Three cups of coffee a day 'may have health benefits'. Bbc кофе

Three cups of coffee a day 'may have health benefits'

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The effects of caffeine can vary from person to person

Moderate coffee drinking is safe, and three to four cups a day may have some health benefits, according to a large review of studies, in the BMJ.

It found a lower risk of liver disease and some cancers in coffee drinkers, and a lower risk of dying from stroke - but researchers could not prove coffee was the cause.

Too much coffee during pregnancy could be harmful, the review confirmed.

Experts said people should not start drinking coffee for health reasons.

The University of Southampton researchers collected data on the impact of coffee on all aspects of the human body, taking into account more than 200 studies - most of which were observational.

Compared with non-coffee drinkers, those who drank about three cups of coffee a day appeared to reduce their risk of getting heart problems or dying from them.

The strongest benefits of coffee consumption were seen in reduced risks of liver disease, including cancer.

But Prof Paul Roderick, co-author of the study, from the faculty of medicine at University of Southampton, said the review could not say if coffee intake had made the difference.

"Factors such as age, whether people smoked or not and how much exercise they took could all have had an effect," he said.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Everything in moderation, including coffee

The findings back up other recent reviews and studies of coffee drinking so, overall, his message on coffee was reassuring.

"There is a balance of risks in life, and the benefits of moderate consumption of coffee seem to outweigh the risks," he said.

The NHS recommends pregnant women have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day - two mugs of instant coffee - because too much can increase the risk of miscarriage.

This review suggests women at risk of fractures should also cut back on coffee.

For other adults, moderate caffeine intake equates to 400mg or less per day - or three to four cups of coffee - but that isn't the only drink (or food) to bear in mind.

How much caffeine in my drink?

  • one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
  • one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
  • one mug of tea: 75mg
  • one can of cola: 40mg
  • one 250ml can of energy drink: up to 80mg
  • bar of plain chocolate: less than 25mg
  • bar of milk chocolate: less than 10mg

The researchers say coffee drinkers should stick to "healthy coffees" - which avoid extra sugar, milk or cream, or a fatty snack on the side.

And they are calling for rigorous clinical trials on coffee intake to find out more about the potential benefits to health.

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At present, the researchers said pinning down exactly how coffee might have a positive impact on health was "difficult" but it could be down to the effects of anti-oxidants and anti-fibrotics, which prevent or slow damage to cells in the body.

Commenting on the BMJ review, Eliseo Guallar, from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said there was still uncertainty about the effects of higher levels of coffee intake.

But he added: "Moderate coffee consumption seems remarkably safe, and it can be incorporated as part of a healthy diet by most of the adult population."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Best not to opt for sticky, sweet snacks with your espresso

Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, said coffee drinkers may be healthier people to start with - and that could skew the findings.

"Coffee is known to cause headaches in some people and it also increases the urge to go to the toilet - some people chose not to drink coffee for these reasons.

"Patients with abnormal heart rhythms are often advised to drink de-caffeinated coffee. Caffeine also acutely increases blood pressure, albeit transiently. "

How changing coffee tastes are helping farmers

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Media captionConsumers are increasingly willing to pay more for ethically sourced coffee

Would you pay more for your coffee if you knew exactly where it came from and how it got to you?

An increasing number of Western "millennial" consumers would, and it's benefiting everyone from the farmers who grow the beans to the artisan cafes selling the stuff, everywhere from London to Los Angeles.

The growing thirst for ethically produced, sustainably sourced coffee means farmers can be up to three-and-a-half times better off simply by selling their beans in the right way.

According to new figures from the UN's World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), smarter processing, branding and marketing makes a huge difference to growers and their communities.

It means coffee drinkers like those at The Attendant, a cafe in trendy east London, know they can bring a sign on the wall to life. It reads: "Change the world, start with coffee".

Image caption The provenance of the coffee beans is a selling point for us, says Ryan de Oliveria

The cafe tries to make customers aware of the specific story of the beans that made their cappuccinos and lattes, as well as the impact they are having by choosing to drink ethically.

The Attendant develops relationships with individual farmers through green coffee traders so that they can carefully select beans from individual farms.

Technology helps ensure the beans can be tracked all the way from the farm to the cup. When I visited I drank a £3 ($4) cappuccino made from beans grown in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda - about 18% more expensive than the average price of a coffee in the UK.

However, the customers I speak to are happy to pay more than they might elsewhere if it meant the farmers were getting a fairer price for their beans.

Marketing executive Amy tells me "I do like to know that it's ethically sourced because you just feel better about drinking it".

Image caption The Attendant uses beans from the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda

"It is important that the farmer gets a fair price for the coffee they sell," says logistics manager Eric, adding he also feels that consumers should be asking more questions about where their food comes from.

Ryan de Oliveria, the cafe's co-founder and chief executive, says there is "a large demand" for ethical sourcing that goes beyond just buying traditional labels such as Fairtrade.

One of their coffees comes from a particular farm in Uganda, a country not known for its coffee, but he says he has "managed to find a farmer who is growing some really good beans".

Mr de Oliveria says he tells all his baristas about the provenance of the coffee, so they can then tell customers.

"For example, there was a lot of warfare in Uganda and we talk them through the impact we are trying to make with those farmers to stabilise their communities."

The growing demand for coffee that does more than just perk you up has helped Ryan expand to three branches, as well as sell coffee wholesale and by subscription.

"People want to know that they are doing good and they don't want to buy something from a supply chain that is corrupt," he says.

That sentiment is echoed by Wipo's director-general Francis Gurry.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Artisan cafes pay farmers a fairer price, says Wipo

He says the evidence shows that "ethical consumers, discerning consumers and farmers' interests can all come together to add value to everyone".

In practical terms, he says the extra income means a better quality of life for farmers and their families, but also "the possibility of investing or reinvesting more in their businesses".

Instant coffee represents by far the biggest share of the global coffee market. As with any coffee it needs to be roasted relatively near to the end consumer so that it maintains its taste until it is actually drunk.

That is why most of the margin added to the beans is pocketed near to where they are consumed, rather than where they are farmed.

The Wipo research shows that for a pound (454g) of beans that ends up on a supermarket shelf, the roaster can earn $4.11 (£3.07). But the export price, most of which goes to the farmer, is just $1.45 (£1.09).

Image caption "Ethical consumers, discerning consumers and farmers' interests can all come together to add value to everyone, " says Francis Gurry

Large western coffee chains account for the next largest segment of the coffee market. They typically add more value to the beans by serving them as different espresso-based drinks which are brewed by baristas.

The beans are often produced to the standards required for Fairtrade and sustainability certification. It means the roaster can get $8.50 (£6.37) and it's also better for the farmer and their community because the export price doubles to $2.89 (£2.16).

However, farmers do even better when artisan cafes are the buyers.

The roaster can get $17.45 (£13.02) and the export price climbs to $5.14 (£3.85). It's because consumers, typically western millennials in the US and UK, are prepared to pay more.

Small, independent cafe owners are not alone in noticing that coffee aficionados are prepared to pay extra for ethical drinks.

Image caption Established roasters don't want to be left behind by the new generation of coffee drinkers, says Kona Haque

Over the past few years the two companies that sell the world more coffee than anyone else, Nestle and JAB (whose brands include Douwe Egberts, Jacobs and Kenco), have continued to spend billions of dollars buying up artisan rivals, such as the Californian chain Blue Bottle Coffee.

According to Kona Haque, head of research at the commodities trader ED&F Man, they are using their cheque books to try and maintain their market shares.

"What we're seeing is that these newer, more ethical coffee companies have grown strongly from a small base," she says.

She adds that the more established roasters don't want to be left behind by the new generation of coffee drinkers who are embracing trends that started on the US west coast.

While consumers in developing coffee markets are happy to drink instant coffee, Ms Haque says the speciality end of the market is "high margin, high value" and there is profit to be made.

For Wipo's Francis Gurry it's a "win-win situation" because consumers get a higher quality product and "can enjoy the knowledge of the specificity of what they're consuming".

More importantly, he says, farmers in the developing world are getting a better share in the global value chain.

The Italians who prefer to drink American coffee

Image copyright James Whitty Image caption 12oz Coffee Joint founder David Nathaniel says the chain has been welcomed in Italy

In Italy coffee is synonymous with espresso, downed quickly and without ceremony. But a new breed of American-style coffee shops is drawing in younger Italians.

"We like it here because we can study and be connected online. We both prefer American-style coffee than Italian and we love the different style of cakes," say Aurora, 13, and Linda, aged 14.

It's just before lunchtime and we're sitting inside 12oz Coffee Joint - a self-styled American coffee shop near the Duomo in Milan.

'Un caffe'

Italy is viewed by many as the world capital of coffee - wherever you turn you see a bar serving espresso, cappuccino or caffe macchiato as well as the traditional brioche.

In these places, if you asked for a latte you would be served a glass of milk. Ordering an espresso is also unnecessary; "un caffe" is all you need to say. Coffee and espresso are synonymous in Italy.

But in here the drink options are far more exotic, with americano, iced cinnamon lattes or caramel macchiatos all on offer.

It's not just the drinks. The counter is piled high with a vast array of doughnuts, muffins, brownies and bagels.

Image copyright James Whitty Image caption 12oz Coffee Joint has a coffee shop near the Duomo in Milan.

One customer, Alberto, who is 32, says it's these kinds of differences that have drawn him in.

"I enjoy coming here because it's stylish and has a young fresh feel to it compared to Italian coffee shops."

It's young Italians like these who are starting to shake up the traditional Italian coffee culture in Italy.

12oz Coffee Joint opened its first store in 2015 and there are now six in Milan and one opening soon in Verona. The chain wants to expand to major cities such as Rome and Venice.

But what made Italian founder David Nathaniel want to sell American coffee in his home country?

Image copyright James Whitty Image caption The chain also serves US-style cakes

"I have two children who are teenagers - whenever they went abroad they always wanted to have photos posted on social media with big cups of coffee with whipped cream," he says.

"Then one day I saw a typical woman from Milan with her Louis Vuitton handbag with a big cup of coffee and she became my muse.

"If she was walking the streets of Milan with a big cup of coffee then the time had come."

Despite the non-traditional concept, he says the coffee shop was broadly welcomed when it opened.

"We had no anger or opposition but it was funny to see the faces of people who would come in and not understand the concept.

"Their reactions to drinking coffee in big paper cups was quite amusing - a lot of professionals in the market actually felt there was a need for such a chain."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Young Italian coffee drinkers are keen to experiment

Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at market research firm Mintel, says traditional coffee shops have failed to keep up with changing tastes.

"Italian coffee shop culture is so traditional that it has determinedly ignored modern consumer trends.

"It is also very rare to find flavoured coffee, although some outlets in the north serve coffee with Nutella or hazelnut paste," he says.

Changing trends

Yet Mintel's research has found that Italians, particularly younger ones, are keen to experiment beyond the traditional espresso.

Its research showed a majority (64%) of 16-24 year-old Italian coffee drinkers like trying different flavours of coffee (e.g. vanilla, hazelnut) at home compared to 42% of those aged 55 and above.

Mintel also found that over three-quarters of 16-24-year-olds who drink coffee in a typical week like the taste of milky coffee compared to 60% of regular Italian coffee drinkers aged 45 and above.

Image copyright James Whitty Image caption Arnold Coffee, founded by Alfio Bardolla (right), opened in 2009

It's not just 12oz Coffee Joint which has emerged to take advantage of these changing tastes.

US-style chain Arnold Coffee opened its first shop in 2009, also in Milan. It now has nine coffee shops with more set to open in Florence and Rome.

Italian founder Alfio Bardolla says the fact that their shop allows customers to stay longer and linger over a coffee is one of their big attractions.

"The Italian bar is based on a 'drink up and leave' mentality and if you're there for more than 10 minutes they get annoyed.

"We thought that if McDonald's had succeeded [in Italy], then so would American coffee."

Image copyright James Whitty Image caption At Arnold Coffee customers stay longer than in traditional bars

Mr Bardolla baulks at the idea that selling US-style coffee means the quality suffers, arguing the fact it is often diluted means they have to use better quality coffee.

"People do not come to us to drink an espresso… but an espresso with our coffee is even better than the traditional bars. Our price is higher but the quality is higher."

One self-confessed coffee addict and Arnold customer, 22-year-old Alessia, is convinced.

"It's lighter than Italian coffee and I love that you can carry it around with you in the big paper cups," she says.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Starbucks says it is opening in Italy with "humility and respect"

Coffee giant Starbucks is betting on more US coffee fans like Alessia when it opens its first store in the country next year, a high-end, high-concept roastery in Milan two minutes from the Duomo and the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The American coffee chain has promised to enter the birthplace of the espresso "with humility and respect".

But what do traditional Italian coffee owners think about the shift in culture?

Image copyright James Whitty Image caption Caffe Rigoletto owner Vito Fortunato says they make US requests "the Italian way"

Vito Fortunato, owner of Caffe Rigoletto in Salsomaggiore Terme, in the province of Parma, says he believes American-style coffees, particularly the flavoured ones "are really bad for you".

Even when they get "American requests" he says they make it "the Italian way".

"In Italy for someone who wants to have a different style coffee we put a small drop of flavoured syrup or brandy or a drop of fresh whipped cream or a small scoop of ice cream but this is very traditionally Italian."

But he says the biggest loss from the growing numbers of young Italians choosing American-style coffee shops over their local neighbourhood espresso bars is nothing to do with flavour, but with culture.

"The customer sees the bar as a place to open up, to confide and have a chat and a point of human contact between two people.

"I see that this is slowly disappearing, but it is very important for our lives."

Coffee addiction: Do people consume too much caffeine?

Image copyright Thinkstock

US officials are investigating the safety of caffeine in snacks and energy drinks, worried about the "cumulative impact" of the stimulant - which is added to a growing number of products. Is our tea and coffee-fuelled society too dependent on the world's favourite drug?

The bubbling kettle, the aroma from the mug, the first bitter mouthful of the morning.

It's a ritual without which the working day would be, for millions of people, frankly horrifying.

Caffeine is, according to New Scientist, the planet's most popular "psychoactive drug". In the United States alone, more than 90% of adults are estimated to use it every day.

But now even the US - home of Coca-Cola, Starbucks and the 5-Hour Energy shot - is questioning the wisdom of adding it to everyday foodstuffs like waffles, sunflower seeds, trail mix and jelly beans.

In a statement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlighted the "unfortunate example" of Wrigley chewing gum producing packs of eight sticks which each contained as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee. Subsequently, Wrigley said it would "pause" production of the product.

How healthy is your coffee?

Image copyright Thinkstock

"On the plus side, coffee is known to be packed full of antioxidants, which stop other molecules oxidising and producing free radicals.

"Women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to get depressed, other research suggests.

"However previous studies have linked high caffeine intake to raised cholesterol and short-term high blood pressure."

Read more

The agency is also looking at highly-caffeinated energy drinks, and said it was concerned about the "cumulative impact" of adding stimulants to products.

According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people seeking emergency treatment after ingesting energy drinks doubled to more than 20,000 in 2011.

However, the energy drink industry says its products are safe and insists there is no proof of a link with any harmful reactions.

There have been documented cases of fatal overdoses caused by "caffeine toxicity", though these are very rare. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University, studying its addictive properties, found that withdrawal symptoms included tiredness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, muscle pain and nausea.

But there is far from any kind of scientific consensus that caffeine use is harmful. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that "coffee drinking doesn't have any serious detrimental health effects" and that drinking up to six cups a day was "not associated with increased risk of death from any cause".

In moderation, caffeine may have some positive effects. Research suggests it could be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer. A recent study linked drinking coffee and tea with a lower risk of type two diabetes.

As a result, the FDA has pledged to "determine what is a safe level" of caffeine use.

The agency's move has been welcomed by those who fear caffeine is already encroaching too much into our daily lives - often in products where it may not be expected.

"Many people just aren't aware of how much caffeine they are taking," says Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

As a result, she says, they could unwittingly create problems for themselves with insomnia, indigestion, or their blood pressure.

It's especially worrying for parents, who can find it hard to regulate their children's intake.

But challenging the hegemony of caffeine may be a difficult task on a planet that consumes 120,000 tonnes of the substance per annum.

In Finland, the world's most caffeinated country, the average adult consumes 400mg of the drug every day - equivalent to four or five cups of coffee a day, and equal to the maximum daily limit recommended by the UK Food Standards Agency.

"We think that, when used in moderation, caffeine doesn't pose a risk," says Sanna Kiuru, a senior officer at Evira, the Finnish food safety authority. "It's mainly adults who drink coffee, not children. For us the levels are quite moderate."

Even buzz-loving Finns have been troubled by the rise of stealth stimulants, however.

"We have been concerned about the rise in caffeine in different foods," says Kiuru. Highly-caffeinated energy drinks in Finland are obliged to carry warning labels - a practice that will be extended across the EU from 2014.

For most caffeine consumers, its chief benefit is that, by stimulating alertness, it helps you get more done.

This is a trait that makes it unusual among recreational substances, says Stephen Braun, author of Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine.

"Its appeal is that it helps us earn more money," he adds.

"What makes it different from other drugs is that it's used as a productivity tool - not for pleasure, like cannabis, or as a relaxant, like alcohol."

Perhaps the closest analogy is with coca leaves, chewed by labourers to give them extra energy in countries like Peru and Bolivia.

It's no coincidence, Braun believes, that caffeine's popularity boomed in Europe at the dawn of the industrial revolution, when the race for ever-increased productivity accelerated.

Many of history's creative minds have also been associated with some truly epic feats of caffeine consumption.

According to one biographer, the French novelist and playwright Balzac drank as many as 50 cups of coffee a day. "Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live," he once insisted.

For seven years, the film-maker David Lynch ate at the same Los Angeles diner every day, drinking up to seven sweetened cups of coffee "with lots of sugar" in one sitting, which he said would guarantee that "lots of ideas" arrived.

Ludwig van Beethoven was said to have painstakingly counted out exactly 60 coffee beans per cup when he brewed coffee.

Perhaps the most well-publicised recent tales of caffeine excess featured the somewhat less critically revered singer Robbie Williams, who reportedly consumed 36 double espressos and 20 cans of Red Bull a day.

It is the routine task itself, as much as the stimulant properties of caffeine, that makes the process so significant, Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

"A lot of artists use the process of making the coffee as a gateway to the creative process," he adds.

"You need to get into the right mindset to do that sort of work, and the preparation ritual provides a focus."

Image copyright Thinkstock Image caption Does the very ritual of preparing caffeinated drinks help minds focus?

But attempts to clamp down on the spread of the substance have historically proved futile.

In 1911, the US government sued the Coca-Cola Company, on the basis that the caffeine in its drink was "injurious to health", but Coca-Cola prevailed in the courts.

One problem with attempting to regulate the substance, says Braun, is that it affects everyone in differently - people's varying physiologies and metabolisms making it impossible to prescribe a "safe" limit that works for everyone.

"Ultimately, you have to become your own scientist - there isn't an alternative to careful self-experimentation," he says.

Most people are likely to have ascertained by adulthood how much, or little, tea or coffee they can tolerate at a time.

But critics say this doesn't apply to energy drinks and caffeinated foodstuffs, whose effects are arguably more difficult to judge.

However profitable these products may prove for their manufacturers though, Currey suspects they well never acquire the mystique of coffee and tea.

"There's something that's not quite as special and evocative about them," he says.

"Buying an 5-Hour Energy drink from the 7-Eleven [convenience store] doesn't have the ambience of brewing a cup of coffee. I can't imagine future biographers of great artists and writers describing this stuff in the same way."

Additional reporting by Mark Bosworth in Helsinki

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Coffee drinkers live longer - perhaps

Image copyright Getty Images

Drinking three cups of coffee a day may help you live longer, according to a study of almost half a million people from 10 European countries.

The research, published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests an extra cup of coffee could lengthen a person's lifespan - even if it is decaffeinated.

But sceptical experts point out it is impossible to say for sure that it is the coffee that is having a protective effect, rather than say, a more healthy lifestyle in coffee drinkers.

They say there is no need to reach for that extra cup of coffee just yet.

What does the new study claim?

Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and Imperial College London say they have found that drinking more coffee is linked to a lower risk of death - particularly for heart diseases and diseases of the gut.

They came to their conclusions after analysing data of healthy people over the age of 35 from 10 EU countries.

They asked them once at the beginning of the study how much coffee they tended to drink and then looked at deaths over an average of 16 years.

Image copyright Getty Images

If true - by just how much could a cup of coffee lengthen lifespan?

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, analyses the public understanding of risk and says that if the estimated reductions in death really were down to coffee, then an extra cup of coffee every day would extend the life of a man by around three months and a woman by around a month on average.

But despite the sheer scale of the study, it is by no means perfect and cannot prove that coffee beans are the magic ingredient.

Why you do not need to rush out and buy more coffee just yet

Frustratingly for coffee fiends, the findings really are not as clear-cut as they might first seem.

That's because the study could not take every factor into account - clouding how certain one can be about coffee's effects.

For example, it did not look at how much coffee drinkers earned in comparison with non-coffee drinkers. It might be that people who can afford three cups of coffee a day are richer and that extra money, in some way, helps protect their health.

It might be that people who drank three cups of coffee a day spent more time socialising and that in turn may have boosted their wellbeing.

And even if they were to be certain it was the coffee that was responsible, not every risk improved.

The researchers found higher coffee-drinking was linked to a higher rate of ovarian cancer in women, for example.

And although the paper looked at a lot of people, the researchers excluded anyone who had diabetes, heart attacks or strokes at the beginning of the study.

So it doesn't tell us much about the risks or benefits of drinking coffee if people are unwell.

It is also possible some of those people became unwell while having their regular brews.

Image copyright Getty Images

Is coffee good for you?

Previous studies have shown conflicting and often contradictory results.

For many people, experience suggests that drinks containing caffeine can temporarily make us feel more alert.

But caffeine affects some people more than others, and the effects can vary from person to person.

NHS experts have not set limits for coffee in the general population but they do say that pregnant women should avoid drinking more than 200mg of caffeine a day.

They say this is because coffee might increase the chance of the baby being born too small. Too much caffeine may also increase the risk of miscarriage.

And, of course, caffeine is not just found in coffee.

The 200mg caffeine limit could be reached by having two mugs of tea and a can of cola, for example, or two cups of instant coffee.

There was also recently the case of a US teen who, it's thought, may have died from drinking too many caffeinated drinks too quickly.

How could we ever be sure whether coffee makes you live longer?

The most rigorous scientific way to be certain that coffee could make you live longer would be to force thousands of people all over the world to drink it regularly while preventing many thousands of otherwise similar people from ever drinking coffee.

Scientists would then have to monitor every other aspect of their life - what else they ate and drank, how much they earned, how much exercise they did, for example.

That's a study that is never likely to take place.

So for now, some experts say, instead of putting all your bets on coffee being good for you, you could instead do something that has been proven to extend life - take a brisk, 20-minute walk to the nearest coffee shop - whether you order a cup or not.

Coffee: Do Italians do it better?

Image caption Part-Italian Manuela Saragosa has issues with the global coffee chains

Starbucks is everywhere, but not in Italy.

Yet Starbucks' founder, Howard Schultz, came up with the idea for his coffee chain whilst sipping espresso in a Milan bar.

So what? you may say. He took a good product, repackaged it and globalised it.

But to many Italians, the coffee served by Starbucks and other branded outlets is as far away from proper Italian coffee as you can get, despite the Italian-sounding offerings on their menus.

Now - time for disclosure - I am part-Italian and like most Italians, I like to think Italy represents the height of coffee culture, the standard against which all coffee should be measured.

When Italian friends and family shudder in disgust at the idea of sullying their precious cappuccino with a dash of hazelnut syrup or a sprinkling of cinnamon, I nod knowingly.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Italians are very particular about their coffee

At home I have a moka machine, which is to the Italian kitchen what the kettle is to the British. As far as I'm concerned, the cappuccinos, lattes and espressos served in branded coffee chains taste scorched and bitter, a shabby imitation of the real thing.

But am I missing the point? Is my palate so provincial that it hasn't caught up with the changing tastes of the global coffee market? Because it appears that not only has Italian coffee been taken out of Italy, but the Italian is also being taken out of the coffee.

The International Coffee Organization says that globally consumption has grown by nearly 42% since the beginning of this century. So we're drinking more of it than ever before, which explains the expansion of many coffee chains in the past few decades, but we're not drinking it in the Italian way.

"I think a caricature of Italian espresso was what was exported," says award-winning barista James Hoffmann of London's Square Mile Coffee Roasters. He's part of a generation of highly-trained baristas driving innovation in the sector through more sophisticated espresso-based brews.

"Global espresso culture is now a long way from what is considered traditional Italian espresso," Mr Hoffmann says.

  • Finland has the highest per capita coffee habit at 11.4kg

  • Italians drink much less per year consuming 5.8kg

  • In the UK we are relatively light coffee drinkers at 2.8kg

You'd never, for example, ask for a latte in Italy. If you did, you'd get served a glass of milk. Neither would you ask for an espresso at a bar; "un caffe" is all you need to say. Coffee and espresso are synonymous in Italy.

Then there's the Australian "flat white", a halfway house between a Starbucks-style latte (25-35ml espresso shot topped by large amount of hot milk) and a macchiato (25-35ml espresso shot and a drop of hot, usually foamy, milk). The "flat white" has gone global, so much so that recently it replaced the cappuccino on Starbucks' menu in some parts of the US.

What's more, Italians don't lounge around in coffee shop armchairs sipping cappuccinos while browsing the internet. Instead they perch at the marble-topped counters of Italy's ubiquitous bars - not cafes - and throw back "un caffe" on the go.

Image copyright James Hoffmann Image caption James Hoffman says we're drinking a "caricature" of an Italian espresso

Still, when it comes to taste and brewing style, Italy is trying to reclaim ground. The Italian Espresso National Institute or INEI was set up to protect Italian-style coffee drinking.

"International chains of cafes are spreading, calling the coffee they serve Italian espresso," writes INEI's chairman Luigi Zecchini on the organisation's website. But, "behind our espresso... there is a unique and unrepeatable culture."

INEI is even offering certificates to those who do it the "right" (for that read: Italian) way.

Are they fighting a losing battle? "Good roasting techniques and good cup-tasting protocols are becoming more and more international," says Jeremy Challender of London's Prufrock Coffee, another award-wining barista.

You can hear him teaching me how to make the perfect cup of coffee if you click here.

In any case, many top baristas also turn their noses up at what's served in branded coffee chains.

Square Mile Coffee's Mr Hoffmann says it's all down to the way the beans are roasted. Many chains roast their coffee darker which gives it a bitter flavour. Roasting lighter can achieve a more complex taste, but get it wrong and the coffee tastes sour.

"I think the theory is likely that consumers' tolerance for bitterness is higher than their tolerance for sourness," Mr Hoffman says."Hence the larger companies are erring on the side of caution."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Cappuccinos are a morning coffee in Italy

But it also comes down to the raw beans themselves, and on this front Italy doesn't fare as well as many speciality coffee shops outside of the country.

Part of the problem is with the price of "un caffe". Most Italian bars will not charge more than one euro a cup.

"Such a low ceiling means the raw coffees in Italy are generally a little more commoditised, and there isn't the option to purchase more high quality coffee," Mr Hoffmann adds.

Italian flavour is held back too by the way the coffee is brewed. Bars there have a typical dose of around 7 grams of ground coffee per espresso, with very little variation. Speciality coffee shops will often use a lot more coffee - from 8 to 20 grams for a single espresso - yielding a more intense coffeeas a result.

That may be, but I still think I'll be sticking to home-brewed coffee from my trusted moka machine. And I'll continue to drink it the Italian way.

That means a short, sharp shot of espresso in the morning, perhaps even after dinner, but certainly no cappuccinos after 11am or any milk-based coffees after a meal. It doesn't agree with the digestion. Every Italian knows that.

Manuela Saragosa is a presenter on The Food Chain on BBC World Service. You can still hear her programme about the globalisation of the coffee industry here.

BBC - Future - The disease that could change how we drink coffee

If you landed in Bogota in the 1960s, one of the first things you would have probably seen outside the airport was a giant billboard. In a slightly menacing tone, it said: “Coffee rust is the enemy. Don’t bring plant materials from abroad”.

It was one of the first warnings about a foe that has been threatening Colombia’s coffee trade ever since.

Coffee rust is a disease with the power to cripple, or even wipe out, the country’s national product, the base of one of its biggest industries, and one of its most important sources of foreign currency. Last year alone, its coffee exports were worth $2.4bn (£1.8bn), and were 7.7% of all goods the country sold overseas. That makes Colombia the third largest producer of coffee in the world. In other words, if rust takes hold there and global supply dwindles, it will affect the price of the coffee we drink everywhere.

That’s why for the past few decades, Colombia’s scientists have been engaged in a little-known battle with the disease, staged from a small laboratory deep inside the mountains of Colombia’s coffee axis.

The question is, can Colombian coffee’s distinct flavours survive intact?

Coffee rust has plagued farmers for more than a century. When a tree gets infected by it, its leaves produce a brown, thin powder when scratched, pretty much like iron rust. The disease, caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, also de-colours the bush’s leaves from a bright green to a brownish yellow. In the end, the tree loses all its leaves, as well as its ability to produce beans.

If left unattended, the disease can have dramatic consequences. In the late 19th Century, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia were the major exporters of coffee in the world. In a matter of decades, the disease meant they practically stopped growing it.

Historians suggest that this is part of the reason why Britons prefer tea nowadays. “Sri Lanka moved over to tea production” since coffee was no longer profitable, explains Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Luckily for Asian producers, Britain was eager to switch its taste when their coffee supply vanished.

Beauty vs beast

What makes coffee rust a particular worry for Colombia is that it attacks the type of coffee that the country relies on – and that coffee lovers have got used to drinking.

Coffee comes in two varieties. We could call them ‘the beauty’ and ‘the beast’.

‘The beauty’ is Coffea arabica. Its seed gives a delicious and delicate brew that sells at good prices in international markets. This is the variety that made Colombian coffee so famous.

‘The beast’ is Coffea canephora, also known as robusta. It is a tougher tree, with more resistant leaves, that is cheaper to grow and crop. It has a more rough and bitter taste; not very appealing for coffee connoisseurs and not as appreciated by the market as its gentler brother. As a result, it accounts only for a 37% of the world coffee production, according to the International Coffee Organisation.

Unfortunately, coffee rust attacks the ‘beauty’, but not the ‘beast’. Colombia only exports ‘beauties’, so switching has never been an option.

In the 1960s, a team of scientists at a research laboratory called Cenicafe set out to find a solution that drew on the best features of the two varieties – but it wouldn’t be straightforward.

The laboratory

To get to Cenicafe, you have to drive all the way to the top of a mountain; the twisting roads can make you sick if you are not used to them. The lab is nested there to keep its 89-year-worth body of research away from the force of nature: the prior building flooded after a volcano eruption in 1985.

It was set up by the Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers (also known as Fedecafe), the coffee industry association in the country, and is considered a global flagship centre for the science of coffee.

“Cenicafe is what has allowed us to remain competitive and lower our risk”, explains Hernando Duque, technical director of Fedecafe. Its research helped domesticate and make viable many of the high-quality varieties that the country grows and the world enjoys.

Today, the laboratory’s work is regarded as the gold standard in the fight against “the most acute threat against coffee in the Americas”, says Michael Sheridan, director of sourcing and shared value at Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters, a specialty coffee importer in the US.

To save Colombia’s coffee, Cenicafe scientists in the 1960s realised that they needed to breed new varieties that could inherit both the distinctive taste and aroma of Colombian ‘beauty’, and the resistance genes of the ‘beast’.

To do so, they had to get those genes somewhere: ‘the beauty’ and ‘the beast’ don’t usually interbreed.

The solution, they found, would come from the other side of the world.

From Timor with love

At some point in recent history, something weird happened in Timor. Somewhere in this small island on the Indian Ocean, halfway between Indonesia and Australia, the ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’ had an affair of sorts. As a result, the Timor hybrid was born.

The ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’ had an affair of sorts. As a result, the Timor hybrid was born  

This naturally occurring hybrid of arabica and robusta was found in 1927, and started to be harvested in 1940. It is not really a great tasting berry, but it had a crucial feature: unlike normal robusta, it can be bred again with arabica varieties, which means that it can transmit its rust resistance to them.

Coffee research centres around the world started to do just that, but there was a problem. The result did not taste very good, which meant that it was going to fail. If cultivators were not going to be paid at least as much money for the new varieties, they simply were not going to change their bushes.

Cenicafe begun its efforts to combat rust begun in 1968, knowing that rust from overseas would arrive in Colombia soon. It started a project to created cultivars of the bush that resist it. It was not just a matter of putting two varieties in a genetic blender. The real work was to interbreed five generations of trees, and select those that provided a better taste and more delicate aroma, as well as a shorter tree, good productivity for growers and resistant to different races of the Hemileia fungus.

In 1980, the centre released its first hybrid of Caturra – the dominant variety grown in the country – and the Timor hybrid. It was called Colombia, and it was good enough for it to be well accepted by growers and buyers, to the point that it still is around in many of the country’s coffee farms.

It was just in time. Three years later, coffee rust was first identified in Colombia.

A moving target

Achieving the Colombia variety was not going to be the end of the war against rust. Hemileia vastatrix has since evolved, and found a way to infest some of the formerly immune coffee bushes. While it maintains partial resistance, the fungus will inevitably break it.

There’s also the menace of climate change. Temperatures in the coldest part of the year are rising, which some scientists believe reduces the time the rust fungus takes to attack the leaves once it gets to the tree. As a result, future epidemics might be longer and more destructive.

With that in mind, Cenicafe has developed other varieties. In 2005, they released a new seed, called Castillo after Jaime Castillo Zapata, the lead scientist behind the development of Colombia. And in 2016, a third variety, named Cenicafe 1, also increased its resistance to other diseases.

The main idea is to make it more difficult for the fungus to fully break the tree’s resistance. This is achieved by including many different genes that offer invulnerability against the pathogen. If one of them is defeated by a new mutation of Hemielia, there are many others left.

By increasing the gene pool, coffee scientists also aim at protecting the crops from other risks. “If you reduced genetic diversity, you have less resistance to climate, pests and diseases,” explains Davis.

Lack of diversity has proven disastrous to other commercial crops. Almost all bananas you can buy today in most parts of the world are clones from a single parent plant called Cavendish, initially bred in Britain in the 19th Century.

It was not the tastiest fruit, but it was resistant to the fungus that wiped out the world’s most popular variety in the mid-20th Century, the Gros Michel. The fungus mutated and now it can kill Cavendish, which means that the extinction of the banana as most of the world knows it is on the cards.

Coffee scientists have heard the cautionary tale. In the distant future when rust finally defeats Castillo and Colombia, hopefully other varieties will keep up the fight.

Beyond the seeds

If rust takes hold, there will also be human costs. Colombia’s coffee industry employs around 730,000 people, most of them on the deprived rural areas of the country.

Intelligentsia’s Sheridan spent many years deep inside Colombia as a development worker. He saw how small coffee farmers gamble everything to get a good yield. They take very high risks, and if something goes wrong, their families pay a hefty toll.

Castillo is not a matter of luxury. It is a matter of necessity  

That is why he believes varieties like Castillo made coffee viable for many small farmers, who now have a reasonably priced and less risky option. “It is not a matter of luxury. It is a matter of necessity,” he says.

The seed is only part of this story though. Getting growers to change to resistant varieties can be difficult. A single coffee bush can bear fruit at peak productivity for up to eight years, which means that most new seeds are not immediately adopted by cultivators once they are released.

Also, many growers have an emotional attachment to the varieties they already grow. They know the quirks of their trees, their ebbs and flows, and the precise ways they behave in the particular environments of their farms. Even when Castillo is grown in very similar way to Caturra, for some farmers planting a new seed can feel like hosting a stranger in your house.

The change also has a monetary cost. As a team of Latin American coffee researchers wrote in a recent paper about the rust epidemic, variety replacement requires a large initial investment, and returns “no or very low yields for at least the first two years, and thus a greatly reduced income”.

Colombia has put forward a strategy for overcoming these hurdles. Fedecafe offers subsidies and loans to farmers for helping them buy resistant seeds, and technical advice on growing.

Still, the disease can wreak havoc on the industry. A 2008 outbreak still managed to wipe out up a quarter of the year’s crop in Colombia. Since then, the country has accelerated its efforts to make farmers grow Castillo.

Today, per Fedecafe’s figures, 76% of all coffee trees in Colombia are at least partially resistant to coffee rust, an increase achieved mostly by pushing Castillo among growers. And while other countries have seen their crops halved in recent outbreaks, Colombia maintains a single-digit prevalence of the disease.

This is why most people in the coffee world, from growers to scientists to buyers, regard Colombian efforts as the best in the world in the fight against rust. But not all of them – the taste of the new varieties has not been universally embraced.

Key numbers

Once a year, in front of a panel of cuppers (the expert tasters of this industry), coffee farmers put all their hard work on the line. Their goal is to reach a magic number: 80.

Tasters rate a coffee’s flavour with a score out of 100 – assessing fragrance, body, sweetness and more. A rating of 80 is the minimum to be considered “specialty”, and therefore sold at higher prices than the market average. Some buyers are even pickier: they demand an 83, or even an 87. Of course, they pay due premiums for the extra quality.

The coffee farmers’ goal is to reach a score of 80 for flavour

Beyond that, it’s the confirmation of the growers’ mastery in their craft, the score that puts them among the elite of coffee producers.

“It is very difficult to get there,” says Mauricio Castaneda, the eldest son of a family of coffee farmers. “You have to take care of a lot of small details.” In 2016, only 17% of the coffee exported by Colombia reached that mark.

Some people in the coffee market think that Castillo just doesn’t get that high. For years, some coffee cuppers have complained about the slightly lower quality and cup profile of Castillo over Caturra – a claim that could sink the viability of the resistant variety.

It has been a contentious issue inside the coffee community. For instance, for Alejandro Cadena, CEO of Caravela, a coffee trade company, “Castillo is not the most suitable variety for specialised, high quality markets.” He says that sometimes it can have some rubber notes in it, particularly when something was not done right in its process.

This keeps it away from the more high-priced, high-quality market, Cadena contends. “But for more commercial, high-volume, Castillo is an outstanding variety.”

Some others, like Sheridan, say that this is not really the case. He backs up his claims on a study he performed in the 2014 crop in Nariño, one of Colombia’s coffee growing states, where expert cuppers blind tested both varieties and did not find any significant difference.

While he is cautious to assert that this research cannot be extrapolated to other regions of Colombia and to other years’ crops, he claims that the market is giving many signs of appreciation for Castillo. Top baristas choose it in competitions, and it has a lot of prestige among international buyers. “It’s increasingly difficult in Colombia, when sourcing small holders’ coffee, to find batches that do not have some Castillo in them,” he says.

Top baristas choose Castillo in competitions  

Castillo is also near Eduardo Florez’s heart. He is a Colombian entrepreneur who has a stall in the Borough Market in London, where he sells the coffee he roasts in his garage in Brighton. He sources small batches for his business, and has found some very special Castillos. “Once I saw one that had peach notes”, he points out, excited. “Imagine how delicate is that!”

At Florez’s garage, I decided to do my own (non-expert and non-representative) blind cupping. I tasted four samples at Florez’s garage without knowing the variety of each one.

One of them was complex and worth sipping many times: its fruit-like acidity and sweetness were in a dance of sorts, where each flavour did not cancel but complement and enhance each other. Another one, well, tasted like the office ‘joe’: the sort of brew you drink just to keep going. The other two were somewhere between the good one and the plain one.  

But the one I liked the most? The one with the fruity flavours and sweetness? It was a Castillo.

Jose Luis Penarredonda is a writer for BBC Future, he tweets at @noalsilencio.  

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