I have a confession to make: I don’t drink coffee. The closest I get is ordering a Java Chip Frappuccino at Starbucks, which has a teeny tiny bit of coffee mixed in with a whole lot of chocolate in order to mask the taste of it. Plain old coffee by itself, or even coffee with milk and sugar, I just can’t do. When I tell people that I don’t drink it, they look at me like I’m insane and immediately ask me to take a sip from their cup. I do it to appease them, but my opinion never changes. “I like the way it smells,” I offer up weakly in order to suggest that maybe I’m not a complete freak. That never seems to be good enough and I order my Diet Coke now that my confession is out of the way.
It’s become clear to me that as someone who does not drink coffee, I am in the minority–at least in the social circles that I run in. Becoming a caffeine-dependent coffee addict seems to be an integral part of the college experience, and an undying love for the beverage brings thousands of people together. Needing that morning cup of joe is such a universal feeling and when you need to strike up some small talk in the elevator on the way to your chemistry class or your nine-to-five, a simple comment about needing a coffee fix will usually elicit a nod at the very least. A reliance on coffee is relatable. (Unless you’re trying to relate to me because I’m an alien, apparently.)
If having a cup (or two, or five–no judgment) of coffee is part of your daily grind (no pun intended), you may have fallen into a pattern of drinking it at the same time every day… But if you’re someone who truly needs that boost to function or someone who has a sensitive stomach, some habits may be more beneficial than others and expert advice may have you re-evaluating your caffeine routine.
That espresso you love so much shouldn’t necessarily be consumed right after you wake up; the time of day that you should drink your coffee depends heavily on biology, which is beyond your control, and your lifestyle. Clinical nutritionist Michelle Miller suggests that you should stop ingesting caffeine within six to eight hours of bedtime. You may even want to raise that number to 10 to 12 hours if you find that you are strongly affected by it.
There are a lucky few who are impacted minimally or seemingly not at all by caffeine and if those are the genetics you were granted, all the power to you. However, most of us shouldn’t be having a cup of coffee after dinner unless it’s decaf. A 2013 study found that participants who consumed about four cups of coffee within six hours of going to bed experienced sleep disturbance, so if you’re an insomniac, get your coffee in early.
Perhaps even more important than when you drink it, though, is how you drink it. Even if you like your coffee early in the morning, it shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing going into your system; dietician and health coach Grace Derocha says that it’s beneficial to have your coffee with your first meal of the day rather than immediately upon waking. Coffee by itself–even decaf–stimulates the production of acid and without the presence of food, the repeated exposure of acid can damage the lining of your stomach. Derocha explains that it’s healthier to have your coffee alongside breakfast or even a calcium-rich snack, like yogurt. “The calcium helps to reduce the acidity while neutralizing stomach acid,” she explains, and she insists that you will still get your full energy boost even if you have food along with your coffee.
Another way to avoid harming your stomach lining is to have your drink chilled. The brewing process for cold coffee beverages is different and generally more gentle on your body, according to Derocha, as it is about 70% less acidic than regular coffee. The ice cubes in your drink will water the acidity down even further. If coffee has been irritating your stomach or causing heartburn, swap out your hot beverage for an iced one.
Do you brew your own coffee at home rather than stopping by your local café? There are still ways that you can maximize the benefits of your favorite drink based on how coffee affects you. “Always go for high-test or organic coffee when possible” if caffeine has been keeping you awake, says Miller. “This will filter out of your system more efficiently than commercial brands allowing you to wind down sooner.”
Derocha shares that some coffee beans are better for you than others if reacting to the acidity has been a problem. Try having arabica beans instead of robusta ones, which are more acidic, and stick to darker roasts instead of lighter ones. The processing time actually lowers the acidity in darker beans, so a dark roast is ideal if you’re trying to combat stomach problems or heartburn.
Next time you lunge for your coffee pot, think about how you usually get your fix. Do you chug three cups on an empty stomach? Do you sip on it before bed? It may be time to adjust your coffee consumption habits if you really want to make the most out of your delicious drink.