Obviously, cream with coffee tastes great. As far as I’m concerned that’s reason enough but there are other good reasons to put cream in your coffee and that’s not how I originally came to making it a mainstay of my morning cup.
I have never really done well with black coffee, although that’s the way I drank it for a long time due to perpetually watching my caloric intake. Black coffee was always a little rough on my stomach. In retrospect, with the wisdom that comes from nearly 40 years of daily consumption, the reason might have been because I was drinking cheap, crappy coffee. I clearly recall actually buying ground, generic coffee one time because it was the cheapest thing on the grocery store shelf, so I know of what I speak. I think it was about a buck a pound when Folgers was about four.
My college diving coach told me that there were only three things that your stomach didn’t like: orange juice, black pepper, and black coffee – and that sounds reasonable to me, so I am not going to fact check it – but for a lot of years, it didn’t matter to me: I had a cast iron stomach, and I wanted abs, so it was always black coffee in my cup.
By the time I hit my mid-twenties, the years of acidity finally started catching up with me. I started taking skim milk (always watching those calories!) or even with some of those wretched powders in it just to take the edge off. Then we discovered the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils and that eliminated all the non-dairy creamers for me. As an aside, they are called non-dairy creamers for a reason: there’s no dairy in them! They are not “creamers”; they are “lighteners.” They “lighten” the color of your coffee, and if you look at some vending machines you will see… Okay… that’s really a story for another time and another soapbox. I will link to it when I finally write it.
So, fast forward to a couple of years ago. Unhappy with the amount of extra weight I was carrying, I did some research into what is called a ketogenic diet. But first, pay attention to this disclaimer:
This is not medical advice and I am not a doctor; I’m just some smart aleck who likes coffee. See your healthcare professional before you engage in any weight loss program.
The idea of a ketogenic diet is that while your body usually runs on carbohydrates, by eating a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet, you force it to run on fats. Since you have few carbohydrates in your system, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies which pass into the brain, replacing glucose as the brain’s energy source. This allows you to continue living.
Anyhow, I was pleased with the progress I was having with the ketogenic diet, and you know how it is when you buy a new car and you see the same model everywhere you go? Well, I started hearing all about ketogenic this and ketogenic that… including Bulletproof Coffee. A whole industry has grown up surrounding this but the upshot is that this is a very specific type of low-mold coffee put together with grass fed butter and the mysterious MCT Oil (Medium-Chain Triglycerides for all us science nerds) and whipped up into an emulsification that can help you get into and/or keep you in a ketogenic state. Well, this sounded reasonable to me – I think I heard about it on Joe Rogan – but, really? Butter? Then I remembered a lesson from the Little House on the Prairie books – butter is just cream that has been churned. Heavy cream and fractionated coconut oil (most of the long-chain triglycerides have been separated out, leaving mostly medium) seemed a better combo to me. To be fair, I did lose about 20 pounds over the course of six weeks but the best thing I took from the experiment was my discovery of the joy that is heavy cream in my coffee. Couple that with the availability of reasonably priced quarts at the Costco and I had no problem dumping it in my coffee every single morning.
And I still do.
Now before anybody gets all “But Saturated Fats!” on me, it’s time to highlight some of the current research: It’s not dietary fats that are making you fat and contributing to your heart disease, it’s sugar and refined carbs. I’m looking at you, pumpkin spice milkshake pretending to be a coffee drink-acchino. This study showed that low dietary fat intake was associated with increased abdominal fat in men. Moreover, it showed that increased dietary fat intake was actually related to decreased abdominal fat. Is this because it reduces insulin resistance? I am not sure (remember, not a doctor), but there is ample, recent research that hints at it. This other study implied that a diet including full-fat dairy products actually protects you from cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Not only are saturated fats not dangerous, they are actually good for you! I am fully aware that I might be suffering from confirmation bias: only finding research that backs up a conclusion I have already made, but you have to admit, the evidence is compelling. Feel free to join me in my little Heavy Cream Reality Bubble (TM). Maybe I should set up HeavyCreamRealityBubble.com…
All that being said, the key characteristic heavy cream brings to the table is FLAVOR. It just makes your coffee taste better. Back when I was growing up in the late-Jurassic Period, we were taught that there were 4 tastes: sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. “They” have since added umami (Japanese for “yummy”), which is a savory taste, and there are taste scientists who believe that “fat” is a sixth taste modality. Although this is still a point of contention, fat is certainly at the minimum a flavor transport mechanism and I can definitely tell when fat is in my mouth. I can taste the difference between coffee with skim milk, whole milk, half-and-half, and heavy cream – and I bet you can, too. Don’t get me wrong: I am perfectly willing to drink coffee with skim milk if that is all that is offered but you can bet that there is heavy cream in my fridge right now and when I hit a Starbucks or other cafe for a caffeine hit, I ask for that magical substance they keep in the small refrigerator behind the counter.