Event: A day in the life of a coffee tester, plus: How healthy is coffee?

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A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that coffee drinkers live longer than those who abstain.

If that’s true, Kevin West is going to live a long, long, life.

As the lead coffee tester for Tim Hortons, he tastes a whopping 200 to 300 cups a day‘well, not including the five cups he drinks outside of his job description (you know, just for kicks).

West and his team are a lucky bunch: They get to spend each day in a roasting facility that smells deliciously of fresh-roasted coffee from around the world. And then, they get to drink it.

I got the opportunity to join them for the day, and now I’m at home, craving coffee more than I should be in the late afternoon.

The 74,000 square foot facility in Ancaster, Ontario, houses up to 10,000 bags of green coffee beans at one time, where they wait to be evaluated by West and his team. The goal? Maintain the flavour of Tims’ trademark coffee.

After going through the roasting process, the coffee ends up in the lab to be studied, and eventually in the tasting room, where West tastes his daily hundreds of cups. It is there that West tells us about coffees’ various flavour profiles: chocolaty, lemony, woodsy’the list goes on.

‘Coffee has more than 1,000 different flavours,’ he says.

I guess my palate isn’t that discerning, because I can only taste a slight difference between the six different coffees we test.

Coffee has as many compounds that could potentially affect health as it does flavour profiles.
The most obvious (and most studied) compound is caffeine.

Conflicting studies makes it difficult to decide whether it’s good or bad for our health’but luckily for West and his team, the latest research agrees it’s the former.

Moderate (for clarification, moderate is a lot less than what West drinks daily) coffee consumption has been shown to have a few health benefits. It may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, gallstones, colon cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and improve cognitive function. Recent studies have also shown that it may reverse memory loss and help prevent heart failure.

The health benefits are plentiful, but there are also other things to consider. Moderation is key, as is avoiding additives like cream and sugar. For some people (me included) too much coffee can also increase anxiety levels and make it difficult to sleep.

As much as I love coffee, I love sleeping more. And I doubt I’d get my beauty rest after a 300 cup tasting day (West says he’s never been a good sleeper, but it’s not because of the coffee’hmm).

Still, there’s nothing quite like a warm, comforting cup in the morning, when I’m half asleep and in need of a pick-me-up.

What do you think? Could you be a coffee tester for a living? Do you drink coffee daily?

-Katharine Watts, Associate Web Editor

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