I’ll admit to a lifelong coffee addiction. I drink it strong, black, and unsweetened.
We buy ours from our local food co-op—fair-trade, organic French Roast—and grind it fresh for every pot.
I will say also that coffee contradicts many of my values. I stay far away from other addictive substances. I certainly don’t grow it myself and my consumption doesn’t support local agriculture.
And yet, drinking lots of coffee—as much as 3-5 or more cups per day—has been associated with numerous health benefits: a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke; less depression, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia; Parkinson’s disease, some forms of breast cancer, and liver cancer.
But [sigh], it’s important to note that the medical research supporting these health benefits consists largely of “observational” studies, which can’t declare a definite cause-and-effect relationship between coffee drinking and lowered risk of these chronic diseases.
So, from a health perspective, good science says the jury’s still out on coffee drinking. But strong coffee and the spent grounds have a lot of other uses. For example:
Cook with it. You can use some of that leftover morning coffee to add depth and complexity to almost any marinade, gravy, sauce, frosting, or as as part of the liquid in a soup, stew, fruit smoothie, or dessert. Add a tablespoon or two of freshly ground coffee beans to a cake, cookie, or brownie batter (coffee has a special affinity for chocolate). Look online for thousands of recipes that use coffee as an ingredient, such as these:
Freeze leftover coffee for iced drinks or to thaw for cooking. Just pop into ice-cube trays and freeze.Then remove the cubes and store in a zippered plastic bag.
Use it in the garden. Coffee grounds have some plant-supporting nutrients; research has found they offer some protection against several plant diseases. Add to your compost pile, stir them into topsoil, or sprinkle a light layer around plants. They may help repel slugs and domestic cats from digging in your garden. Here’s advice from an expert.
Evenly disperse small seeds such as carrots, lettuce, and various herbs by mixing a few dried coffee grounds with the seeds before planting.
Exfoliate, tone skin. Simply rub a handful of spent coffee grounds over face and body. Add a bit of olive oil to the grounds for a smoother finish. You can add a handful of coffee grounds to improve the results from a facial scrub or hair conditioner.
Treat hair. For an instant shine, rub coffee grounds through damp hair after shampooing, or add a few grounds to your hair conditioner, then rinse. The coffee grounds will darken light hair.
Darken hair or cover gray temporarily. Dip freshly washed hair into a bowl of strong, dark coffee; squeeze out, use a cup to pour coffee through hair repeatedly. Pin it up under a large plastic bag for half an hour. Then rinse hair and dry as usual. For a more dramatic coloring, make a thick paste of instant coffee or finely ground beans with hot water and apply the paste to sections of hair. Pin up under a large plastic bag for half an hour, then rinse.
Give fabrics an antique look. Here are instructions for aging an inexpensive white or tan cotton garment or swath of fabric. You can use a pot of strong black coffee instead of the grounds.
Control wood-ash dust. Sprinkle the morning’s coffee grounds on ashes before scraping them from your stove or prepare to empty the ash pan.
Deodorize closets, car interiors, fridge, and microwave. To remove stale or musty odors fill an empty butter tub with coffee grounds, punch holes in the cover and set the tub in your closet, car, or fridge. Alternatively, tie up a cup of spent or fresh coffee grounds in a pantyhose leg and hang on a hook in a closet or pantry.
Hide scratches in dark wooden furniture. Use a Q Tip dipped in strong black coffee to swab small scratches in dark-stained wood. For larger areas, make a paste of finely-ground fresh beans or instant coffee and a little hot brewed coffee, brush paste over area, let dry, brush off excess.
Remove stubborn stains. Use a wet coffee filter and a few spent grounds to scrub the stains from ceramic coffee or tea cups. Sometimes a few coffee grounds and a stiff scrub brush will clean up burned-on food or grease from pots and pans.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.