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Why Bad Coffee Makes You Weak

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Good coffee is magic.

It can promote brain function, memory, and energy levels.  It can serve as a massive source of antioxidants and is associated with all sorts of positive health outcomes.  Coffee can even effect your body and mind like Chi Gong exercises.  It can even help you build muscle without exercising. However, the wrong coffee can sap your health and hurt your performance.

When I started using espresso in college, I got the highest calculus grades of my life. However, I also had severe joint pain, jitters, anxiety, and (although I didn’t know it) I was about to get brain fog. Even bad coffee was an improvement for me then. But after I biohacked myself, I got used to feeling great.

The only problem is that I didn’t feel so great when I drank coffee anymore. Sure, I would get a caffeine driven burst of energy but then I would feel edgy, cranky, and often my joint pain would return. And when the coffee wore off, I was useless mentally.

I thought the negative effects were simply a compromise I would have to live with in order to enjoy coffee.  Strangely, I didn’t get these problems with every type of coffee.  When I traveled to Europe, I could more often enjoy coffee without any of the negative side effects. So I gave up coffee for 5 very long years.

After years of researching ways I could return to the hot, bitter arms of my great love (coffee, ahem), I finally uncovered the secret to my acute onset coffee malaise.

Why Bad Coffee Is Bad For You

Sometimes your taste buds know best.

You don’t like the taste of bad coffee for the same reason you don’t like the taste of gasoline: your body is telling you it’s toxic.

The data on coffee consumption goes back and forth.  Some studies show health benefits, while others show negative outcomes.  This might seem confusing, but the reason is simple: bad coffee is bad for you, and scientists suck at differentiating types of coffee when they run studies on coffee.

Studies on coffee and health don’t control for processing methods or the source of the beans.  This means the coffee beans are almost always contaminated with mycotoxinsMycotoxins are damaging compounds created by molds which grow on coffee beans (among other things).  These compounds cause all sorts of health problems like cardiomyopathy, cancer, hypertension, kidney disease, and even brain damage.  They also make your coffee taste bitter, like it needs sugar.

Some types of coffee have more mycotoxins than others, which is why you see some studies showing a benefit to drinking coffee, and others showing negative health outcomes.  The problem isn’t coffee per se, it’s the mold on your coffee. It even can vary by individual batch, especially for large coffee producers. (like ones with big ugly green logos on every street corner)

Mycotoxins are in almost all low quality brands of coffee.  One study showed that 91.7% of green coffee beans were contaminated with mold.  This is before they were processed, which allows even more mold to grow.  Another study showed 52% of green coffee beans and almost 50 percent of brewed coffees are moldy.  Coffee is easily one of the largest sources of mycotoxins in the food supply.

As the researchers concluded,

“…regular coffee consumption may contribute to exposure of humans to OA (ochratoxin).”

Ochratoxin A is bad news. It hits your kidneys, causes cancer, and messes up your immune system. Trust me, I know. I’m an ochratoxin canary, having lived in a house with ochratoxin-generating toxic mold that caused some serious damage to my immune function and autonomic nervous system. (If I can be Bulletproof with all that going on, so can you!)

Coffee is only bad for you if it serves as a delivery platform for mold.

Cheaper coffee varieties cost less because they use poor quality beans and they allow a higher percentage of damaged (moldy) beans, then companies process them with techniques that add flavor but amplify the amount of toxins.

“Blends” of coffee are bad news because they mix cheap beans from multiple areas, almost guaranteeing that you’ll get some moldy ones.  This is why its important to buy your coffee from a single estate, as outlined in the process for finding the highest performance coffee in your city. If you drink mass market coffee, the beans in your grinder may come from several countries. It’s the same logic that tells you not to eat a hamburger made from the meat of 10,000 animals.

Decaf coffee is even worse.  Caffeine is a natural anti-insect and antifungal defense mechanism for the plant.  It deters mold and other organisms from growing on the beans.  Mold is everywhere, but caffeine helps prevent it from growing on the beans while they’re in storage. When you remove the caffeine, your beans are defenseless.  Decaf coffee is higher in both aflatoxin and ochratoxin.  This is one of the reasons decaf tastes like camel sweat (unless its made with our Upgraded Decaf process you can read about here).

You might think the more expensive types of coffee will be good for you, but this isn’t the case.  Arabica beans are typically less moldy than robusta beans. (Robusta is what you find in Folgers and cheap coffee.) But even expensive types of coffee are usually processed with methods that allow mold to grow.

The natural process method is common in African coffee.  This allows the beans to sit outside where they can collect bird feces and other debris.  They mold. One of my favorite high end coffee roasters describes natural process beans as, “Delicious, flavorful, and psychedelic” because they affect how his brain works.

Wet process is not much better. Here, coffee growers toss the beans into giant vats and add water, then let the beans spoil for a while (ferment) so it’s easier to remove the outer parts of the bean. What grows on each batch of beans is unpredictable, but it usually makes more toxins.

Health “experts” enjoy vilifying coffee almost as much as saturated fat.  The evidence is only conflicting if you don’t look at the whole picture.  The truth is that the right kind of coffee is a health food.

There is a large body of data showing people who drink coffee are healthier and live higher performance lives.  Drinking coffee lowers your risk of stroke and diabetes.  Coffee improves focus, memory recall, and exercise performance.  Its also the largest source of antioxidants in the Standard American Diet.  Coffee is a potent thermogenic which stimulates fat loss. In an upcoming post, I’ll explain how coffee grows muscles too.

The right coffee is good for you.  Mold is bad for you.  Never mix the two.

Life is simply better when your day starts with Bulletproof Coffee made with grass-fed butter, especially when you are using properly processed beans. That’s why I created Bulletproof Upgraded Coffee beans! You can also try our Upgraded Decaf Coffee Beans and rest assured you are getting a clean smooth cup of coffee without the bad stuff and with a great taste.

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  • Anonymous

    I think it’s a bit much to say that all blends are bad. If you’re getting a blend from a roaster such as Stumptown, Cafe Grumpy, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture or any of the other top quality roasters out there, they’re using the same top quality beans that they put into their single origin espresso.

    • Cuppa Joe

      All blends are not bad necessarily, however they have a much higher chance of mycotoxin occurrence since they are combining from different batches. And you know the big producers are most certainly blending the good stuff with the bad (moldy) coffee because they are trying to save a buck in production. so good luck finding a blend that is good for you. it’s easier when you know where the coffee truly comes from.

      • Anonymous

        Most big producers don’t make single origin coffee. You’re comparing apples (small batch single origin coffee) to oranges (large batch blends). I am saying that the small batch producers who make single origin coffee produce blends by combining those very same coffees. I wish you had made this distinction in your article instead of a meaningless generalization.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always had different responses to different coffee brands – don’t know why. Some make me super pumped, while others make me sleepy after the first cup. It’s weird. It has nothing to do with the quality, either. Right now I’ve finally got around to ordering some pure caffeine pills, I’ll see how that goes…

  • Ted

    I have never been a coffee drinker but ordered your bulletproof coffee the day you made it available. I have Kerrygold and MCT oil and now I anxiously await the arrival of the beans!!!

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  • Kristal

    Hey Dave, I’ve been devouring your sight for the last couple of days, and now I’m curious: have you ever tried experimenting with guarana powder instead of coffee? I usually make a drink with a !/2 teaspoon guarana powder in the morning, and I’m curious how this would compare nutritionally with coffee. Obviously the benefits of caffeine consumption would still apply, but am I missing out on other important factors? Thanks!

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  • Lisa S.

    I agree with the “coffee good, mold bad” concept (and generally really appreciate your site. Am eagerly awaiting my first bulletproof coffee shipment). But when you say “There is a large body of data showing people who drink coffee are healthier and live higher performance lives…” I assume that the studies that show all the benefits were done with regular old moldy coffee. So are the people in the studies getting healthier in spite of the mold? This isn’t adding up for me.

    • Dave Asprey

      There are also a large number of studies saying coffee is bad for you. If it was bad, the good studies wouldn’t exist to the extent they do. The argument here is that some coffee is good, some is bad, and the differentiator is the mold and amine level.

    • Dave Asprey

      What a great question!

      There are also studies showing negative effects of coffee. Either coffee researchers are really bad in the lab, or there are factors explaining the differing results. I post the links to the mycotoxin specific studies to support the notion that it is the correct explanation for the difference. (it’s the same with meat health studies. All meat is not the same!)

  • Jennifer

    Can someone rehabbing their blown out adrenal glands drink bulletbroof coffee? I’m dying for some but trying to get my adrenal function back online…

    • Dave Asprey

      I drank one cup a day, with salt, while recovering. I went without for a time too. Felt better on it, and took glandulars, salt, etc. There are no studies on BP coffee yet (but Stanford is working on one!)

      • Sheilagh

        Wait, you salted your coffee? On the bulletproof coffee recipe page you bold the text “salted coffee is a crime”!

        Are we signing up to be criminals?? ;-)

  • Sally

    so can you not just keep coffee beans in freezer to take care of the mold and subsequent toxins?

    • Dave Asprey

      The Mold toxins for on green coffee and are mostly not destroyed by roasting or brewing.

      • http://contrast2.wordpress.com Brandon Adams

        This study seems to say that they are: Seven out of these nine reported that the relevant range of OTA reductions was between 69 and 96%

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11600012

        Can you point me to something else?

  • Leo Nidas

    Seriously, that was just flimsy ‘good is good and bad is bad’ reasoning. What is good coffee and what are its mycotoxin levels? Can only assume this was a baseless infomercial for you to peddle your wares and make money of easy misled people.

    • Dave Asprey

      Dude, did you read the 20+ references at the bottom of the page? Coffee consumption accounts for 25% of your “allowable” (ha!) daily aflatoxin consumption. The evidence is overwhelming.

      • Alex G

        I’ve been looking for the references but can’t find them…where on the page are they?

    • Beth

      Yeah, this article would have been better if there was some guide to figuring out the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ on our own, aside from buying the brand the writer is selling. Questions to ask the roaster? Things to watch out for? Regions to focus on? Or did he just wants us to be scared about something we’re consuming, and feel pressured to buy his brand??

      • Scott

        Completely agreed. Like all salesmen, a lot of words to make you think you’re learning something without a lot of actual advice, with the only definitive answer being the product that’s for sale. And as for that 3 steps to finding good beans page he keeps referencing, that’s another load of non definitive crap: google coffee shops, visit the top ranked ones and hope hey have a bean selection that will make you feel better, and finally make sure it’s not a blend. The last step being the only useful suggestion. The author of this crap needs to speak less and actually be more direct. After weeding through the nonsense and sales pitches, it seems that we need to find a bean that isn’t a blend and isn’t done through the “natural process.”

    • April Weingarth Chabot
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  • http://www.facebook.com/asher.yaron Asher Yaron

    My experiments and studies revolve around consuming coffee soon after it is roasted. Some of your findings about the health effects of coffee I am in complete agreement with. I recently gave a TEDx talk on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaQNy0Ef4YY

    • Kimberly ann

      What brands were less moldy than others if you don’t mind me asking?

    • http://www.salesprocessengineering.net Justin Roff-Marsh

      Asher

      In your talk, you refer to old coffee as ‘dead’. What exactly do you mean?

      Unlike ‘old’, which is relative, ‘dead’ is an absolute. At what point — and via what process — does coffee transition from being ‘alive’ to being ‘dead’?

      Justin

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  • mj

    Dave, Saw you on “Know the Cause” with Doug Kaufman. I have asthma, but had to quit drinking coffee. It would give me almost an instant attack. So I quit drinking coffee for over 10 years. Thanks! Now I too “Know the Cause” Can’t wait to try your coffee. It will be nice to have a good cup of Joe again. And yes, not all coffee would affect me, but it would vary batch by batch.

  • JoeR

    Bulletproof definitely tests better than regular coffee. I ran out and ended up going to Whole Foods and getting a Kenyan Cru- the most expensive one they had. The beans looked the same, even smelled the same but didn’t taste the same and the nice buzz- or rather alertness that I got from bulletproof wasn’t there in the morning. There is definitely a softness and richness to the flavor to Bulletproof that lets you drink it black if you like without sugar, which is pretty tough with civilian coffees unless you are used to the taste and/or diabetic and can’t stand artificial sweeteners. I tried Bulletproof on a few friends and seems like some of them preferred the hard taste of SB’s, or they felt like they were not drinking coffee. I do remember drinking espresso all day long (2-3/ times a day at least) for few weeks in Italy a few years back and never feeling an ill effect. When I got back to the states I tried that and literally got heart palpitations (had to go see a doctor who told me to drop the caffeine), so is there a difference between coffee in the states and coffee in Europe? Sure felt like it. I’d love to see or hear if someone has done some blind taste tests with Bulletproof to see what a consumers take is and how many people can tell the difference.
    Has the bitter coffee taste, loaded with sugar and cream become the equivalent of the minty fresh taste of toothpaste, nice, but nothing to do with the products effectiveness. It makes people feel like they are having strong rich coffee, but in fact is ineffective in the way they think it is?
    After drinking Bulletproof coffee with Kerry Butter and some MCT coconut oil, the taste of milk and sugar is a bit hard to take these days. I can’t drink anything else at this point. Just got a small french press for myself to keep at work and just got a 5 lb. bag of beans.

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  • Lisa S.

    Dave,

    I came across an article in Life Extension Magazine about a polyphenol/chlorogenic retaining coffee roasting process: http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2012/sep2012_Protective-Effects-Of-Coffee_01.htm?source=search&key=healthy%20roast%20coffee (process is described on page 2 of the article). Elsewhere in the print magazine, an ad for their coffee stated that it has 172 mg of chlorogenic acid, while conventional coffee has just 92 mg. This raised some questions for me. Do you know the chlorogenic acid content of your Upgraded Bulletproof coffee beans – is it any higher than standard coffee? What do you think of their described process in terms of molds and mycotoxins? Would you use this process on your beans, or why not? Low mold plus enhanced chlorogenic acid coffee sounds really upgraded to me.

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  • vv50

    freezing doesn’t remove toxins left behind by mold, smarty

  • vv50

    so are water and salt in excess quantities, genius

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  • Mickey Russo

    I just listened to an extensive seminar from Tony Robbins and an interview he did with a Dr. Young where they discuss the importance of balance between acid and alkaline on a cellular level. I’m no expert by any stretch, just an interested health conscious consumer (I love bullet proof coffee by the way)…They talked about caffeine creating acid and how this was not good. I would love to hear your take on this Dave? Also, if you’ll email me at mgr1147@hotmail.com I can provide you with a link where you can download the audio version of the seminar and the interview I listened to.

  • reality

    I embrace the bullet proof, where are you list of sources pertaining to this article.

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  • Steven

    wow

  • catskilz

    I love all the scholarly and independent research sources you cite.

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  • Tomcat

    Guys. I know the economy sucks, but coming up with new and creative ways to sell snake oil isn’t going to help things.

  • Nils Leidal

    Another important factor is of course how much pesticides does your coffee contain ? And how long since it was grinded (oxidation gives more acid) and not to mention how was it brewed ?

  • coffee4u

    Did you see Oprah’s super soul sunday with CEO of Starbucks? please comment on her page and include this info for others to see. Most people don’t understand this. Thanks

  • Binky

    … but, apparently, it can’t help your millennial English. “Affect”! Not “effect”.

  • dreaume99

    After ten years of home brew, Tim Horton’s, Starbucks and various others I finally Tried your bullet proof coffee recipe after receiving your beans and MCT oil……..no question in my mind this is absolutely superior coffee bar none. The energy level is higher the clarity is amazing and no crash, no jitters, no frequent dehydrating trips to the bathroom….. you have a customer for life. Ignore the uneducated jealous critics and keep up the good work.

  • Mopey

    Wonderful article! Coffee has ruined my body, my digestion is practically shut down, I knew it was bad but have had way too much coffee for years. I have a belly like I look newly pregnant when I’m not, I have horrible stomach aches, the lining of my intestines must be leaky, I don’t know what to do. Probiotics and papaya enzyme? I don’t think physicians know a thing about this. Any ideas helpful. Trying to cut the coffee out, the damage was coffee on an empty stomach for breakfast for long periods of time. Youch!

  • Evan

    what about the mycotoxin issue for people doing coffee enemas? I imagine this concern is equally if not more important in this case, since the constituents (and toxins, if present) in the coffee are absorbed directly through the colon? any specific recommendations about enema coffee?

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  • William Robertson

    Good article, thank you.
    Obviously there are risks associated with anything you don’t process yourself, so this year I will grow my own coffee tree & process it the correct way.

  • George Parigian Jr.

    This sounds too good to be true (although I want it to be). I do get more energy and motivation with caffeine, but then I get the joint pains and a tremendous crash followed by low energy and motivation. I can avoid this by drinking upgraded coffee? I am sold on the butter already. I love Irish Kerrygold.

  • Jerry

    Using peer-reviewed research to back up your claims: brilliant. Mis-interpreting the results of said research to sell some snake oil to gullible people who don’t bother to actually read the cited studies: not-so-brilliant.

  • Boe Smith

    Reading crap like this makes me embarrassed to be human — seriously.

  • Prabhat

    @BetterBaby:disqus: I am having joint pain now…… I started drinking coffee from last 20 day with average of 3 cup per day…..what should I add with my coffee to make it pain free? I am using nestle Instant coffee original.

  • Prabhat

    I am having joint pain now…… I started drinking coffee from last 20 day with average of 3 cup per day…..what should I add with my coffee to make it pain free? I am using nestle Instant coffee original

  • Kamile Ko

    But that is really true, because after I bought this kind of coffee machine- Philips
    kavos aparatai
    , my life became much better :) Now I enjoy every day and I am always in perfect mood :)

  • Jose

    Joe Rogan call you out in your micro toxins bullshit man! hahahaha

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  • Brad

    BulletProof coffee of course! Haha.

    Why would our good friend Dave promote someone else’s coffee? In addition to being bulletproof, don’t forget he’s also an “executive”.

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