Coffee, Yin, Yang, Blood and Qi

Coffee – Ah! The smell and the kick. Predictably, Chinese medicine disapproves. Why?
Coffee Beans
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Coffee is delicious and fast-acting, puts a spring in your step, makes you want more and now science says it’s good for you, unlike virtually anything else with those qualities.

However, does it have nutritional value?

Because if not, it is a herb, with power to influence your metabolism but not feed it, a bit like beating a horse to make it run faster.

In which case, whether it is ‘good’ depends on the horse’s health. If the horse is young or healthy, probably it will run faster and no harm done (putting aside the question of cruelty to animals, of course).

If the horse is old, ill or decrepit then sure, beat it and it will run faster, but perhaps not for very long.

However, there’s another question!

 

Does Chinese medicine think it’s any good?

 

Coffee’s Nutritional Qualities

From the Chinese medical perspective, (which, if you’ve just arrived, somewhat bewildered, at this site is what you get here), it has one main nutritional quality:

  • coffee is bitter

 

That ‘bitter’ taste gives it some value, although there are many foods, real foods, that provide the bitter taste with the added advantage of real nutritional value from the Western scientific viewpoint. For example, cabbage and, in my opinion, Brussels sprouts.

The bitter taste tends to occur in poisonous foods to dissuade us from eating them.

That explains why many of us don’t like Brussels Sprouts.

 

Mark Twain
Mark Twain

Mark Twain said:

“I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, and I’m glad I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, because if I liked them I’d eat them, and I’d just hate them.”

Well, no, actually he didn’t say that. He was talking about Spinach, but spinach is also slightly bitter, when steamed.

The bitter taste is, in Chinese medicine, essential for health. You don’t need much real bitter-tasting food (as opposed to food that is artificially flavoured ) but you do need a little. 

When you have the necessary balance of foods of all ‘tastes’, your Zang-fu organs function properly. That means they keep you healthy.

 

Too much or too little upsets the apple-cart

Too much (or too little) of any food containing one particular taste and your zang-fu organs get imbalanced, leading to susceptibility to ill-health. We’ve seen that with the tendency to obesity in many people who eat too much food of the ‘sweet’ taste.

A food doesn’t always taste as you’d expect.

For example, some ‘sweet’ foods don’t taste sweet at first.

Grains, in the form of bread, often need to be chewed awhile before the enzymes in your mouth release the sweet taste. Try chewing a piece of wholemeal bread for a minute or so, without swallowing, and you’ll begin to taste sweetness.

For more on this see Nutrition.

But bitter tasting foods release their bitter taste quite early. That’s another warning that too much of them may be poisonous.

So a little is good for you?

Quite possibly but not always!

Why not always? To understand, see what coffee is described as doing in Chinese medicine. 

Coffee: –

  • disperses Qi Stagnation
  • disperses Blood
  • warms slightly
  • disperses Yin which gives the appearance of boosting Yang

 

Of these, the main problem you don’t want to have  is Qi Stagnation.

(Though even Qi Stagnation, being a necessary part of life, isn’t all bad – see my book – in column right.)

Because coffee depletes Yin enabling Yang to appear to increase, often you gets signs of Yang energy, such as

  • a faster pulse, 
  • slight sensation of heat, and 
  • a sense of ebullience: 
  • and of course it may be more difficult to go to sleep. (Hence, it keeps you awake.)

 

That is no problem if you are young and fit because you’ve got plenty of Yin and Blood reserves and the extra boost from it makes you able to lift more weights, run a little faster and so on.

It might increase your Blood pressure a bit but that may not matter much if you regularly take exercise.

What if you are less fit, or older, or ill?

Well, there’s the good news and then there’s the bad news.

The good news is that you’ll be able to do a little more, a bit faster. So if your mind is slowing down, you may become more alert.

Temporarily.

The bad news is that you get these benefits by using up the fuel (your Yin and Blood reserves) faster. So the next day, or often later the same day that you took it, you’ll feel weaker, exhausted and though what you need most is good sleep, you may be unable to sleep properly.

For some people, either because they are particularly sensitive to it , or because they are older, some of these disturbances can continue for several days. So your sleep may be affected for several nights following the coffee you drank.

But Hey! Didn’t it taste good?

 

Dependence

If, to keep alert and pushy at work, you depend on coffee then beware. You’ll gradually need more and more of it to achieve the same effect. Increasing quantities of this fairly strong drug have to be metabolised, which is where your liver comes in.
 
When your liver organ is being tested by this (and probably by increasing quantities of alcohol to help you relax after all that caffeine) it will ultimately have an effect on your general metabolism and that affects the ability of your Liver (CAPITAL L) energy organ to keep your Qi moving smoothly.

So you become irritable, grouchy and intolerant. In effect, you acquire Liver Qi Stagnation.

To understand why, read the page on Primary and Secondary actions.

 

So ‘Should I take coffee?’ you ask.

This depends on

  • your general health and sensitivity to it
  • how much of it you drink
  • how strong it is
  • the circumstances in which you take it
  • when you drink it
Expresso coffee
Expresso

Kidney Qi, Yin and Yang

If your Kidney Qi (the main guardian of your Yin and Yang energies) is weak, then the less you take the better. This is because the drink will weaken your Kidney Qi. Signs of this include noises in your ears (tinnitus), jitteriness, restlessness, shoulder and head tension, tiredness without being able to sleep and a host of other such.

The one upside is that you’ll feel like Superman (or Superwoman) for about 4 hours, before you can fly no more, your Special Powers wilt and you need to lie down.

If you are already hot, then because coffee is slightly warming, it may make you hotter. For example, if your circulation is usually excellent, with warm hands and feet and a tendency to overheat easily on exertion, coffee will probably make you feel worse.

If your defensive (Wei) Qi is weak, then it will make you sweat and if you are usually chilly, sweating may be the last thing you need to do.

On the other hand, if your Stomach Qi is weak, the slightly warming effect it has may help you digest your food. Even better, because it helps to move Qi, you may find that it keeps your bowels moving.

 

So what about me, the author of this page? Do I ever drink it?

 

Yes I do, but not often. 

 

My problem is that I’m somewhat Kidney Qi deficient, more Yang deficient than Yin deficient – but both are deficient. So coffee seems like a great idea! As you’ll read below, at first coffee increases my Yang (which feels good) but then it depletes my Yin – not so good.

Soon after taking it, I feel wonderful, energetic, quick-thinking (this is MY perception of course: others might consider that I am even more dinosaur-like than usual!) I also feel hungrier and that I can eat anything without repercussions.

Later, as I begin to wilt, I feel pressure in my ears (due to a form of ascending yang, unregulated by Kidney Qi, especially Kidney Yin) which is very like the sensation you get as an aircraft descends and the air-pressure increases. I find myself pinching my nose and trying to blow air out. This clears it, only temporarily.

I may feel tension in my jaw.

Then I find myself slightly breathless, needing to yawn or take deep breaths. (Again, this is due to deficient Kidney Qi – mainly deficient Yin – not holding down the Qi my Lungs try to descend.) I may find that frequent swallowing helps to clear my ears.

Meanwhile, my heartbeat has increased a little, I may feel a little warmer and find that my blood pressure has increased.

And the night after I drink coffee I sleep poorly. And the day after I take it, being someone from whom the years are now beginning to draw down my Yin and Blood, I am less alert, need to have a doze in the afternoon, and am more likely to get ill. And my tinnitus gets worse for a few days.

Also, I then find myself thinking, I’d just love another coffee!

 

OK Then. Maybe not.
What about Chocolate?

 

Chocolate
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash
 

Ah! Now, chocolate. Well, nearly all the above applies, because chocolate is also bitter in its raw state. However, if you take chocolate, you almost certainly take it with milk (‘milk chocolate’) or similar. So taken like that it has more nutritional value (from the chocolate and milk fat solids) and is therefore slower acting and less insidious.

But if that’s the case for chocolate, why doesn’t it apply to coffee? Well it does. So a latte coffee or a cappucino (which both contain milk) is less intense and does provide some nutritional value (in other words it provides the means to boost Blood and Yin) and slows down coffee’s’s Yin-depleting actions.

But coffee is still strong, even with milk added, so if you take it, do so only occasionally, as a treat, and then only after a meal and no later than 1pm.

(Why 1pm? Technical Stuff! … Because in the Chinese medicine ‘clock’, the Fire element, of which the Heart and Small Intestine zang-fu are main constituents, runs from 11am to 3pm, putting 1pm at its centre. Don’t understand this? Ah.. Well.)

Anything Else about Coffee?

Lots! But just consider this. Nowadays we have stuff hugely more potent than coffee. Some (social) drugs like ‘crack’ make coffee look slothful. Those drugs will have their own tastes and energetic effects, but they’ll be similar to coffee.

If so, they will boost yang far more. But how much yin will you have afterwards?

Far less!

Long-term, regular stimulant drug users will become very yin deficient. They’ll look as if blood has been drained out of them. They’ll show signs of Kidney deficiency such as

  • sore joints
  • lumbar weakness
  • bad teeth
  • poor hearing
  • forgetfulness
  • jitteriness and
  • dark circles under their eyes.

 

Later, they’ll look withered.

And they’ll probably be hooked on the stuff.  That’s why there’s so much money to be made out of this kind of stimulant. Drug dealers know this.

Coffee suppliers may be far behind, but most still do well.

Particularly when their marketing corners you!

Coffee, supposedly, isn’t addictive, but I’m not so sure!

Other pages you may like:

Jonathan Brand colours

Stay in Touch!

No spam, only notifications about new articles and updates.

The latest books
Book a Consultation
Book Consultation
Acupuncture consultation

Book a Video consultation if you want to know more about your symptoms

Related Articles

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for your website. It’s a real treasure for me, it helped me a lot. About coffee, I would like to know if I drink decaffeinated coffee, do I have the same effects than regular coffee (weaken kidney Qi, disperse yin, etc…)?

    1. Hi Don, Glad you like the site – thanks for your comment!

      No decaffeination process is perfect. There will always be some caffeine left in the beans, but if there’s less of it, the effects will be less too.

      The BBC has a good page on this here.

      Tea and chocolate also contain caffeine, mostly at lower concentrations and chocolate contains fats and milk solids which slow caffeine absorption.

      But if you need to avoid caffeine, take no coffee, even if it’s de-caffeinated!

      Best wishes

      Jonathan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *