coffee: adoration & respect

I love coffee. I love the process of making it, whether in the French press, the percolator, or even the plug-in coffee maker. I love the smell of it, how it can fill the air of the whole house in a matter of minutes. I love adding a little half & half or ghee to smooth it out and turn it that soft caramel color. I love how texting the words “coffee is on” to the people I love can have my kitchen full of friends in minutes. I love it.

 

Becoming a coffee drinker marked my passage into adulthood. I loved to mix & match flavored coffee with differently-flavored creamer and then add more sugar still into that, til you couldn’t tell if what I had was a caffeine high or a sugar rush (give me a break, I was 20). During my years as a college student, and continued on into my years as a waitress, coffee was a several-times-a-day beverage to give me a boost through the tasks and activities in the day, and late into the night.

Later on, as I developed appreciation for quality beans and the natural flavor of good coffee, it became part of my ritual in the morning to wake up and make coffee, for myself and maybe whatever friend was with me and start the day by sipping this life-giving elixir.

Transitioning into an Ayurvedic lifestyle was interesting. I knew that my coffee habits had to change a bit and that made me nervous. Yet by the time it came to making those changes, they weren’t all too hard to make. Take a breath, friends. By no means do I aim to take coffee away from you.

In moderation, and at an appropriate time, coffee is lovely, and even has some great health benefits. When misused, like anything else, it can be harmful.

 

Consuming too much coffee can contribute to feelings of anxiety. The mobile quality present in coffee increases vata. When vata is already high in your body, it’s easy to push it over into an imbalance. The stimulant nature of coffee can lead your body into a state of fight-or-flight when it doesn’t need to be. That increased heart rate, racing thoughts or feelings of being scatterbrained, unintentional movement, or tremors in the body; that’s the sympathetic nervous system jumping into action. Over time this can do some real damage to your nervous system overall.

Misuse of coffee can lead to constipation. You might be thinking “no way, coffee makes me poop!” Yes, I know. However, if you require a cup of coffee in the morning in order to have bowel movement, that is a red flag. The early morning hours are considered “vata time.” Vata’s main job in our body is movement. When you wake up and get out of bed in the morning, ideally a bowel movement should occur within the next few minutes. A cup of warm water with lemon is gentle and effective way to move this process along. And to hydrate in those early hours.

The astringent nature of coffee, or any caffeine for that matter, has a drying effect. You can feel this in your mouth while you drink it, so you can imagine that it has the same effect on your digestive tract. Over time, repeatedly drying out the digestive tract makes things very difficult to move through it. Thus, we have constipation. 

Also, the acidic nature of coffee has an inflammatory effect. Over time, this can contribute to heartburn, acid reflux, inflammatory bowel disease and other problems. One easy way to prevent this is to make sure you are never drinking your coffee on an empty stomach.

Continuing to drink coffee into the later hours of the day can certainly lead to insomnia. Evening hours, around 6-10pm, are considered “kapha time.” we’re winding down our day, hopefully, and the mind wants to slow down so it can get some rest. Stimulating the mind with an afternoon or evening cup of coffee makes this very difficult.

If you are drinking coffee all day long in order to feel “awake” enough to get through the day, it’s likely that there is some mismanagement of energy happening. This could have to do with your diet (what you are eating and/or how you are eating it), your sleep schedule, or even your day-to-day routine. The good news is, it’s likely easier to fix than you might think. Once we pinpoint where the energy is being lost, we can take steps to get it back again. Get in touch with your local Ayurvedic Health Counselor to discuss how to properly use food, lifestyle and rest to manage your energy levels.

Okay, so, what do I do? Here are some general tips to responsibly keep coffee in your life:

  1. Drink water first. Get in the practice of starting your day with a cup of warm water, perhaps with lemon in it, as soon as you wake up in the morning. Follow that with an appropriate breakfast. After that, if you still crave it, enjoy a cup of coffee.
  2. Finish your coffee drinking by 10am. Depending on caffeine to maintain energy through your day is a dangerous habit. Appropriate rest and eating habits can provide you with sufficient energy, letting that morning cup of coffee simply be a tasty boost.
  3. Switch it up through the seasons. How you take your coffee makes a difference. In the heavy Spring months, skip the milk product and try blending in some ghee or coconut oil. In the Summer, add a cooling effect by tossing in a pinch of cardamom before brewing. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon in the winter. Variety is the spice of life, right?
  4. Know yourself. Take a dosha quiz to get an idea of your Ayurvedic constitution.
    Vata types may be prone to being over-stimulated by coffee, and are advised to avoid it.
    Pitta types should drink coffee only in moderation, as they may be more prone to symptoms of acid reflux and feelings of overheating.
    Kapha types can benefit from the stimulating nature of coffee to get them moving, as feelings of heaviness and sluggishness are common with them.

Just like everything else, coffee can be medicine and it can be poison. Listen to your body and honor what it needs to feel its best. Don’t expect what you need to be exactly the same from one day to the next, or the same as someone else.

If you’re interested in more facts about coffee or the fancy science behind what I’ve said, visit this article from one of my teachers, Dr. John Douillard.

Cheers, my friends.