Is coffee really that good for us?

Amanda Woodard


written on November 8, 2017

There are two streams of thought. Either way it’s a ritual that can get you through the day.

The highlight of my day is always sitting down at work to enjoy my first coffee of the day in peace. There I’ve said it. Coffee is what makes it all bearable – whatever lies ahead or whatever has gone before.

Since I discovered reusable keepcups, I also no longer feel guilty about sending all those disposable containers to landfill. And I’m highly motivated to only patronise those cafes who reduce the price of my coffee if I bring a keepcup along with me. In fact, I was dismayed to realise that my favourite cafe in Balmain has had this policy in place for years. I started to work out how much money I could have saved if I’d been using a keepcup from the get-go and gave up, it was too depressing.

But I could have saved myself a lot more. Our enlightened workplace now provides a swanky Nespresso Zenius machine which, despite my initial scepticism, serves rather fine coffee. Anything good enough for George Clooney can’t be bad for the rest of us, can it?

And sure enough, the research seems to agree – up to a point.

Coffee at work is good for you

Coffee, or rather the caffeine ingredient, helps to keep people alert as we all know, boosting the central nervous system to keep us productive. An MIT study from 2010 shows that coffee breaks taken together also adds to productivity, reinforcing people’s social groups, acting as a forum where ideas are exchanged and collaboration is cemented.

Even more importantly, coffee could make you live longer. A 2012 study from the New England Journal of Medicine is one of several that suggests that the more coffee you drink, the lower your risk of death. Another study from the US National Institute of Health showed that it also reduced chronic shoulder and neck pain among office workers who perform tasks on a computer for prolonged periods.

Even the smell of it is beneficial. Seoul National University research wafted the aroma of coffee in front of rats, and found that it stimulated proteins that protect nerve cells from stress damage. Coffee is calming, in other words.

Also for anyone on a diet, coffee is high in antioxidants, even more than some fruits, and increases your metabolic rate which means that fat is burned at a higher rate. Not enough to counteract the effect of that muffin, but nevertheless.

Coffee at work is bad for you

While it may be great to have the luxury of an onsite coffee maker at work, it may be wise to bring in your own cup and guard it with your life. Nearly all communal mugs in kitchens are filthy dirty even though they appear clean. And, horror of horrors, 20 per cent of cups had traces of E-coli bacteria that comes from faecal material, after they had been washed with an office sponge or cloth. This is according to a University of Arizona study from 1999.

If you want to avoid drinking your co-workers’ faecal bacteria, the author of the study, Charles Gerba, advised either taking your mug home each night and putting it through the dishwasher, or investing in a “small office cup washer”. Quite.

There is also the problem that coffee can disrupt sleep and cause anxiety or make it worse. Some individual can become overstimulated particularly if drinking coffee late in the day.

The smooth dark liquid is also pretty addictive and withdrawal symptoms can arise if you miss a daily dose or give it up. Headaches, irritability and tiredness have all been reported.

There is also some evidence from the US that people who metabolise caffeine slowly have an increased risk of heart attacks from drinking coffee.

So where do you sit on the daily tipple? Are we storing up trouble for the future or does a little of what you fancy do you good? HRM would love to hear your thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Is coffee really that good for us?

  1. Ah coffee….the elixir of life. I tried to go for a few days without coffee recently, just to see what happened. Nothing too terrible. But the aroma wafting to me as colleagues walked by, was just too much to take and I eventually caved – why deprive myself of one thing I look forward to? I think the ritual is definitely part of the draw for some people, and the social aspect is definitely a good one too. Last week had been a particularly hard one so I went and bought coffee for the team (don’t worry the tea drinkers didn’t miss out, I got them one too) and the resulting de-stressing conversations and banter made for a good end to the week. Maybe it’s less about the coffee itself, but the acknowledgement that from time to time, we need to get together and collaborate. If productivity is a by-product, then all the better!
    Enjoy your coffee everyone

  2. Great coments, Carrie. I agree with everything you say. Although I enjoy my coffees at the weekend, there’s something about coffee and colleagues and work environment that just …. works!

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