The glaring myths of coffee

Freshly brewed espresso running into the cups, very shallow DoF

Survey ten different folks in your social circles and you’re bound to get at least ten different theories on the following classic coffee conundrums.  Call them old wives tales, urban legends, myths – whatever. The fact is some of these commonly held beliefs are, at best, misleading (most), or at worst, hurting the quality of your coffee experience at home (get it out of your freezer)!

We’re by no means the first coffee company to address these myths (nor will we be the last), but we thought it important to address some of the glaring myths of coffee head-on.  Read on, bean-lovers, and help spread the good word and dispel some myths!

“There is lower caffeine content in dark roasts than in light roasts.”

This isn’t the first time this has come up at Ethical Bean. The truth is that any differences in caffeine content among dark, medium, and light roasts are negligible. There is an old adage that goes, “if you do enough research, you can prove anything,” and while some may have found some research to indicate darker or lighter roasts have more or less caffeine, those differences are really, really small.

Since caffeine is stored in the coffee bean itself, roasting it to different degrees help develop its taste (which we all love) – but doesn’t really impact the inherent qualities of the bean itself. With coffee comes caffeine, folks. No matter the roast!

“The best way to keep coffee fresh (if you can’t use it right away) is in the fridge or freezer.”

Oh, the freezer myth. There’s something quaint and endearing about this – the wooly mammoth of coffee myths – that sparks a gentle smile and empathetic answer to all those who ask. This myth is so pervasive we’ve gone so far as to write our response directly on our coffee bags. They read: No fridges, no freezers, no funny business.

Once a bag of coffee is opened the best place to keep it is in an airtight container in your kitchen away from extreme temperatures or humidity. Fridges and freezers are moist, damp, and full of smells that kill the natural breathing processes of the beans (Yes I know how that sounds – but it’s true!). Looking to keep your beans fresh? Buy smaller quantities more often, store them in an airtight container once they’re at home, and try to purchase beans roasted recently (our “roasted on” date is printed on every bag). Do that and you’re golden!

“Coffees with higher acidities can be really tough on your stomach.”

When discussing acidity in the context of coffee, we need to begin by clarifying our terms. Acidity can mean a couple of different things, and determining what we’re talking about is a key step!

Acidity, Acidic, pH levels (all foods): All foods have a certain pH content that can have different impacts on different people. For some, high acidity foods can have an uncomfortable impact on their stomachs. For others, a high pH has little to no impact. There’s a wealth of information online about acidic and alkaline foods for those that are looking to control a sensitivity.

Acidity, brightness, and definition (coffee specific): In the world of coffee, acidity does not refer to pH. Rather, it refers to the characteristics that give a cup of coffee its character. It is in this sense that we speak about acidity in coffee, and when we talk about a nice, balanced acidity in a cup of coffee – it’s a good thing, especially for your taste buds! A coffee with high acidity? Sounds delish.

“Espresso is so strong that drinking it stops hearts and sends calm souls into Tasmanian Devil-esque tirades.”

What an image, eh? Espresso is a funny one.

On one hand, espresso is indeed, much stronger than your average cuppa joe. That’s due to the higher concentration of coffee. The result?  That spectacular, in-your-face, flavor that espresso lovers live for.

On the other hand, espresso has no more caffeine than your average cuppa. In fact, quite the opposite! A single shot of espresso has about a quarter as much caffeine as a drip coffee does. This helps to explain why Italian espresso drinkers can slowly sip three or four shots of espresso over the day and still sleep soundly at night. Myth destroyed!

“Water-based decaffeination methods don’t remove all the caffeine.”

Water-based decaffeination methods are the only way to remove the caffeine from coffee without using chemicals in the process. For this reason Ethical Bean (in good company) uses a Mountain Water process to extract the caffeine from our beans.  Cut the caffeine, keep the taste. Win-win.

The extent to which traces of caffeine remains in the beans once they’ve been decaffeinated is the important question, particularly for those who are not able to drink caffeine at all, or are looking to minimize or cut out its presence in their lives. For these people, they can rest assured that decaffeinated coffee has removed over 99.9% of the caffeine. So while we cannot say 100% (then again, nobody can) the small trace of caffeine that does remain is minute, and does not even come close to packing the punch of a regular strength cup of coffee.


Did you learn something new? Clarify a nagging question? Think of ten new questions you would like to ask? We encourage you to use the comments section below to help us, help you, get the best out of our coffees. Thanks for reading!






8 Responses to The glaring myths of coffee

  1. I’ve found through conducting consumer tasting classes that when describing acidity it actually helps to name the acids (malic, phenolic, etc.) and talk about their attributes in the cup vs. just an umbrella “pH acidity is different from the other acidity”. People actually get that once you break it down for them. Acidity on its own is a dangerous term to use otherwise because of the ambiguity. Most shops should just use “brightness”.

    • Marianne Pemberton says:

      Hi Rich – thanks so much for your comment.

      I like your suggestion to differentiate among the various acids and speak to their complexity overall as a good place to start. Indeed, the ‘acidity’ road can be a dangerous and ambiguous one to go down – particularly due to the fact that it can get quite complex, quite quickly! At the same time, many coffee drinkers are aware of the term and in our experience, have lots of questions about it. I will definitely be looking into the various types of acidities myself to use as a tool for explaining acidity. Indeed, brightness is key!

  2. Trish says:

    Good luck ordering a single espresso these days.

    • Marianne Pemberton says:

      You can in our cafe! Though you’re completely right – the double-shot has become the standard fare for espresso drinks. The folks are looking for a jolt!

      • Stu Feldman says:

        Marianne…would love to know more of your cafe…if your customers are looking for that ‘jolt’ …I have a coffee for you that is so energetic, but gives a peace of mind with emotional and mental enhancers that make our coffee so unique. I’d love for you to try a sample pack….please review. Have a ‘sizzling’ day!

  3. Blake Johnson says:

    While I’m totally on board with the no storage in fridge or freezer policy, I have to quibble regarding the statement that fridges and freezers are moist and damp. In fact any moisture introduced into the interior of a fridge or freezer will tend to condense on the coldest surface there which is invariably (except when the unit is in defrost mode) the evaporator. Fridges and freezers are therefore desiccators, just as bad for your beans as if they were humidifiers.

  4. JHJ says:

    “Water-based decaffeination methods are the only way to remove the caffeine from coffee without using chemicals in the process.”

    It’s patently untrue to state that a water-based method uses no chemicals, as water is a chemical. The beans themselves are made of chemicals. So are you and I, and so is the air we breathe.

    There are certainly undesirable chemicals in many products and processes in the world, but companies claiming things to be chemical-free is at best ignorant and at worst a lie.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, of course, but I might recommend this post be amended. What chemicals to the other processes use, and why are they undesirable?

    • Aqilla Aziz says:

      Thank-you for your pedantic reply. Delightful. Point taken.
      Somehow the spirit with which the article was written has been lost. Or ignored. I’m not sure which.
      Part of the (perhaps false) assumption on our part is that in many folks’ view, not all “chemicals” are equal. Perhaps it’s the weight of the word that needs to be updated. There was no particular attempt to create some sort of intellectual slight of hand by what was written.
      Other solvents used for decaffeination include:

      methylene chloride
      ethyl acetate

      Both do a fantastic job at removing the caffeine.
      Whether you deem them to be more or less nefarious to produce, use and dispose of than water I’ll leave you to decide. Our choice of process, let’s you know where we stand.:)
      Thank-you kindly for the comment.

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