« If you could meet anyone alive today... | Main | I'm an Observer (according to 'France 24') »

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Cafestol; Mornings may never be the same again

My mother may have just robbed me of one of life's great pleasures; my morning coffee.  Not intentionally, mind you... and certainly she acted out of love and a desire to protect me.  But the end result is the same:  I may have to find an alternative to my beloved French Press for preparing the family's morning brew.

It began rather innocently with a casual remark that was tossed out when I was at my parent's apartment this past week.  My mom said that a friend of theirs had commented in passing that coffee prepared in a French Press contains a dangerous chemical that is not present as a byproduct of other preparation methods.

My first instinct was to ignore the comment since attacking my preferred method of brewing the morning coffee is akin to telling a love-struck teen that the boy / girl they've set their sights on is no damned good!

Also, while most of my parent's friends are well educated and intelligent, as a group they are mostly retirees with way too much time on their hands to peruse the latest rumors and scare-mongering that goes on in the health-care periodicals.  In other words, according to them anything and everything one eats/drinks these days is no damned good!

But in this case, the guy who dropped the bit of unwelcome news about French Press coffee was a chemist in his former life and (one would assume) able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to health care rumors about dangerous chemicals.

My mom couldn't remember the name of the chemical, so I went over to their computer and began Googling word groups like 'dangerous chemical french press coffee', and immediately began getting consistent hits on the word 'Cafestol'.  A few minutes of reading about Cafestol revealed that it was, indeed, a potential cause for concern.

It seems that there is ample evidence that Cafestol, which is present in significant amounts in Scandinavian boiled, Turkish, and cafetière (French Press) coffee, is "the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound known in the human diet". [source]  Apparently there is something in the lining of the human intestine that regulates the body's production of cholesterol.  While scientists aren't really sure why, or how, they do have pretty compelling evidence that Cafestol interferes with this mechanism for regulating cholesterol and, in fact, makes the body's production of the artery-clogging stuff skyrocket.

According to another source, regular consumption of coffee prepared by the methods listed above increases serum cholesterol by a whopping 8% in men and 10% in women.  This got my attention in a big way.  You see, Zahava and I have never had particularly high cholesterol.  Even when I was eating like a Neanderthal on the Atkins diet, my good cholesterol was in a happy place, and my bad cholesterol was relatively low.  But in the past few years both of us have seen a significant rise in our cholesterol numbers... to the point that our family doc has gently prodded us to examine our diets for likely culprits.

Here's the problem:  There is simply no comparison between the taste of drip/filter coffee and coffee prepared in a press, espresso machine or ibrik/finjan.  In our early married life in the U.S. we had one of those fancy Aroma Drip machines* that allowed the water to linger among the grounds for a few extra seconds before letting it pass through the paper filter... and it wasn't bad (as far as filter coffee goes).  But once someone showed us how to use a press pot, we shelved the old drip coffee maker and held on to the thermal carafe simply as a serving vessel.

I'm really torn now.  I don't drink a lot of coffee; one big cup in the morning (okay, it's a really big cup) and occasionally another in the early afternoon.  Zahava's coffee consumption is similar.  So we're really more about the quality than the quantity when it comes to the morning cuppa.

And as if the news wasn't troubling enough, one of the sources indicated that, in addition to Cafestol's deregulating affect on cholesterol production, it also demonstrated strong anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties in lab rats.  So now we have to choose between giving up press coffee because it might be clogging our arteries... and continuing to drink it because it might save us from cancer.  If I had any hair to spare I'd be pulling it out in big clumps right now!

So, here's where things stand:

I'm not going to ask for a second (or third) opinion on Cafestol's potential dangers.  I've read enough of the online literature to be convinced that this isn't something to be taken lightly.  However, I need to find a flavorful alternative to my beloved press-pot that will fill the aesthetic hole in our morning routine without sacrificing the necessary jolt. 

Any ideas (other than taking Lipitor and continuing to drink press coffee)?

*  I haven't seen any of these all-in-one coffee drip machines (timer, thermal carafe and delay mechanism to let the coffee grounds steep a tad more before passing through the filter) here in Israel, and the need for the proper voltage/cycles is essential in order to be able to use the timing function.  Maybe they have them in the UK.  Anyone?

Posted by David Bogner on February 8, 2009 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Cafestol; Mornings may never be the same again:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This is a very serious problem indeed! I had heard some of that talk about unfiltered coffee, and just wrote it off as more of the usual banter that surfaces every time some new study comes out.

Now I will have to give my French press a second thought. Personally my cholesterol levels are all very good and there is a history of Cancer in my family so I might stick with the unfiltered, but my wife has some bad cholesterol numbers.

I did a quick search over at zap.co.il and I came up with this item:

Cuisinart Coffee Center

It has the time, the thermos carafe and the filter. I am not sure if it has the feature that slows the drip. I will leave that up to you to research.

My question for you is, where do you get descent beans in this country?! I keep having to rely on friends coming from the states. Any suggestion?

Posted by: Jehoshaphat | Feb 8, 2009 12:20:41 PM

Jehoshaphat ... Thanks for the research. I'll check it out. As to getting good beans, once I discovered the Coffee Mill (Tachanat HaCafe) on Emek Rafa'im, I never asked anyone to mule in coffee beans for me again. They have an excellent selection and you can buy sealed kilo bags to insure freshness. I grind my own at home, but they also have variable grinding machines so you can get it ground for your type of brew.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 12:30:35 PM

Jehoshaphat ... BTW, the coffee maker you linked to also has a built in grinder so it costs a small fortune. :-)

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 12:32:50 PM

Yes, it is quite expensive. If you browse around on Zap.co.il you can find a lot of drip machines with timers that are much less expensive.

I know about Tachanat Hakafe. If I remember though, the beans there cost a small fortune. I think they average around 180 shekel per kilo. That is just over double what good beans go for in the states.

Posted by: Jehoshaphat | Feb 8, 2009 12:41:48 PM

I think that if you go back to shnorring off your friends, you will be able to pay for the machine in a few months ;)

Posted by: Jehoshaphat | Feb 8, 2009 12:44:33 PM

Jehoshaphat ... I buy one of the more expensive beans (Dark Sumatra) and it comes out to about 125 or 135 shekel per kilo. That is just slightly more than you would pay in the US. But they also have a frequent buyer card where every few kilos they give you a free half kilo, so the difference is really negligible (especially when you consider the hassle of having to constantly harass your friends and family in order to assure a steady source of beans from the old country.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 12:48:48 PM

I'll have to check them out again next time I take my wife for dinner over there.


Posted by: Jehoshaphat | Feb 8, 2009 1:03:07 PM

The sources you cite are all about the effects of Cafestol, but don't seem to go into any detail to support the assertion that it is present in more significant proportions in cafetière-made coffee. However, the distincion seems to be that *boiled* coffee contains the large quantities of Cafestol, so if you use water a few degrees a little below boiling point in your cafetière I would think you would be OK.

Personally I think the flavour is better that way too: as my mother ע"ה always used to say "coffee boiled is coffee spoiled".

Posted by: Simon | Feb 8, 2009 2:03:16 PM

Perhaps my fiends have way too much time on their hands (I have no idea--nor do you),but we do not spend our time discussing the latest health scares/gossip. As far as I can remember, in the last few years, the only other health news I've shared with anyone was the report that covering a minor wound speeded recovery more than leaving it open to the air (courtesy NY Times). This kind of overrgeneralization I find offensive. Mom.

Posted by: Arlene Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 2:13:49 PM

Simon ... I thought of that too, but I have found nothing that indicates a diferentiation between boiling and extended steeping in hot water (and trust me, I looked!). And for the record, we already use sub-boiling water in the press pot.

mom... Would you say that it is fair to assume that retirees spend more time reading about/discussing health-related topics than their 30-something and 40-something year old counterparts? Personally, I think this is a fair generalization, and it is supported by the abundance of health related content in a majority of advertising and literature (i.e. magazines, circulars, web sites, etc.) aimed at the post-retirement demographic. That is all I meant. By saying that you and your friends are much more likely to be interested in health related topics... and that you have more time than I do to stay abreast of the subject... I wasn't suggesting that you and your friends sit around all day counting your liver spots and listing off your various ailments. Sheesh!

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 2:34:23 PM

Everything causes cancer... and if it doesn't, it raises your cholesterol.

If your cholesterol is high, there are medicines for that. (I take Lipitor, myself, and my cholesterol is half of what it used to be.) But I will give up my coffee - drip, French press, espresso, whatever - only when you pry my mug out of my cold, dead hands (tfu, tfu, tfu).

Posted by: Elisson | Feb 8, 2009 2:42:47 PM

Oh boy, NOW you're in trouble, Trep. You dissed your mom in your blog. Ok, well, also being of the coffee drinking tribe, a few thoughts....I use (horrors!) a drip machine during the week but save the French press for Shabbat. Sorry, I don't taste the difference. Maybe you should continue to do what you've been doing, but have a bowl of oatmeal every day because that's supposed to LOWER cholesterol. So the oatmeal and the coffee will cancel each other out.
You're welcome. And tell your mom I said hi.:-)

Posted by: Marsha, defrosting in Englewood | Feb 8, 2009 3:35:14 PM

Excuse my ignorance - I've never heard of French Press. What would that be in Hebrew?

Posted by: Imshin | Feb 8, 2009 4:16:54 PM

Another question - when they say Turkish coffee, do you reckon that includes what we call "botz" or just Turkish boiled properly in a finjan, like the Arabs make it? Most of my friends drink large amounts of botz. This is very worrying.

Posted by: Imshin | Feb 8, 2009 4:21:44 PM

Imshin... I don't know the proper word for it, but here is a link to a detailed description of it and how to use it. As to the second question, you don't boil press coffee either, just pour boiled water over the grounds, stir and let it steep before plunging. Supposedly, there is something about the filter paper that absorbs the cafestol or blocks it from getting into your cup... not really sure.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 4:29:00 PM

Maybe they have them in the UK. Anyone?

How about "whole of Europe"? We certainly didn't bring ours back from a trip to London...

Posted by: a. | Feb 8, 2009 4:32:59 PM

"Imshin... I don't know the proper word for it,"

That's a "דוחס קפה".
http://www.coffeetime.co.il/category.asp?catcode=22 this is where you want to look...

Posted by: a. | Feb 8, 2009 4:48:46 PM

Elisson... My doc's comment (after looking at my blood test results). "That can't be right... there shouldn't be a comma in a cholesterol number". :-)

Marsha, defrosting in Englewood... Don't mind my mom. She's still angry because I spanked her over her inexplicable admiration for Livni.

a. ... I had a feeling I'd be hearing from you about that one. My reasons for singling out the U.K were as follows: 1) The plug is similar enough to ours that I can use it without having to have an electrician put a new plug on it; and B) because I wasn't sure whether 220/230V 50 hz was universal in all parts of Europe. If you have a lead for me I'm all ears.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 8, 2009 5:25:03 PM

I had heard for years that french pressed coffee had more fat, because it's not absorbed by the paper filter, but I had no idea it was so dangerous.

I'm not a coffee drinker (I know, I know) but my friend Karen has one of these (not that brand), and it makes the best coffee I've ever had. Not that I'm the best judge, but if I'm drinking it, it must be pretty delicious.

The key is apparently the porcelain -- not glass, metal, or plastic -- for several reasons.

Posted by: Tanya | Feb 8, 2009 5:47:42 PM

I use the Melitta manual filter and it makes a great cup of coffee. BTW, if you order from Melitta it is a lot cheaper than the Amazon price. https://shop.melitta.com/itemdy00.asp?T1=64+0476&Cat=

Posted by: Raz | Feb 9, 2009 2:42:45 AM

so i guess my aluminum Macchinetta machine is okay.. especially with ground Dunkin Donuts beans in it :)

Posted by: ahuvah | Feb 9, 2009 10:54:30 AM

Your mom admires Livni? I do hope you have her securely locked up in a room until the elections are over...

Posted by: Marsha, thawed at the moment | Feb 9, 2009 5:29:54 PM

eat/drink what you want and die like a man.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Feb 9, 2009 8:10:48 PM

The coffee I have consumed in Sweden still has a bunch of grounds in the bottom of the cup. I feel like it's burning a hole through my stomach by the end of breakfast.

Our press broke and we have been too cheap to replace it. The big ones are expensive. Guess that was a good move.

Do drip during the week and press on Sundays. : ) I will say I like how easy the drip is.

Posted by: Alice | Feb 10, 2009 3:47:10 PM

How cruel this world is! My last joy is coffee, literally. What I propose to do is to filter the coffee after I prepare it in my espresso machine. I'll purchase a small Melita hand held filter and , VIOLA. I think this may be a solution , it sounds practical to me. Getting rid of the offender seems easy enough. Along side of, the wind in my face and a sea breeze powdering my face, my espresso shot is third in line for quality of life.

Posted by: Mrs EE | May 23, 2009 11:43:39 PM

the issue is not boiling, the chemical is in all coffee, the important thing is that paper binds with and removes the chemical... perhaps filtering the boiled or pressed or whatever through a paper filter...

Posted by: alvnjms | Jun 3, 2009 11:32:02 AM

Post a comment