Coffee and Mental Function:
Does the way you drink coffee matter for cognitive performance?
Coffee. What really needs to be said about this incredible drink? It has greased the wheels of civilization for centuries, and for many people today it is an indispensable crutch, helping them get through a taxing day with too little sleep and too much to do.
For people looking to enhance their cognitive performance in any way, coffee represents a cheap, reliable and delicious way to gain a little extra focus and mental stamina. It should be a fairly constant fixture in anyone’s daily nootropic regimen.
On top of that, moderate coffee consumption seems to have numerous health benefits, from staving off mental decline to potentially protecting against certain types of cancer.
But is everyone getting the same benefits from their coffee? Almost certainly not.
That’s because all coffee is not created equal. Not only that, but the way that your coffee is prepared will undoubtedly affect the properties of the finished product.
This article will take a look at the different types of coffee, the different methods of preparation, and how you should alter your coffee consumption to really optimise your cognitive performance.
Not All Coffee Is Equal
The first thing we need to get straight is the fact that not all coffee beans are alike.
Of course they are all alike in many different ways, but if you’re looking to boost your mental performance while helping to keep your brain in top physical condition, then there are some key differences that you need to be aware of.
Let’s start with the most obvious distinction to be made; that between instant and freshly brewed coffee.
You probably intuitively know this, and if you’re already making efforts to improve your cognitive function, then you definitely will know this, but we should still make it clear: instant coffee offers comparitively little in the way of nootropic benefits, and it offers next to nothing in the way of health benefits.
Why is this so?
To answer that question, it’s probably best to begin by explaining exactly how instant coffee is made.
How Is Instant Coffee Made?
As you might expect, instant coffee is made in such a way as to maximise cost efficiency and output quantity.
Typically, green, fresh coffee beans will be delivered to an instant coffee manufacturer. This manufacturer will then roast and grind the beans (although coffee “beans are technically seeds), before brewing the resultant grounds in gigantic quantities.
That “coffee” is then condensed further, creating a very concentrated, thick brew, which is then dried in one of two ways; freeze-drying or spray-drying. The exact method used to dry the coffee seems to matter very little when it comes to the end result. In either case, the concentrated coffee fluid is dried into granules, which are then packaged, sold, and mixed with boiled water to make instant coffee.
How Is Fresh Brew Coffee Made?
Well, obviously by fresh brew coffee, I’m simply referring to coffee made from coffee grounds, so this section is going to be pretty sparse.
If you are going to make fresh brewed coffee, you are almost always going to buy either pre-roasted whole beans and grind them yourself, or pre-roasted, pre-ground beans.
Does the method you choose here matter?
The quality of taste begins to diminish immediately after grinding, so as far as flavour goes, grinding the beans yourself is always preferable, but with regards to cognitive enhancements, there is no major benefit to be gained by grinding your beans yourself.
If anything, the extra time taken to grind your own beans might be much more valuable to you if used more productively; after all, you are on a site dedicated to getting a mental edge!
Check out this site if you’re interested in learning more!
What’s The Difference?
Well, the main difference is clear; a lot less has been done to your cup of coffee before it gets to your lips if you drink coffee made from coffee grounds than if you drink instant coffee.
Plenty of people prefer fresh brewed coffee for this reason alone. Understandably, health-conscious people want their food and drink to have minimal interference before they get round to consuming it.
But does it matter to those of us looking for cognitive benefits?
Absolutely it does!
The method of production and preparation dramatically changes the chemical composition of the final drink, and in terms of benefits to be had for busy executives, students, and those of us looking to look after our brain’s health, fresh brewed coffee wins hands-down.
Here are the three main reasons why fresh brewed coffee is preferable to instant coffee.
Instant coffee typically has a lower caffeine content
Nobody can question caffeine’s status as a nootropic wonder-substance.
It heightens focus and attention, diminishes the perception of fatigue, and at the right dosage, decreases stress.
Of course, too much of this powerful stimulant is massively counter-productive if you’re trying to meet a tight deadline. Symptoms of caffeine over-consumption include anxiety, hypertension, and even a sharp increase in mental fatigue (like a lot of drugs, too much seems to work in the opposite direction).
However, I think visitors to this site can be trusted to do some personal research and to learn where their caffeine sweet-spot is. For that reason, the higher caffeine content of fresh brewed coffee is definitely an advantage it has over instant coffee. You can quite simply get more of a boost from fewer coffee breaks; for an executive with no time to spare, this is a big benefit indeed.
Fresh brewed coffee contains more anti-oxidants
Coffee is naturally jam-packed with potent, health-protecting anti-oxidants.
Specifically, researchers have found that coffee contains an anti-oxidant called methylpyridinium. This compound is known to help reduce free-radical damage, helping in turn to prevent the on-set of chronic diseases associated with free-radical damage (the principle one being cancer).
Methylpyridinium is actually formed during the roasting process; it is not present in raw, green coffee beans. However, a significant amount of this stuff seems to be lost in the instant coffee production process.
Drinking coffee regularly cannot guarantee good health, but the regular consumption of compounds like methylpyridinium can seemingly help maintain good health for longer. For people who rely on their brain functioning at maximum capacity for many years (an entire career), this is very important.
Instant coffee typically contains more harmful chemicals
Not only does instant coffee contain an awful lot less of the compounds that help keep our brains healthy, but it generally contains an awful lot more of of certain compounds that actually damage our health.
One in particular, acrylamide, is of interest to us here.
Acrylamide is a compound widely used in industries as disparate as waste water treatment, paper manufacturing, and metallurgy.
However, just because it is used in heavy industry doesn’t mean you should be scared witless of it. It is also fairly ubiquitous in the modern, urban environment. It is found in smoke, common domestic objects, and certain sanitary/cosmetic products, not to mention any food that is exposed to temperatures higher than 120 degrees Celsius for extended periods of time.
Acrylamide is also found in small quantities in coffee. However, the process by which instant coffee is usually made also causes elevated quantities of acrylamide to form. In fact, a cup of instant coffee can contain as much as 100% more acrylamide than a cup of fresh brewed coffee. The quantities are still small (less than health experts think harmful), yet they are significantly higher nonetheless.
Let’s Talk Pollutants
One issue that seems to be of growing concern to many people is the introduction of heavy metals into the human food chain.
A lot of elements that we are usually very wary of (such as lead) are found in trace amounts in our food and drinking water. While we can get lead poisoning, the element is almost always present in our immediate environment, and small amounts are nothing to be afraid of.
But in areas where heavy industry operates in close proximity to agriculture, greater quantities of heavy metals and other pollutants can gradually find their way into ground water, and then into the crops themselves, before making their way onto our dinner tables.
This applies to coffee as well.
In certain countries, coffee might be produced in areas where the waste products of industrial activity leech into the surrounding earth. Over a long enough period, these pollutants can find their way into the coffee beans that go into your morning cappuccino.
One study looked at the presence of 6 heavy metals in coffee. It looked at coffees roasted and purchased in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Poland, and Lebanon. It found that the “high lead level in some coffees suggests the need for a more precise control of coffee contamination”, particularly the coffee purchased in Bosnia.
This isn’t the norm of course. Out of four countries, Bosnia is mentioned as the notable culprit in the linked study, and chances are if you’re reading this, your morning cup of Joe is not Bosnian in origin. For the overwhelming majority of people, pollutants in coffee is never going to be a serious concern.
But nootropics enthusiasts tend to take great interest in details like this. For people who rely on their brain being in top gear, every single day of their career, assuming that their coffee is fine is not acceptable.
So what can you do to try and ensure that pollutants such as lead and silver are largely absent from your coffee?
Opting for organic coffee beans would be a good first step. Organic doesn’t mean “pollutant free”, but producers who go the extra mile to make sure their coffee is grown in accordance with the principles of organic farming will tend to ensure that their crops aren’t unduly affected by nearby industrial activity.
Another way to try and reduce your intake of pollutants is to look for coffee producers who specifically aim to grow in areas where the soil is very low in heavy metals and toxic substances.
As more people become conscious of their diet and the many ways that food can affect our health, there is a growing demand for producers of a number of crops to make special efforts to make their produce pollutant-free. There are an increasing number of specialist coffee makers who do this, and they make it very clear on their packages. They aren’t too commonplace, so don’t obsess over this if you can’t find any, but it might be worth taking a look online to see if there are any quality producers whose coffee is stocked in your area.
Finally, nothing beats doing your own research. We are not experts in this field, and as far as we are aware, reliable information is not readily available to consumers. So if you are interested, try looking into the levels of heavy metals found in specific regions and see if you are happy consuming products grown in those areas. This is, hands down, the most reliable way to manage your intake of pollutants.
Green Coffee – The Holy Grail For Nootropic Enthusiasts?
Green coffee? You mean as in raw, un-roasted coffee?
Yes, that’s right; raw, un-roasted coffee beans.
If you spend a fair bit of time reading health food blogs and performance enhancement magazines, you will likely have heard some people waxing lyrical about green coffee.
Although it was basically unheard of just a few years ago, these days health bloggers are falling over each other to shout about the benefits of consuming green coffee bean extract.
While many of the things you read about green coffee extract online will be exaggerations of the truth, there are good reasons to look into green coffee beans if you are serious about tweaking every aspect of your day to promote mental performance.
For starters, since green coffee beans haven’t undergone the roasting process, they haven’t been exposed to the intense temperatures that can be involved. They therefore will tend to contain a great deal more in the way of antioxidants than roasted coffee beans when they reach they cup, and they should have significantly lower quantities of undesirable substances too.
Another reason to consider trying to incorporate green coffee into your daily routine is the fact that it is thought to contain relatively large amounts of chlorogenic acid.
This stuff is primarily touted as a potent weight-loss supplement. We aren’t concerning ourselves with that (perhaps ambitious) claim here. No, we’re concerned with another, much more substantiated benefit of chlorogenic acid; it’s ability to lower blood pressure.
“How is this a nootropic benefit? I don’t have hypertension.”
Well, the one major downside of caffeine consumption is that it can quickly stop being an ally in the fight against fatigue and instead ramp up your stress levels far beyond what they would be normally.
Since chlorogenic acid is thought to be a reliable way of lowering blood pressure, consuming coffee that provides a relatively large amount of the stuff might be a good way to get more caffeine without suffering from the side effects of over-consumption.
I am no expert at making green coffee bean beverages. If you are interested in using green coffee beans as part of your daily nootropic regimen, check out this page, which outlines how to go about making green coffee beverages at home.
Luke is our Editor in Chief. He is the main driving force behind NaturalNootropic.com, and he creates most of our most important content. He is extremely passionate about enhancing human cognition; he has experimented with many different nootropic substances over the years, sometimes with negative results. He wants to help people get more out of performance-enhancing supplements, and he is fascinated by recent advances in longevity research. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.