The great coffee debate – the baristas respond

Coffee has been in the news this week, with claims that it can prevent heart disease, but are we drinking more of it as a result? No, say the owners of two well known coffee businesses

So far this week we’ve been told that drinking between three and five cups of coffee a day could help prevent heart disease, then cautioned by medical opinion to take the claims with a pinch of salt (just a pinch mind, that stuff’s definitely not good for us).

The claims, made in the medical journal Heart, gladdened the heart of many coffee drinkers, but did it send them rushing out to buy a third, or even a fifth cup? For that matter, does anyone actually drink five full-strength cups a day?

Colin Harmon, four times Irish barista champion and owner of 3fe coffee in Dublin, believes that level of coffee consumption is excessive. "Most of our customers come once a day, but a few might have two or three cups a day. I would be reluctant to sell five coffees a day to the same person as that's probably pushing it to an extreme."

Not to mention expensive. “Three coffees a day will cost you €9 at 3fe and could be as much as €15 if you were to opt for the more expensive ones.” That’s up to €105 a week.


Karl Purdy, also a former Irish barista champion, and owner of Coffeeangel in Dublin, says: "We're big believers in less is more. We've seen a real trend for developing for smaller cup sizes with people really appreciating, enjoying and savouring the taste rather then the effect."

Dr Muiris Houston, medical journalist and health analyst with The Irish Times, looked into the research behind the study that made headlines this week and concluded that it had "obvious limitations". We were to put that extra cappuccino down, remain sceptical and practice moderation, he advised.

Is that how did Harmon’s and Purdy’s customers reacted to the news? “We definitely had a lot of customers mention it to us or tweet us a link to the study,” Harmon says. “ People were interested in the idea that coffee could be good for you, but I’m not sure we saw anyone take up coffee drinking on the back of the research.”

Purdy’s customers also failed to up their intake based on the news. “The response has generally been good-natured ... but this guarded optimism is mixed with the cynicism that comes with the publication of any scientific report.”

So as true exponents of their craft, how many cups of coffee do Harmon and Purdy consume each day? “ I usually don’t drink more than two or three cups. I’ll always try to have sampled at least one filter coffee, one espresso and one milk drink in a day for quality control purposes, but I keep my consumption under control,” Harmon says.

Purdy is not reaching the five-cup quota either. “I might have two or three cups a day. I generally start my day with something small, espresso-based and milky. Afternoons I tend to favour an old-school, single origin, filter brew. I take my time savouring this.”

For those of us who like the taste, but not the side-effects, is decaffeinated coffee the answer? “We didn’t sell it for a long time simply because we couldn’t find one that we’d drink ourselves. Most decafs go through a process that involves, water, chemicals or CO2 and this goes a long way towards damaging the structural integrity of the bean itself. This makes it very hard to roast and this is always apparent in the final cup,” Harmon says.

“A couple of years ago we came across a Colombian farm that was using local sugar cane as the decaffeination solvent, which meant it was being done on site, in season, and left us with a flavour profile that was the most delicious decaffeinated we have tasted.”

And that other contentious food issue, sugar. Should we put it in coffee or not? “No, never. Good coffee doesn’t require sugar. If a coffee requires sugar to make it palatable is likely not very good to start with,” Purdy says emphatically.