Buettner has spent much of his career studying the world's Blue Zones: The five regions that contain the highest concentration of the longest-living people on earth. These include Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. Each Blue Zone has its own unique cultural customs, traditions, and environmental influences, but the five regions share a few characteristics in common. One is their eating habits: Folks living in the Blue Zones tend to follow a largely plant-based diet filled with fresh produce, beans, healthy fats, and whole grains; highly processed foods don't play a big role in their cuisine.
According to Buettner, another pronounced commonality shared by these locales was a consistent consumption of coffee, particularly Sardinia, Nicoya, and Ikaria. According to Buettner, this makes perfect sense, because coffee—generally speaking—has been found to be rich in antioxidants, which are key in protecting your cells from free radicals (and therefore chronic inflammation) that could contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other diseases that might abbreviate life expectancy. “Coffee can also improve your mood and lower your risk of chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer.”
Nutrition experts agree. "Coffee is known to contain antioxidant-rich polyphenols with anti-inflammatory benefits," nutrition expert Keri Gans, MS, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet, previously told Well+Good. "It has been linked to reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, scarring of the liver, colorectal cancer, and also heart disease." The caffeine in coffee also increases the stimulant norepinephrine as well as the chemical dopamine in your brain, which helps you stay focused and sharp as you age. Finally, a 2018 study of 500,000 people also showed that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of death—and that, surprisingly, the biggest reduction in mortality was found in people who drank six to seven cups per day. (Considerably more than the four-cup-per-day cutoff that doctors often recommend.) Since this was true for both caffeinated and decaf coffee drinkers, other coffee compounds seem to be responsible for lengthening lifespan—likely, this means the antioxidants.
While all coffee has potent health benefits to offer, Buettner highlights one particular type of coffee that has an edge of others when it comes to longevity: Ikarian coffee, otherwise known as Greek coffee.
Ikarian coffee benefits for longevity
“Ikarian coffee, or Greek coffee, is lightly roasted and finely ground,” Buettner explains. “The fine grind delivers more concentrated antioxidants, which is one key health benefit. Ikarian coffee is also boiled instead of getting brewed and filtered, which extracts more of the healthy compounds in the coffee. And finally, the resulting cup of coffee will contain less caffeine than a typical American cup of coffee." Less caffeine translates to less of the unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects of caffeine overdose, such as anxiety, jitters, elevated blood pressure, headaches, muscle tremors, and insomnia. "It's also important to mention that Greek coffee is delicious,” Buettner adds.
How to make Ikarian coffee
“Ikarians boil their coffee instead of brewing it,” Buettner says. “Although this method is commonly known as ‘Turkish coffee,’ it’s used in Greece, the Middle East, and in other parts of the world.” And the process is more art than anything else.
To get a bit more (ahem) granular, when making Ikarian coffee, water gets boiled directly with the finely ground beans. This results in a foamy, rich, and naturally creamy beverage. Given the consistency of the grounds, these beans can be consumed directly rather than filtered out, which may allow you to ingest even more of the direct benefits associated with coffee.
“The process starts with a small pot called a briki,” says Buettner. “You add water and coffee to the briki—or, if you don’t have one, a saucepan—and stir until the grounds are dissolved.” The next step involves slowly bringing the coffee and water mixture to a boil, and once you see foam on top, removing the mixture from the heat.
“Evenly divide the foam between coffee cups, then pour in remaining coffee over top,” Buettner says. “Be sure to wait for the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup before drinking.”
While many of us limit ourselves to a single cup of coffee in the morning or the afternoon, this coffee ritual is one that many residents of Ikaria partake in multiple times a day. Given that coffee is considered a social beverage, Ikarian coffee is often consumed with friends several times a day in small portions. “Folks who indulge in this habit sip their coffee slowly with family and friends, at the table, or in social cafe settings, rather than downing a mug for energy in the early hours of the day," Buettner says. This makes sense, as maintaining strong social connections and being mindful of the important of rest is another key commonality among residents living in the Blue Zones.
Of course, while coffee of the Ikarian variety might be better for you than most, it does not maintain a monopoly on health benefits among coffees. Indeed, given that coffee contains caffeine, just about any bean will come with the benefits outlined above. “Caffeine is a natural stimulant that helps promote arousal, focus, and alertness,” explains Sahra Nguyen, founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply. As such, it comes as little surprise that 62 percent of Americans drink coffee every day.
So if you’re looking to mix up your coffee routine with a slightly more elevated version of your favorite beverage, consider switching out one (or more) of your daily cups for the Ikarian version. And given that Ikarian coffee and brikis are readily available on Amazon, getting a taste of the delicious brew is just a click away.
For more on the health benefits of coffee according to an RD, check out this video:
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