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Why Coffee is Giving You Heartburn?

By: Nathan McGill

I’ve been drinking a boat load of coffee lately. I mean, it’s 2020 and I need caffeine! My daily coffee routine is intense, however invisible to me at this point in life. I make a pot of coffee in the morning. I drive to work and stop for gas-station coffee, starbucks, or dunkin donuts half-way to my destination, and then the rest of the day I spend 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 TRADEWIND COFFEE in Dacula, BOULDER CREEK, 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. 

Now, I believe it is worth mentioning that I was not interviewing the employees at these local establishments for an article. I wasn’t there as a journalist or to make any content, I was simply a customer wanting to know their expert advice. 

The results changed my life! 

Lesson #1.
Prevent Coffee Heartburn By Getting 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 different 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 4th shot of espresso in my drink. Another coffee shop I frequent often includes 4 shots in their 20oz lattes and Tradewind was happy to accommodate. Just because we were talking some pretty strong italian espresso, the expert behind the counter noted that 4 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.

Tradewinds Coffee Co. Dacula, Ga.

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 aint it?

So, how do we make sure we have a safe amount of caffeine? Most experts agree 4 to 7 cups of coffee is over caffeination. Bad news for me. Also, skipping the offer for an extra shot of espresso in the dunkin donuts drive through 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
Prevent Coffee Heartburn By Only Drinking 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, it was a fair truth. Facts like this is what makes 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.

Boulder Creek Coffee, Lawrenceville

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.
Prevent Coffee Heartburn By Only Drinking 100% Arabica Coffee.

Now armed with this super-hipster knowledge of 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.

Grayson Coffee House, Grayson

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 just grown 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. The truth here is that “Robusta” beans are cheaper because they grow at lower altitudes, and they’re more hardy making them resilient to pests. But, the tradeoff is Robusta beans are more bitter and contain twice the caffeine content of Arabica beans. This is really amazing but both the expensive hyper-caffinated coffees on Amazon, the extreme K-Cups with 2x caffeine in the 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. 

Death Wish

Caffeine: 728 mg per 12 fluid ounces brewed

Bean type: Robusta

Also, this advice doesn’t cost you any more money. If you have been overpaying for stronger robusta branded coffee like me, it may save you money! Changing from Folgers (Robusta Blend) to Maxwell House is a great budget even example my parents, (and yours too) might want to think about. 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 surprising good choice that 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-caffenation 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!” 

Also a special thanks to the Cool Beans Coffee Roasters for answering my fact checking questions for this story.