For most of us, coffee is certainly the best part of waking up. Whether you like it hot or iced, creamy or strong, that fresh-brewed flavor is a must-have to keep us on our A-game all day long. But what happens when the highlight of your morning becomes an inconvenience, leading to lingering heartburn and discomfort throughout the day?
Turns out, there are many factors that play into coffee heartburn that may surprise you. That’s why we took it upon ourselves to conduct a coffee investigation, traveling around the county and asking our favorite espresso-brewing experts for their insights!
In today’s episode of the Gwinnett Podcast, follow us on a coffee shop adventure to find some answers that’ll bring true heartburn relief! Hear about the tips and tricks we learned from local baristas and discover the lasting solution to keeping your mornings heartburn-free!
So, I’ve been drinking a boatload of coffee lately. My daily coffee routine is intense, yet it’s pretty much invisible to me at this point in life. I make a pot of coffee in the morning, then I drive to work and stop for gas station coffee, Starbucks, or Dunkin’ about halfway to my destination. And then I spend the rest of the day smashing K-Cups in the office Keurig. Pretty soon, I realized that I was heavily investing in Tums. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure their stock price has gone up only due to my last 6 months of purchases. It took me longer than it should have to realize that my heartburn and my coffee drinking were related.
Now, I have friends that don’t drink coffee. I know it’s weird, but I believe in diversity and befriending weird people. Turns out one of the reasons my buddy Ian doesn’t drink coffee is that he associates his heartburn problem with coffee as a whole. Our friendly conversation made me think I should ask some experts about this.
While traveling around Gwinnett and working out of the office or “on location” at times, I decided to ask the coffee shop employees that make my coffee some questions. I got some great info from the folks at Tradewinds Coffee in Dacula, Boulder Creek Coffee in Lawrenceville and Grayson Coffee House in Grayson, and they helped me solve this mystery of why I am getting heartburn from my coffee!
In fact, by just simply asking the experts that make some of the coffee I drink, I learned three things I never knew before. The results changed my life!
Lesson 1: Drink a Safe Amount of Caffeine
Why am I drinking coffee in the first place? For the caffeine, of course. Let’s be clear: I’m not in it for the taste, I’m in it for that “best part of waking up” benefit.
In the morning, I go strong. Ever hear of “Death Wish Coffee?” Yeah, it’s on Amazon. That stuff is awesome. It basically wakes the dead. I’m not the only one into this robust coffee trend—it has gone totally mainstream now! Wal-Mart even has K-Cups in a variety of well-known coffee brands offering 2x caffeine! The coffee-addict in me loves this idea. No one should really be surprised by this trend either. I mean, in the age of energy drinks, coffee has to do something to stay on top of the game.
However, this rise in my own caffeine intake was causing me issues I didn’t know about.
Then one day, I was ordering a 20oz latte from TradeWind Coffee Co. in Dacula, and I asked for a fourth shot of espresso in my drink. Another coffee shop I frequent often includes four shots in their 20 oz lattes, and TradeWind was happy to accommodate. Just because we were talking some pretty strong Italian espresso, the expert behind the counter noted that four shots might just be north of overkill on the flavor of this particular latte. Turns out, she was right. Not only about their latte tasting far better without the extra shot, but also in terms of my heartburn an hour later.
I love it when I get corrected by experts. I love to pretend I’m an expert about all things, until I actually meet someone that knows things for real. We talked more and, of course, she knew all about this coffee and heartburn thing. Turns out that a big cause of coffee leading to heartburn is over-caffeination. When your caffeine intake is too high, the muscle that connects the stomach to the esophagus is relaxed. When this happens, an opening is created for stomach acid to come up into your esophagus, which causes acid reflux. Pretty gross, ain’t it?
So, how do we make sure we have a safe amount of caffeine? Most experts agree that drinking four to seven cups of coffee causes over-caffeination. Bad news for me. Also, skipping the offer for an extra shot of espresso in the Dunkin’ drive-thru might make for a better morning.
By making sure the coffee you drink has safe caffeine levels, you can prevent coffee heartburn and enjoy your nice hot cup of coffee without the dreaded consequence of heartburn or acid reflux.
Lesson 2: Only Drink Shade-Grown Coffee
Whenever I visit Boulder Creek Coffee I always learn something incredibly interesting and mostly useless to my real life about coffee. Boulder Creek is one of those coffee shops that keeps up with all the coffee trends and sometimes can look like mad scientists pouring “wake-up juice” into giant glass cylinders that somehow make everything better.
I once asked an employee there what they thought about my favorite espresso, “Illy Coffee,” and the response was a blank stare and then, “Illy is like the Folgers of Europe.” Funny thing is that she was totally right. I’ve been to Europe and it was a fair truth. Facts like this are what make me trust people and businesses. So, I asked a different barista their thoughts on the coffee and heartburn connection and we ended up in a really weird discussion about coffee beans.
Did you know there is a difference between shade-grown coffee and sun-grown coffee? It’s not surprising if you don’t–-it’s not something you hear a lot about. Why? Because sun-grown coffee is poorer quality, and much cheaper to produce!
Many grocery store coffee blends use sun-grown beans to reduce costs. But coffee isn’t supposed to grow in direct sunlight. By being exposed to the strong rays of the sun, it grows faster, which is why it’s usually cheaper, but it then contains more acidity and bitterness.
Because they have less acidity, shade-grown beans are much less likely to cause problems with coffee heartburn.
Lesson 3: Only Drink 100% Arabica Coffee
Now armed with this super-hipster knowledge about coffee, I feel pretty confident in talking to other people about it. Or at least faking that I know what I am talking about. Admit it. You do this too. You learn something neat and then drop that knowledge on someone like it was your major in college.
Anyway, I approach the guy with tattoos and green hair working at Starbucks to ask him, “Is this coffee shade-grown?” He responded in a “hipster one-upper” response: “All of Starbucks’ coffee is Arabica, dude, like one-hundred.” I responded quickly, “Oh, perfect,” pretending to see the connection in his answer.
A week later, I had someone at The Grayson Coffee House explain it to me. Turns out that if your primary concern is that coffee causes heartburn, and you want coffee that isn’t grown just anywhere and has lower levels of caffeine, then you can brew all this down to look for one thing that will really help. It’s crazy, but, 100% Arabica beans might be the answer I was after all along.
So, what’s the difference between Arabica and my Death Wish coffee? Well, turns out there are two types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Again, it’s not surprising that you may not know this, because it isn’t exactly advertised to the masses, but once you start looking, you will start to see the Arabica coffee taglines everywhere. The truth here is that “Robusta” beans are cheaper because they grow at lower altitudes, and they’re hardier, making them resilient to pests. But the tradeoff is that Robusta beans are more bitter and contain twice the caffeine content of Arabica beans. This is really amazing, but the expensive hyper-caffeinated coffees on Amazon, the extreme K-Cups with 2x caffeine at Wal-Mart and the really cheap-cheap coffee brands are mostly made with Robusta beans!
Call it a first world problem, but I’ve been overpaying for what is essentially cheap coffee that naturally has 2x caffeine in it! Ha!
What does this have to do with preventing coffee heartburn? The extra caffeine in Robusta beans makes you more susceptible to acid reflux and heartburn as we’ve already learned.
So, what’s the solution? Drink 100% Arabica coffee. You’ll taste and feel the difference, and won’t ever want to go back to Robusta beans.
Also, this advice doesn’t cost you any more money. If you have been overpaying for stronger Robusta coffee like me, it may save you money! Changing from Folgers (Robusta blend) to Maxwell House is a great budget-friendly option. It turns out that Maxwell House is really “good to the last drop” and changed to 100% Arabica beans back in 2007. McDonald’s is another cost-effective and surprisingly good choice that’s serving some pretty great 100% Arabica coffee. So, looking for this label doesn’t necessarily mean you’re looking for the more expensive coffee brands.
Many people give up coffee because of acid reflux and heartburn. But you don’t have to! Just remember to avoid hyper-caffeination by only drinking 100% Arabica.
So, thanks to all the coffee baristas out there that cured me. You guys are the real “best part of waking up!”