Comfort in a Cup: Hot Cocoa & Coffee

Hot cocoa and coffee deliver more than warmth and cozy comfort: they provide powerful antioxidants, give you energy, make you smarter, and put you in a good mood. So drink up!

Ancient Beans

Whether they knew it or not, the Mayans were on to something when they created a mixture of cocoa seed paste, water, cornmeal, and chili peppers, some 2000 years ago. Served cold, this bitter and spicy concoction became the go-to medicine against fatigue and bad mood in Aztec times. Leave it to the Europeans to sugar-coat things…. The Spaniards introduced cocoa to Europe in the 16th century, replaced chili peppers with sugar, and warmed things up for an exotic and healing beverage of the elite.

Later on, the Dutch created a more soluble and palatable cocoa powder, known today as Dutch-processed cocoa. The unsweetened cocoa powder has its natural acids neutralized with an alkali, resulting in a milder, less bitter flavor and a darker, richer color. Many baking recipes today call for Dutch-processed cocoa instead of raw unsweetened cocoa powder. Not only is Dutch-processed cocoa easier to dissolve but it also has less fat, as the process removes cocoa butter. The trade-off? Natural, unsweetened cocoa powder can deliver up to 90 percent more antioxidants than Dutch-processed.

Coffee beans

Coffee beans also started their journey into our everyday diets in ancient times, in Ethiopia – and thank goat for it! Legend has it that a goat herder noticed his kids eating berries from a certain tree and become even more rambunctious than their usual goat-like display of energy. He shared the discovery with a local abbot who made a drink out of the berries and noticed that he too couldn’t stand still after consuming the brew. The news and beans traveled to the Arabic peninsula, and made their way into Europe. As irony will have it, Venetians condemned it as being the bitter creation of Satan, even if the first brew was stirred by a clergy man. The Pope himself had to taste it to believe it. He was so pleased that he gave it his blessing, and the rest is history. By mid-17th century, coffee replaced the once common breakfast brews of the time: beer and wine. Coincidentally, productivity improved considerably!

Magical Beans

Both cocoa and coffee are very powerful little beans, leading the antioxidant pack in our modern-day diets. According to a study conducted at Cornell University, hot cocoa has almost twice the antioxidant concentration of red wine, three times that of green tea, and four to five times that of black tea. Moreover, heating up the brew releases more antioxidant power. Coffee provides powerful antioxidants both in its caffeinated and decaf versions. There are more antioxidants in freshly brewed coffee, which studies showed to be especially effective in battling liver, colon, and prostate cancer.

Coffee beans, roasting

Cocoa beans contain flavonoids which help the body process nitric oxide—in other words, drink hot cocoa and you’ll improve your blood flow, lower your blood pressure, and have a happier heart! Coffee is also good for the heart, reducing the risk of stroke by 20% in women who consume one or two cups of coffee per day. The flavonoids in your cup will also make you smarter, boosting your brain’s function and decreasing the risk of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.

If you have the winter blues, cocoa and coffee can help put you in a better mood. They both contain phenethylamine, a mood elevating neurotransmitter in the brain. Cocoa might also boost endorphins, which are responsible for the highs we feel after a good run or laughing out loud. Studies found that cocoa may boost serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that antidepressants target in order to boost overall happiness levels.

Cocoa will make you happy for other reasons too: it makes chocolate, for one, but also, in its raw form, cocoa is very rich in Magnesium and Sulphur, which are important in strengthening bones and nails, as well as in maintaining liver and pancreas health. Coffee also contains minerals such as Magnesium and Chromium which help regulate insulin levels, thus fighting type 2 diabetes and helping overall liver health.

Cocoa’s healing powers are nothing cough at: throughout the history, cocoa has been used for the treatment of bronchitis and as a cough suppressant. Rich in theobromine, a bitter-tasting alkaloid often associate with drugs like morphine and cocaine, cocoa is truly powerful. Theobromine means “the food of gods” in Greek (theon – gods + brôma – food) and it gives cocoa and chocolate extra healing powers. Theobromine affects the vagus nerve that connects the lungs to the brain, and it can relax the bronchi muscles in the lungs, thus inhibiting coughs.

Cocoa has a reputation for containing caffeine and chocolate is blamed for sleepless nights. However, the true culprit is again the theobromine. Like most alkaloids, theobromine has a stimulant effect similar to caffeine but ten times weaker. Coffee, on the other had does have caffeine and should be consumed in moderation by people with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, or who are prone to insomnia.

pretty white mug with hot coffee in the snow

Even if both coffee and cocoa have many health benefits, indulge in moderation and be especially careful when choosing additives such as sweeteners and dairy. Choose the dark cocoa powder, and limit the intake of added sugar and milk. One cup of plain coffee has only 2 calories, while adding one tablespoon of plain liquid nondairy creamer will add 25 calories and 2 g fat. Whipped cream is not good news, adding one tablespoons of whipped cream will add 90 calories and 9 g of fat. To cut calories, use skim or low-fat milk, or try soymilk. Instead of using sugar, try one of the natural, zero-calorie sweeteners like Stevia, which is a plant-based sweetener that won’t lose its sweetness when heated.

Keep in mind that chocolate will contain more fat from cocoa butter than a cup of hot cocoa. Two tablespoons of raw cocoa contain 25 calories and 1.5 g of fat, delivering 14 percent of the daily value of fiber, 8 percent of the DV of Iron, and 14 percent of the daily needed Magnesium. If you are reaching for a chocolate bar, go for the dark chocolate (the 70 percent is not too bitter, or even the 80 percent if you can stand it) and limit your intake to 100 g just to be on the safe side.

Delectable Beans

Coffee houses have been popular around the world since the 17th century. Today, due to its worldwide popularity, coffee is probably the greatest source of antioxidants in the global diet. Hot cocoa is found in different variations of spices and aromas around the world: from Mexican chili pepper, to Latin American cinnamon, British peppermint, African vanilla and honey, to Asia chai tea (a combination of hot tea and cocoa). […]

hot cocoa in green mug with red and white stripped scarf

Born from a passion for coffee and business, The Golden Roast Coffee House & Roastery [in Knoxville, TN] is taking a commodity like the coffee bean to another level, transforming each variety according to specific roasting recipes into flavorful and delectable beverages. Don Payne, the founder and owner of The Golden Roast saw the opportunity to create something special and seized it 19 years ago when a coffee shop and roaster became available to buy. “I’m a coffee drinker, I have always been interested in coffee. I am also a business owner so this was a perfect fit.”

“Each bean has a particular profile which dictates how it’s supposed to be roasted in order to bring up the best flavor in each variety,” shared Don. Roasters monitor both sound and smell to know when the beans are reaching the next level in the roasting process. When the beans first starts to roast they smell like freshly baked bread. The first crack sounds like popcorn, indicating that the coffee has reached the beginning stages of “light roast”. The second crack indicates a darker roast and it sounds more like a snap, similar to Rice Krispies when you pour milk over them.

With each level of heat, the bean will lose moisture and some caffeine, while its oils will come to the surface. So a darker roast does not actually indicate a high caffeine content, and neither does a bitter taste. “Coffee should never taste bitter, like we have been conditioned to expect by some of the large chain coffee places. The bitterness usually occurs when a bean is over roasted,” says Don. “Roasting beans is truly an artisan skill: you have to learn to smell it and to see it. You check on the bean as it roasts, as it goes from green to beige to dark brown to dark chocolate brown. Good coffee is mellow on the palate and it varies in flavor intensity from mild to pungent.”

pink potted flower, magazine, and cup of coffee

Coffee goes beyond being a desirable morning and winter brew. […] Artisan coffee places are just the right avenue for fostering community. So get out of your house and step into a coffee house for a healthy hot brew and a good dose of companionship.

This article was first published in Cityview Magazine – Jan/Feb 2016.

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