Thursday, May 21, 2015

Evolution of a Cup of Coffee

What athlete doesn't love coffee? We love our caffeine, and research supports that it can certainly help our performance in sport and life (in moderation!). But I don't need to drill down that point anymore, it's well-established. As I sit here drinking my morning coffee, I started reminiscing on all the ways I've prepared my cup o' joe over the years. Think about it in your own life. If you're like me, as you'll see, it's actually an interesting exercise to think back on all the ways we've loved our coffee and how we take it today. It says a lot about who we are and our values. here's my story:


High school. I drank a bit of coffee starting around senior year of high school, mostly late-night when studying for a big test. It felt "cool" to hit the caffeine then, even if my approach to it was dumb aka drinking it late into the night--probably not the best for test performance, eh? I recall there being a giant bag of M&Ms in that routine as well. There was a short phase when Starbucks was so cool and hot guys worked there so we'd go and get caramel macchiatos, frappacinos or seasonal lattes, and they tasted damn good--extra whip!--but I never continued that habit into college. I probably quit because I gained a decent amount of weight at the end of high school into early college, and realized the high-cal sugar-laden coffee drinks were not my friend. The weight gain is another story for another day.


College (undergrad). At SDSU I became a daily coffee drinker. I drank it a lot, and into the evenings when I was working at the school newspaper. By this time I had lost the aforementioned weight, and as a result I feared fat and sugar because, yes, I feared getting chubby again. I suppose I was smart to fear sugar, but not so smart to think artificial sweeteners, which I used in abundance, were a better alternative. I was certainly dumb for fearing fat, but that's the world we grew up in. I would brew coffee in the dorms, then onto an apartment shared with friends. Or I'd get it at the Starbucks on campus--at this point it was a Venti Americano, adding Splenda and fat-free milk (or bringing and adding my own powdered non-dairy creamer). I used that powdered Coffeemate religiously, and I would load it in. Normally my artificial sweetener of choice was Splenda, but I'd do Equal, Sweet N Low, or the knock-offs if I had too--anything to avoid real sugar. What's worse, I'd often get coffee from 7-Eleven in a Styrofoam cup (large of course). Sometimes I'd do iced coffees in a Big Gulp cup (complete with what I'm guessing was low-quality tap-water ice), and I would even still try to use the powdered creamer because I was afraid of adding any fat in the form of cream or milk. The coffee I drank was probably the lowest quality--if I bought it myself it was likely Foldgers or whatever was the cheapest and biggest at Costco; you know how it goes when you're poor and in college. I didn't care. My coffee "splurge" was using those sugar-free flavored syrup sweeteners that you can get in a bottle about the size of a wine bottle.

Where was a podcast at that time telling me I was insane! I want to shake SDSU-me by the shoulders and say, "What are you thinking?!"


Post-grad office job. After SDSU I worked in an office for a couple years, at a newspaper, and I would usually make coffee at home and bring it to work (same formula of Splenda and Coffeemate) then drink more of whatever coffee was available in the pot in the office; low-quality stuff for sure. My addiction Splenda grew and I think there were times where I'd add three packets to one cup of coffee. Goodness!


Grad school. I quit the office gig to build my dream career. I was back in college for grad school, and back living with the 'rents to save money. I was still drinking a lot of coffee, even later in the afternoons (I had mostly late-afternoon or night classes in those days and that justified coffee drinking late into the day). In my CSUF grad-school days my cup of coffee evolved to consisting of liquid Coffeemate (aka same fake nondairy sh*t but now in liquid form, yippee!), and my sweetener of choice upgraded to stevia. Still the same ol' habit of adding three packs of stevia to a 16oz travel mug. Can you tell that the artificial sweeteners and even stevia can be dangerously addicting?!?!

I think the coffee we used at home was still probably from Costco at that point; it was whatever my mom got (she's innocent; I don't blame her) and at this point in my life we'd never bought anything except pre-ground coffee. The idea of buying beans and grinding them myself sounded absurd and like extra work that wasn't necessary. During summer and/or before/after training for triathlon racing I made giant iced coffees like I used to at SDSU, but at home and I "upgraded" to using nonfat milk (non-organic from cows) and some crappy whey protein.


Recent years. After grad school, I was living on my own again, and I finally wised up. But not totally. I switched creamers for good and starting using a combo of almond milk and So Delicious Coconut Creamer (original with no added sugar). I was still using stevia (but cut back--only 1-2 packets lol). I started buying better quality coffee too. Instead of pre-ground coffee I bought a grinder and started buying organic beans, grinding them myself.

I started researching types of beans, regions and what are considered the "cleanest" and best quality. I can thank podcasts for helping me on this pass to better coffee, but I think such podcasts can get a little extreme too. For example, there's that whole debate on mold and mycotoxions in coffee (and it gets worse with decaf due to the process of extracting the caffeine--you want the swiss water process). I get it, and I believe some crappy coffees are like that. But you could tear your hair out and go on a wild goose chase (or spend too much money) trying to find "the perfect" coffee.

I tried experimenting with different "approved" and "safe" beans according to "the experts." The coffee certainly tasted amazing. But then I loosened up and broadened my horizons. I started buying beans from local coffee shops that clearly adhere to high-quality standards, or buying brands with great reputations like Stumptown and Blue Bottle Coffee, even if they weren't organic nor single-origin beans (they weren't necessarily cheaper either, though, haha). All tasted amazing and made me feel just as good, and not like crap nor brain fog.

All this experimenting made me believe that we don't have to be super anal about coffee if you're at least buying from a reputable source, a brand that has a quality processing system in place, and buying the actual beans (not pre-ground). From there, you should measure the quality of your coffee based on how it makes you feel.


My coffee today. Where have I landed? I'd like to think I'm close to my perfectly quality cup of joe. What' more, I try not to have caffeine in excess like I used to do especially in college days. I have it in the mornings and that's it. That is, unless we're doing something crazy like Ragnar or crewing an ultra. I kicked that 3pm coffee habit as soon as I really wised up on what it takes to be healthy and not using the afternoon coffee as a crutch for poor health/poor adrenal status.

So what does "good coffee" mean to me now? Here's where I'm at:

1) I ditched the stevia. Now that I don't use stevia in coffee, I can't even fathom adding the amounts of sweetener I used to add. I love the taste of coffee for the coffee. In fact, I basically have cut out stevia all together and very rarely partake in it, but I still keep some around the house just in case, or if it's in a product that I like I'm ok with it in small amounts and moderation. It was a rather easy habit to kick, easier than the gum. I'm still not convinced stevia is all that safe.

2) I no longer add any artificial creamer products--even So Delicious has sketchy additives (see below)*. However, I am adding milk--in the form of coconut milk from a non-BPA can (BPA free cans verified here; I'm going with TJ's) and unsweetened organic almond milk. But I don't add a lot, just enough so it's not super bitter. That said, there are times when I do keep my coffee just black, especially if it's cold-brew. I love cold-brew black.

I can thank two people for this: one, Dr. Maffetone for his stringent recommendation to ditch the stevia and creamer calling that junk food, and two, me! I wanted to be more of a coffee snob and I think that requires actually tasting the coffee lol. 

3) I drink 50/50 caf/decaf, most the time. If I'm at home it's a 50/50 blend. The caffeine beans are usually a bag I get from Laguna Coffee Co, and decaf is the Bulletproof brand that I bought in bulk on sale. I grind my beans regularly so they're fresh, and I store each kind in separate containers in a dark, cool area. That said if I'm traveling or something special is going on I'll go 100% caffeine.

4) I am also mixing up how I brew coffee. I'll still use the coffee maker if I'm really lazy, but I'm now incorporating a french press and you can surely taste the difference; it's better! The cleanup is a biatch though. Next up I'll start doing the pour-over method.

Lastly: Do I do Bulletproof coffee? (Because I know you're wanting to ask lol.) Sometimes I do, not often though, and my own versions. I don't like it with butter, so that's out. But I will add coconut oil and/or MCT oil with cinnamon, especially if I am having it pre-workout and not eating until after training. I don't blend it, I just stir in the oil(s). Or, I also occasionally have coffee with a packet of UCAN, mixed in a shaker bottle, either the plain or vanilla protein, and the vanilla tastes like heaven. If I add the plain I *may* splurge and add a bit of stevia.

*While So Delicious creamer is the lesser of most evils as far as coffee creamers go, it still has extra crap we just don't need: DRIED CANE SYRUP, COLORED WITH TITANIUM DIOXIDE, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, CARRAGEENAN, GUAR GUM.
Yup, no thanks.

So that's my coffee story. Thoughts? Suggestions? How do you take yours?


  1. Stevia is junk food now? What to do if you need to sweeten your coffee a little bit? Real sugar?

    Right now I'm basically whole milk and 1 packet organic stevia, sometimes Splenda if I have too.

    1. Hey! I'll admit, I don't take as extreme of a stance as Maffetone on stevia, but it still is a processed item--just the lesser of most evils. I know I personally needed to cut way back on stevia and not have the addiction to it like I did. It's good to get used to not needing it all the time, same with sugar. Chris Kelly holds the same thoughts on stevia. I questioned both them on what to use to replace it and the answer is nothing; certainly not real sugar. This approach actually works and it has for me. As I said, I still keep stevia around and occasionally I'll have it in something but it's rare and I don't feel like I need it. I still have sweet things like dark chocolate, certain bars, UCAN or protein powders that have some stevia, whole food sources like fruit, honey, or an indulgent treat--the idea being, just don't get addicted to any of those things!

    2. Interesting. Well, I guess we just can't have nice things. Just black coffee.....yikes. I'm going to give it a go and see. I think I really cut back on the sweeteners, I used to do like 3 splenda, and now I can do 1 packet of Stevia. I did try using honey or agave for a while, but that's messy. Thanks!

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  3. Thanks for sharing your coffee transformation Tawnee. How do you feel about agave as a sweetener? I go back and forth between real sugar and agave in my coffee.

  4. I would highly recommend using a burr grinder! It will give you more consistent grind size and you can dial in the grind for different methods as you please. The typical order of operations for great coffee is 1-fresh beans, 2-burr grinder, 3-high quality hardware (press, pour-over, etc).

    Love the show!

    1. Eric,

      How funny.... before you even wrote this comment, my fiance John bought the Burr grinder and I got the pour-over set up going as well. I need to write a follow-up to this post because our coffee is on another level now with the gadgets and systems we have going on!!! Thanks for chiming in.


  5. Hey Tawnee... check out the aero press. french press taste ( even better because you don't get any grinds in the cup ), cheap, and easy cleanup. good for travel too...