place, and the vast majority of communities do not want to deal with that complication. Starbucks has made claims in the past that they are working to switch to a recyclable cup by 2015, but from any information I have been able to find, this change has still not happened. There are also a few “green” companies that produce eco-friendly cups, but it’s safe to say that your average coffee shop isn’t splurging on them. And not to sound like a broken record, but you know that heated plastic that holds consumables is one of my favorite things to avoid.
The cup problem is really easily remedied, though. All you have to do is ask for your drink in a “for-here” mug, or bring your own non-plastic travel mug and have them make your drink inside of that. Most coffee shops sell porcelain or stainless steel mugs for this very purpose.
So, there you have it; six small steps that help us say farewell to unnecessary toxins in our coffee. What do you think? Can you get on board with any of them?
This post is part of my “Farewell” Friday series.