The Coffee Lover's Diet: A Light Roasting

Something is abrewin'.
Something is abrewin'. Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
Bob Arnot, M.D. wants you to change your coffee. He’s concerned you’re drinking too much dark roast, like most Americans, and piling it high with cream and sugar. He wants you to sip from the single-origin light-roasted beans of highly elevated locales in exotic places he’s visited and you haven’t — Ethiopia, Colombia, Kenya, Brazil. He wants you to shed that fat and diabetes. He wants you to change your life.

He also wants you to consume smoothies and mildly starve yourself at 1,500 calories a day, and to have you spend outrageous amounts of money on coffee equipment. That's pretty much the diet, along with downing four to five cups of single-origin light-roasted coffee per day. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford the monthly supply of adult diapers it would take to even try that diet, let alone purchase a good-enough hand-grinder from Williams-Sonoma.

But readers of the new book The Coffee Lover’s Diet won’t really find that all out until more than halfway in, long after they’ve slogged through arduous opening passages detailing double-blind experiments in coffee labs – big shock here: Coffee does perk you up. And strange, infomercial-like testimonials wherein people praise coffee for weight loss and its health benefits, the snippets arranged throughout the book as one might imagine, from the most exciting to the least: An Olympic kayaker, a New Jersey-based life coach, a middle-aged married couple from Orlando. I really hope there are actual informercials. I really hope there are matching sweater sets.

Maybe I’m just being the way I enjoy my coffee: cold and bitter. But if The Coffee Lover's Diet is mainly about starving yourself and drinking four to five cups of coffee a day, I don’t need the “Sample Days” or recommended nutrition to show me how I’ll go about it. I just need a pack of Camel Lights taped to the back insert of the book.

That’s where Dr. Bob comes in. Dr. Bob has discovered through his obsessive, borderline psychotic approach to coffee research that the beans contain phenols, anti-inflammatory antioxidant compounds that can help you lose weight and stay healthier. And cafestol, a “key fat” that helps the body make more insulin and use it more efficiently. Coffee helps you focus. Coffee helps you think. Coffee is a superfood. Coffee is the new red wine. But it’s only when you choose that single-origin light-roasted bean from high elevation (costly) and prepare it correctly (time-consuming and costly) that you get all the health effects (mental focus, improved athletic ability, white male privilege).

The book is, for the most part, as tone deaf as one might expect from a man whose own name sounds like an accusatory playground retort. He describes himself not only as a doctor, author and morning news show consultant, but as a “competitive Nordic skier, cyclist, marathoner, Ironman participant, alpine racer, and big-ocean stand-up paddler.” His account of attempting to climb Mount Kenya and then racing through an elephant preserve without getting trampled (or gored by a random buffalo, naturally), all the while having altitude sickness, is more eye-roll-inducing than it is Jon Krakauer-ian, and of course it’s just a foil for an obvious segue back into the coffee theme. There on the horizon, offering a respite and safety, a small village with an impeccable coffee program. His account of sneakily poring “over maps of Africa” as in some Toto video instead of paying attention to his third-grade English lesson is equally ridiculous. Hemingway this is not.

Besides, the book is not about white male privilege. It’s about coffee. It’s about the coffee lover’s diet. It’s about drinking four or five cups a day, throughout the day, to soak up all the health benefits of those polyphenols, and in that respect, the message of the book is, I admit it, a good one. He’s not making up false claims or anything. According to the Mayo Clinic, new research indicates that coffee does have many benefits, including fighting against Parkinson's, Type 2 diabetes and liver disease and helping with depression and cognitive function.
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Making the perfect pour requires a lot of charts.
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

By the time I reached the section in which Dr. Arnot suggests that folks on The Coffee Lover’s Diet purchase a water filtration system, kind of like the pros at Starbucks, so that your coffee always brews consistently, I couldn’t help but think of the people of Flint, Michigan, how they still cannot drink their own water because their city and state have failed them, and are still failing them as 8,000 Flint residents could lose their homes over unpaid water bills by next year. By the time Dr. Arnot reveals that he travels with his own coffee beans, electric grinder, Kalita Wave Dripper 185, Kalita 185 filters and Instant Immersion Heater to make coffee in his hotel room, my thoughts immediately drift to technology and isolation and gloom. If only he would just go downstairs, order a cup and talk to a barista. Hell, he could even go to Starbucks. Get a paper cup with his name misspelled on the side. Slob or Bub.

This book leaves me with questions. For one, has dark roast ever slid across Dr. Bob’s perfectly white veneers? Has he ever swished with that devil’s brew? But primarily, who exactly is this book for? Certainly not people with jumbo tubs of Folgers from Costco. Certainly not busy-ass parents with little money to spare on gadgetry kids could remove their fingers with. Certainly not lazy people like me. I’ve seen the book’s recipe section. I know how much blender clean-up that’s going to entail.

The Coffee Lover’s Diet is the second dietary-restriction self-helper from Dr. Arnot. He brought the world The Aztec Diet, which as far as I can tell is responsible for causing that surge in chia seed sales a few years ago. I guess traveling with coffee gear is a bit more exciting than traveling with mason jars and seeds that turn to booger snots the moment a liquid touches them.

Athletes, I suppose, could benefit from reading this book. Dr. Bob suggests always having a cup of single-origin light-roasted coffee one hour before exercise. Then again, I remember drinking coffee with my teammates before early cross-country races in high school and college. I remember the port-a-lets.

Those who can’t sleep — if you just finished downing your fifth cup, perhaps — will find numerous charts and graphs to put them to sleep. Page 156, the SCAA Ideal Water Characteristics infographics, is particularly good.

Of course, there is beauty in this book too. There are myths and truths. There are questions and answers. A glossary helps you understand what the words eicosanoids and hydroxyhydroquinone mean. And there are small pockets of pure comedic genius that will stick with you long after you’ve finished. My personal favorite: a recipe for an Avocado With Lime And Salt that’s three paragraphs long.
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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.