“There seems to be so many conflicting views. One day coffee is the best drink ever, the next it’s not. But, I believe if they turned around tomorrow and said coffee is bad for you, I really don’t think we would see a decline in coffee drinking.”

So observed Benny Fernandez, owner of Napier cafe Georgia on Tennyson, as he swirled a glass of freshly brewed, super-rare coffee, closed his eyes and with a sharp intake of breath, literally, inhaled the rich amber liquid.

Judging by the latest research to come out of Europe, Fernandez’s observation will not need to be tested. In August this year, the results of a new study showed that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of dying from a variety of causes. These include heart disease, various forms of chronic liver disease, diseases of the digestive system and stroke. The study also indicated drinking coffee can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine focused on the relationship between coffee consumption and mortality. This study is the largest of its kind with a diverse cohort of participants spanning across 10 European countries. The authors of the study used a broader participant base, followed for an average of 16 years, in order to capture some of the variation in coffee preparation and drinking habits.

The results showed, regardless of country, that men who drank three or more cups of coffee a day had a 18% lower risk of dying from marked causes, and women who consumed the same volume had an 8% lower risk. These figures held true regardless of whether the coffee was decaffeinated or not.

The world-famous Mayo Clinic adds that coff ee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.

Good news for all us coffee drinkers out there!

However the Mayo Clinic adds some cautions. High consumption of unfiltered coffee (boiled or espresso) has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels. And some studies found that two or more cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific — and fairly common — genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.

So despite a growing body of supportive evidence, along with a deeper understanding of the biologically active components found within coffee, health professionals are still reluctant to proclaim coffee as the saviour for our modern day ailments. Lead author of the 2017 study, Dr Marc J Gunter from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of WHO) said, “It’s plausible that there is something else behind this that is causing this relationship.”

Benny Fernandez has had a hunch that this might be the case along. Sitting in his speciality Napier coffee bar looking out onto Tennyson Street he remarked, “Having a coffee is a break from reality. Coffee and sugar are our last two socially accepted, unregulated substances, and they are both pretty powerful! Coffee ignites the spirit, it puts a real sparkle in your eye! Surely that’s got to be good for the soul!”

Various longitudinal studies have indicated that there is a link between happiness and coffee drinking. Coffee drinkers, despite confounding variables such as smoking, unhealthy diet and alcohol consumption, are on the whole ‘healthier’ people.

Fernandez continues, “I believe the psychological benefits of drinking coffee far outweigh the reported health benefits due to coffee composition. But, I do feel the quality of the coffee, the skill of the barista, and how it’s brewed, do make a difference. There’s a definite difference between a ‘ahhh’ coffee and ‘ekkk’ coffee! That aside, I see it in my regulars. The morning ritual. It’s a social thing. Going out for a coffee, meeting a friend, reading the newspaper, being part of the ‘real world’. You have to physically get out of your seat to get a coffee! I feel the coffee shop is one of our last remaining places for real human interaction.”

Benny’s observations are supported by a growing wealth of material that show quality and quantity of our social relationships affect mental health, behaviour, physical health and mortality risk. He continues, “We do it well in New Zealand. Making coffee, drinking coffee, talking about coffee, meeting for a coffee. Your average Kiwi coffee-drinking Joe Blogg is a connoisseur. Coffee is subjective, different people like different blends, different brewing processes, much like wine! New Zealanders latch on to a trend, they love the heck out of it, and become experts”.

New Zealand is certainly a nation of coffee lovers. The results of a recent survey conducted by Canstar Blue indicated 52% of Kiwis will go out of their way to have a quality brew. New Zealand has the largest amount of roasters per capita in the world and when it comes to consumption we rank 15th out of the top 20 countries, drinking 0.939 cups a day. Generation X (1961 – 1981) are currently leading the consumption effort, closely followed by the Baby Boomers. On average we spend $13.67 a week in coffee shops, which amounts to just over $710 a year.

On the international scene New Zealand is seen as a sophisticated and well-developed coffee market, characterised by a strong demand for high-quality coffee with sustainable attributes. Our specialty coffee shop market was worth US$375 million in 2014 and continues to grow year by year.

But before you rush out to order that third flat white or cappuccino it is essential you take into consideration how you enjoy your coffee. It’s important to keep it healthy. Health experts recommend the following simple guidelines around coffee consumption to ensure consumers glean the maximum benefits.

If you have difficulty sleeping it is advised you do not drink coffee after 2pm. Caffeine takes an average of six hours to wear off. Do not load your coffee with sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you need a slightly sweeter taste try a sprinkle of cocoa or cinnamon. Choose a good quality blend, preferably organic. Avoid low fat, artificial creamers, it’s healthier to have a dash of organic cream. If you brew your coffee, use a paper filter. Paper filters remove harmful diterpenes which have been associated with a rise in cholesterol levels.

The healthiest way to take your daily coffee is black, organic and brewed with a paper filter. To maximise the benefits of coffee find a barista like Benny Fernandez who has turned coffee-making into an art form and enjoy it with a friend.

Royston Hospital is pleased to sponsor robust examination of health issues in Hawke’s Bay. This reporting is prepared by BayBuzz. Any editorial views expressed are those of the BayBuzz team.

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