Coffee and Ayurveda: what is the Ayurvedic view on coffee? And what kind of Ayurvedic properties does coffee have? Coffee is kind of controversial in health circles. Some sources say coffee is bad for you; others say coffee has many benefits. As always the Ayurvedic answer is more nuanced: whether coffee is good for you very much depends on a number of factors. (You didn’t think I would write a completely anti-coffee blog post, did you? ;-) )
Recent research about coffee consumption
Besides the much beloved caffeine, coffee contains hundreds of other bioactive compounds, including antioxidants. Recent research suggests drinking coffee has beneficial effects on heart disease, several types of cancers, liver disease, metabolic disease such as diabetes and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, negative health benefits in previous research has been invalidated when the studies were adjusted for smoking, meaning the negative health effects found were due to the participants smoking, and not to their drinking coffee! It was confirmed however that there are negative health benefits for those who are pregnant.
So drinking coffee has some proven benefits, but what does Ayurveda say about coffee? As always, each food can be a medicine or a poison, depending on the person eating or drinking it.
Ayurvedic properties of coffee
First of all let’s talk about the Ayurvedic properties of coffee. All foods have certain effects on the body and mind. In Ayurveda every food is described according to its taste, energy, aftertaste and special effects. And every one of the properties of a food is described in relation to the effect on your Ayurvedic mind-body type (dosha). That’s very simply explained how Ayurvedic nutrition works.
So what’s the deal with coffee and Ayurveda?
- Taste: pungent and bitter
- Energy: hot
- Post-digestive taste: pungent
- No special effects
- Dosha: VP+ K-
TIP: Does this sounds like Chinese to you? Read my intro on what is ayurveda and take the dosha test to know which Ayurvedic type you are!
The coffee gene
Recent research has found that there actually is a coffee gene.
If you have a greater expression of this gene it is more difficult for you to digest coffee. You will experience more negative symptoms after drinking it, so as a result you will drink less coffee. If you have a lesser expression of the gene you will digest coffee more easily and probably drink more of it.
Here’s a little self test. Which situation applies to you most?
Anxious and shaky
You get anxious and jittery easily after drinking coffee (excess Vata). If you have coffee in the afternoon you have difficulty falling asleep and sleeping through the night (excess Vata). You may get heart palpitations or high blood pressure after drinking it (excess Pita). It may cause diarrhea and/or heartburn when you drink it (excess Pita). You metabolise coffee slowly.
A good kick
You can have coffee with food. Coffee without food will likely give you the above symptoms; but if you have it with food you’re good! A cup of coffee will likely give you the exact kick that you need in the morning or afternoon. You digest coffee normally.
You drink coffee like water. Coffee never makes you feel shaky and you can drink all the coffee you want. You can drink it at night and still fall asleep easily. It promotes your digestion in a good way. You digest coffee easily.
Coffee and your Ayurvedic type
According to the Ayurvedic properties, coffee has the following effects on the Doshas: it is Vata and Pitta increasing, and Kapha reducing. This means that if your Dosha is Vata or Pitta dominant, you will likely like coffee very much (or its effects), but drinking it might bring your Doshas out of balance.
Coffee effects on Vata
Coffee increases Vata. Excess Vata dosha will cause or increase symptoms like restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and constipation.
You may think coffee helps you with your bowel movement, but it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s the same as with long term use of laxatives: when you use a laxative regularly, your natural bowel movement disappears and it only works with the laxative/coffee, making you completely dependent on it. Moreover, coffee is drying. Dryness in the colon leads to constipation, therefore increasing Vata even more.
Pitta and coffee
Coffee increases Pitta Dosha. Excess Pitta will cause or increase symptoms like heartburn and hyperacidity (stomach pains), ulcers, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart palpitations and diarrhoea. If you are experiencing some or all of these symptoms, it may be best to stay away from coffee for a few days.
Read more: 11 signs of aggravated Pitta
Coffee and Kapha Dosha
If you are Kapha dominant, coffee can be good for you! (in moderation, of course). Yay Kaphas! Coffee is a stimulant and it is drying. It will reduce lethargy, depression and low blood pressure; symptoms that kapha is sensitive to. Coffee will give you more energy and it may also help your digestion work better.
The right way to drink coffee
Never drink coffee on an empty stomach
Start your morning ritual with a big glass of lukewarm water to rinse the digestive system. You can add lemon or lime, depending on your constitution. This will get your Agni (digestive fire) going. It’s best to drink coffee after you’ve had breakfast, or with breakfast.
The best time to drink coffee
Drink your coffee between 6-10am, during Kapha time. Wait to have your coffee until after you’ve had your bowel movement. Avoid drinking coffee in the afternoon, as it can impact your sleep quality and increase difficulty to fall asleep. If you are slumping in the afternoon, try a short yoga nidra session instead. And if you find that you are constantly depleted around 3pm, it’s maybe time to examine your lifestyle and daily habits a bit more closely.
Choose organic coffee
Regular coffee is highly likely to contain pesticides, which will increase ama (toxins) in your system. The effects of coffee depend also on the type of beans, where the beans come from, the roast,… the darker the roast, the more antioxidants. So it is best to choose a dark roast organic coffee*.
Did you know that coffee itself is actually a pesticide? The caffeine in coffee will kill or repel insects that dare to eat the seeds. You’ll also notice that other plants don’t like to grow close to the coffee plant, as it uses its poison to kill other plants and get more access to sunlight.
Coffee and spices
To make coffee more easily digestible for you as Vata or Pitta you can add spices like cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla or ginger.
Coffee and milk
Adding cow’s milk (full fat, always organic, without additives) or a plant based milk* is also a good idea. Bring on the latte or cappuccino!
Ayurvedic bulletproof coffee
And you can go for a bulletproof coffee and add ghee* (clarified butter). Clarified butter is more easily digestible than regular butter because it doesn’t contain any lactose or casein. If you are vegan you can also make your coffee bulletproof with organic extra virgin coconut oil*.
Drink a glass of water to rehydrate
As coffee is so drying, drink a glass of water after your cup of coffee to rehydrate and balance the drying effects on your colon.
How much coffee should you drink per day?
What’s the optimal amount of coffee to drink to get the benefits, but avoid the negative side effects? The answer is simple: one cup per day, even for Kapha. If you are experiencing any Vata or Pitta imbalance symptoms after drinking coffee, you should drink 0 cups. Sorry!
If you are currently way over the one cup per day, reduce your daily intake of coffee gradually to avoid coffee withdrawal symptoms like headaches. It takes 3 weeks of no coffee to get rid of the effects of coffee on your system.
Coffee and Ayurveda tips for Vata, Pitta and Kapha
Coffee tips for Vata
Vata is dry, cold and light. Adding sweetness and creaminess will balance coffee for Vatas and provide more grounding. Adding warming spices like cinnamon or cardamom will also help. See the recipe for bulletproof cardamom coffee below, which is excellent for Vata.
Coffee tips for Pitta
Pitta has sour and heating qualities. Whether you are drinking your coffee cold or hot does not make a difference! To balance the heating qualities, add some coconut milk to your coffee. Sweeten your coffee with an unrefined cane sugar*, unrefined coconut sugar* or maple syrup* to counter the acidity of the coffee. Use cardamom (cooling) but not ginger or cinnamon to spice your coffee (too heating).
Coffee tips for Kapha
Kaphas should drink their coffee black. No sweeteners, no dairy, no coconut oil because those will further increase Kapha imbalances.
Ayurvedic alternatives to coffee
Choose green tea
Try a green tea instead of coffee. It’s also chock full of antioxidants, uplifting, and has a longer, slower release effect than coffee.
Try a herbal alternative
I’ve tried many different alternatives, and I like chicory coffee* best. There are some grain and mushroom coffee alternatives* too, but these might not be suitable for everybody. I find I sometimes just need the coffee ritual and the bitter taste of coffee (Pitta pacifying) but don’t necessarily want the caffeine so in this case a coffee alternative like chicory coffee might work for you.
Add an adaptogen to your diet
We often grab for coffee when we’re feeling low in the afternoon, but it just means our body at that time is depleted. Using an adaptogen like Ashwaganda* or Shatavari* to reduce the negative effects of stress might help. As always, herbs and other natural medicine are not supposed to counter an unsuitable and unhealthy lifestyle and are not meant to be taken daily over a longer period of time!
Try this for constipation
If you’re dependent on coffee to have your bowel movement, you can try taking a magnesium* supplement, or add Triphala* to your diet. And remember, the perfect poo is constituted of the right amount of insoluble fiber, water and oil. If you’re constipated, you might have to experiment with adding more of one of these ingredients!
And if you’re still after a cup of coffee after reading all this, try one of these Ayurvedic coffee recipes!
Ayurvedic coffee recipes
For better digestion of your morning coffee, try one of these Ayurvedic coffee recipes!
Bulletproof cardamom coffee
Take a cardamom pod* and crush it with the flat side of a knife so it opens.
Put the whole pod in a cup. (If you don’t have pods you can sprinkle 1/8 tsp cardamom powder in your cup.)
Pour coffee in your cup.
Add half a teaspoon of coconut oil or ghee and stir.
Another of my favourites:
Warm some coconut milk* and whip it so it becomes frothy.
Pour coffee in your cup.
Add the coconut milk froth.
Sprinkle some cinnamon* on top or stir your coffee with a cinnamon stick*. A tradition here in Portugal (albeit a disappearing one).