Although I like my morning coffee with a generous pour of half-an-half, I appreciate black coffee and admire those who enjoy drinking it straight.

Black coffee is a widely consumed beverage around the world. Of course, it also serves as the base for many coffee-based drinks.

Although black coffee is low in calories, it contains caffeine and some nutrients. It may even offer a variety of health benefits.

This article reviews black coffee, how to make it, and its potential benefits and downsides.

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Black coffee is a beverage made from roasted coffee beans. The beans are ground and soaked in water, which releases their flavor, color, caffeine content, and nutrients. Although coffee is often served hot, it can also be served iced.

In many countries, including the United States, coffee is typically enjoyed with breakfast. It’s favored in the mornings because its caffeine content offers stimulating effects that may help people feel more awake (1).

Many people add creamer, milk, half-and-half, sugar, or sweetener to their coffee to make it creamy, reduce the bitter flavor, or both. Black coffee is also used as the base of many drinks, including cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos.

There are many varieties of black coffee. For example, the type depends on the origin of the beans and how they’re roasted. You can also purchase decaffeinated coffee, which is made by chemically processing roasted coffee beans to extract their caffeine content.

How to make it

The only two things you need to make black coffee are ground coffee and water.

You can grind your own beans from whole, roasted coffee beans, or you can purchase pre-ground coffee. Because so many varieties of coffee are available, it may take some time and experimentation to find which ones best suit your taste buds.

Once you’ve chosen your preferred type of ground coffee, there are several ways to brew it. Here are some of the most common ways:

  • Pour-over or drip. Hot water is poured over ground coffee in a paper filter, and brewed coffee drips into the pot below. Most electric countertop coffee pots are pour-over style. You can also purchase hourglass-shaped flasks that use cone-shaped filters.
  • French press. Hot water and ground coffee steep in a pitcher for a few minutes. Then, a plunger is slowly pushed down into the pitcher, forcing brewed coffee up while keeping the grounds trapped below. Many people claim this method releases the most flavor.
  • Percolator. Coffee and water are placed in the bottom of a specialized two-chamber pot on the stove. As the water boils, it’s forced up through the coffee grinds, and brewed coffee collects in the upper chamber. This method is commonly used for espresso.
  • Coffee pods. Coffee pods can be used in automatic beverage machines like those from Keurig or Nespresso. You can also purchase a reusable coffee pod and fill it with your own coffee for a more eco-friendly option.
  • Instant coffee. Instant coffee refers to coffee crystals that can be mixed into water. It’s made by drying brewed coffee, eliminating the need to remove coffee grounds. While it’s convenient, most people agree that it’s not the tastiest way to enjoy black coffee.
  • Iced. Iced coffee can be made from coffee brewed with any method. The coffee is chilled and typically served over ice.
  • Cold brew. Cold water and ground coffee is left to brew in the refrigerator, often overnight. You can strain it using a filter, cheesecloth, or French press. Cold brew coffee generally tastes smoother and is higher in caffeine given the long brew time (2, 3).
Summary

Black coffee is made by brewing roasted coffee beans in water. It’s consumed worldwide and a popular morning beverage in the United States. There are many ways to brew it.

One cup (240 mL) of black coffee provides (4):

  • Calories: 2
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Caffeine: 96 mg
  • Riboflavin: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Niacin: 3% of the DV
  • Thiamin: 3% of the DV
  • Potassium: 3% of the DV

Keep in mind, though, that depending on the brew time, cold brew coffee may have significantly more caffeine than 96 mg per cup (240 mL) (5).

Coffee also contains small amounts of other vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, the latter of which are beneficial plant compounds. One of these is chlorogenic acid, which may offer some health benefits like fighting inflammation and stabilizing blood sugar levels (6).

Of course, the nutrient and polyphenol contents can vary depending on the brand, type of coffee, and how it was brewed.

Summary

Black coffee is low in calories and contains small amounts of several vitamins and minerals, along with plant compounds like caffeine and chlorogenic acid.

Drinking coffee offers several potential benefits.

Could help prevent cancer

Some evidence shows that drinking coffee may reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer.

One review of 28 studies on coffee and cancer risk found that the more coffee the study participants drank, the lower their risk of liver cancer and endometrial cancer (7).

Another review observed similar findings but also reported that coffee might reduce colorectal cancer risk. However, this study likewise noted that coffee had no effect on overall cancer risk (8).

Nevertheless, more studies are needed to fully understand how drinking coffee may affect cancer risk.

Might protect against neurodegenerative conditions

Coffee is widely used to promote alertness. In fact, the caffeine it contains is considered a nootropic, or a cognition- or brain-enhancing substance.

For this reason, many researchers speculate whether the beverage could protect against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.

One observational study in 360 people found that coffee appeared to protect against the progression of Parkinson’s disease (9).

Additionally, a study of observational data examined the coffee intake of over 2,500 people ages 60 and older. It associated caffeinated coffee with increased mental performance. However, no such benefits were found with decaf coffee (10).

A large review found that coffee didn’t appear to increase the risk of cognitive decline. Still, neither did it find a strong link between coffee and a decreased risk of cognitive decline (11).

Furthermore, another review found an association between coffee intake and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (12).

As such, more high quality research is needed to better understand how coffee might affect the risk of neurodegenerative conditions.

Could prevent cirrhosis

Coffee appears to offer some protection against liver cancer and liver cirrhosis, a type of late stage chronic liver disease characterized by fibrosis. Fibrosis is the scarring and eventual death of liver tissue.

Several studies have noted how coffee intake may improve liver health. For example, one study in people with liver disease found that those who drank 4 cups (960 mL) of coffee per day were less likely to develop liver cirrhosis than those who didn’t drink coffee (13).

Plus, in one article, a doctor shares that he prescribes 2–4 cups (480–960 mL) of drip coffee per day to his liver disease patients. He claims that this helps slow the disease’s progression into cirrhosis (13).

It’s speculated that caffeine could be behind coffee’s promising liver health benefits. Still, more research is needed (13).

Can improve mood and concentration

Black coffee is widely used for energy. I personally feel more awake after I have my first cup of coffee in the morning.

One study in 59 adults compared the effects of regular coffee, decaf coffee, and a placebo drink on mood and brain function (1).

Regular coffee was found to decrease reaction time and increase alertness compared with the placebo. It also increased test accuracy and decreased tiredness and headaches more than decaf coffee did (1).

However, decaf coffee drinkers also reported higher alertness levels than those in the placebo group. This suggests that decaf coffee can have a placebo effect of its own, or that compounds in coffee other than caffeine may contribute to its cognitive effects (1).

Might reduce diabetes risk

Coffee consumption may also help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

For example, one review found that drinking 3–4 cups (720–960 mL) of coffee per day could protect against type 2 diabetes, possibly due to the drink’s content of caffeine and chlorogenic acid (14).

Impressively, a large review of 28 studies including over 1.1 million participants found a clear dose-dependent response between coffee intake and type 2 diabetes risk (15).

While people who never or rarely consumed coffee had the highest risk of type 2 diabetes, the risk decreased with each additional cup (240 mL) of coffee consumed per day, all the way up to 6 cups (1.4 liters) per day (15).

These researchers also found that drinking decaf coffee reduced diabetes risk. This suggests that compounds other than just caffeine may play a key role when it comes to this promising benefit (15).

However, it’s important to note that adding sugar to black coffee or drinking other sugary coffee drinks likely cancel out any diabetes-fighting effects you may derive from coffee (16, 17).

Other potential benefits

Coffee intake offers several other potential benefits, such as:

  • Weight loss. Drinking coffee may provide a slight boost to your metabolic rate, or the calories you burn at rest. This could help you lose weight and burn fat. There’s also some evidence that coffee may act as an appetite suppressant (18).
  • Exercise-performance enhancer. Caffeine boosts energy and may improve physical performance. One review associated caffeine intake with better muscle endurance and strength, more power during strength training, and improved cardio endurance (19).
  • Antioxidant-rich. Coffee provides antioxidant levels similar to those of fruits and vegetables, which likely explains many of its health benefits (20).
Summary

Black coffee may provide an energy boost and improve mental function. It may also reduce your risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, liver cirrhosis, and type 2 diabetes.

Black coffee doesn’t appear to have many downsides when consumed in moderation.

However, too much caffeine — whether from coffee or other beverages like sodas and energy drinks — can cause uncomfortable side effects like insomnia, anxiety, rapid heart rate, stomach upset, headache, and nausea (21).

Generally, healthy adults should try to stick to 400 mg of caffeine per day or less. If the only caffeinated drink you have is coffee, that’s about 4 cups (960 mL) (21).

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, limit your caffeine intake to about 200 mg per day (2 cups or 480 mL of coffee). If you take certain prescription medications like birth control pills, heart medications, and antibiotics, you may also need to limit caffeine (21, 22, 23).

If you fall into one of these categories, it’s best to speak to your healthcare professional. They can help determine a more specific recommendation regarding how much caffeine is safe for you to consume.

Additionally, health organizations recommend that children and adolescents minimize their caffeine intake as much as possible. However, there are no official guidelines at this time (24).

It’s also worth noting that because black coffee is fairly acidic, some people find that it irritates their stomach (2).

Finally, coffee may have a diuretic effect, meaning it may cause you to produce more urine. It may also pull fluid into your digestive tract, causing a laxative effect in some people (25, 26).

Summary

Too much caffeine can cause uncomfortable side effects like an elevated heart rate, stomach upset, and insomnia. Additionally, coffee might affect your urination and bowel habits.

Although coffee has been the subject of criticism over the years, it appears to be a mostly healthy beverage, especially if you avoid sugary coffee drinks.

Black coffee may reduce your risk of cancer, liver cirrhosis, and type 2 diabetes. It also boasts energizing and focus-enhancing effects.

However, most healthy people should limit their total caffeine intake to about 400 mg per day, which equates to about 4 cups (960 mL) of coffee.