What Ayurveda Tells Us About Drinking Coffee
For many people, coffee is an indispensable part of the day. Infused with a sharp, deep flavor, many enjoy it not only for the caffeine but also for its taste. From coffee-flavored cakes to espresso martinis, coffee has assumed a powerful position in our culinary palates, whether or not we actually drink it.
We tend to view coffee as a general and universal energy-booster, helpful for anyone who needs a quick pick-me-up. However, as some will attest, coffee certainly doesn’t work for everyone; if you’ve ever felt jittery, stressed or anxious after drinking a cup (or even a few sips) of coffee, you’ll understand what we mean.
An Ayurvedic perspective can help us understand the reasons for these differences. Contrary to popular culture, in Ayurveda, coffee is not a universal cure. While it is beneficial to some, it can aggravate and send others into states of imbalance.
In this blog, we break down some of the fundamentals about coffee according to Ayurvedic tradition, which can help you understand how to best use (or avoid) coffee for your individual constitution and needs.
Benefits & Qualities of Coffee
In addition to its stimulating, energy-boosting capacities, coffee also contains a number of health benefits. Because of its polyphenol content, coffee has powerful antioxidant properties, which can enable it to combat the free radical damage that can cause disease and aging effects. (However, these polyphenols tend to be depleted during the roasting process, and so the potential antioxidants of coffee depend in part on the type of roast and how it is prepared.) In addition, nutrition experts suggest that coffee can protect against conditions like heart failure, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer and stroke. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that coffee can improve cognitive function and potentially lower rates of depression.
Within Ayurvedic tradition, coffee is considered bitter, astringent and drying, which means it boosts air and fire elements. As such, coffee thus increases Vata and Pitta. Despite the benefits of coffee, then, it’s important to understand how coffee interacts with one’s individual constitution. Furthermore, regardless of one’s dosha, coffee must be consumed in moderation to avoid its negative effects.
Coffee and the Doshas
The qualities of coffee interact with each dosha differently.
Since Vata is airy, cold and mobile, coffee tends to overstimulate and increase Vata. Vata tends to have a more delicate digestive system—so if you’re Vata-dominant and you use coffee to stimulate a bowel movement, it is recommended to switch over to something more mild and soothing, like ginger tea or a triphala supplement.
Pitta is considered hot, light and acidic, so coffee also tends to exacerbate Pitta. When consumed, it can cause an overproduction of acid and inflammation. For Pittas, it’s best to avoid coffee when possible.
Fortunately for Kapha, which is heavy, slow and soft, coffee provides an effectively-stimulating source of energy. Compared to Vata and Pitta, Kapha is most amenable to coffee, whose bitter and astringent qualities can balance out some of its heaviness.
How to Use Coffee Effectively
For Vatas and Pittas who love coffee, it is still possible to consume coffee in a balanced way. In particular, it is most suitable to drink coffee during Kapha season, when qualities of heaviness and stagnation increase. In addition, adding cardamom or a healthy fat source to your coffee can help alleviate some of its overstimulating, anxiety-inducing effects.
However, if you find that coffee is not suitable for your constitution, there are also a number of ways to reduce or eliminate your dependence on coffee for a boost of energy. Making sure you get adequate sleep, switching to non-caffeinated teas or green and black teas (which have less caffeine than coffee) and taking energy-boosting, adaptogenic supplements can all help you curb your reliance on coffee.