coffee and cancer

Toronto cafe owners don't think coffee should come with cancer warning

If you're a coffee fan, you've likely heard inklings of the new coffee cancer warning labels being adopted in California. 

Sort of like the warnings on cigarette packs (minus the nausea-inducing visuals of deteriorating teeth), labels that outline the possible cancerous effects of coffee are now legally required on coffee products in the Sunshine State, according to a judge's recent ruling.

Since there's nothing like a reminder of your own mortality to completely ruin a morning cup of joe, it's not surprising that many coffee and health experts around North America are calling the science behind this recent ruling unfounded. 

Still, it seems some damage has already been done, with the coffee cancer scare making its way from the West Coast all the way to The 6ix. 

Coffee purveyor Adam Pesce, Director of Coffee at Reunion Island, says his Roncesvalles cafe has had confused customers walking in to question the negative health effects of coffee in the past weeks since California's ruling.

"It’s kind of ludicrous," says Adam, calling the studies leading up to the verdict "very flawed." 

As a former member of the Coffee Association of Canada, Adam says that many Canadian coffee experts don't agree with the decision and have been following the progress of California's case for years.

The good news: "There’s no concern that it’s coming to Canada," he says. The bad news: the threat of small businesses losing customers to misinformation is real, because "news knows no borders." 

While no Toronto cafes claim to have lost any business since the verdict, it's obvious that the cancer-related discussions surrounding coffee can be a real turn-off for people who might usually opt for dark roasts over alternatives like green tea. 

Paige Entwistle – the executive assistant of Canada's coffee association – says California's decision muddies the narrative about coffee and cancer in Canada, despite the fact that coffee "may even help protect against some types of cancer." 

"Unfortunately, inappropriate labelling requirements can confuse consumers, at a time when the public needs clear and accurate information about health," she says via e-mail. 

Right now, it seems the only remedy to this newfound concern rests on both consumers and cafes to get educated about acrylamide, the naturally-occurring carcinogen that's produced during the bean roasting process, albeit at low levels. 

It especially falls on the shoulders of managers and baristas, says Adam, who will likely find themselves on the frontline of customers' questions.

David Thompson, the owner of the Scarborough-based roastery Dark City Coffee, says it's "shameful" that people should put a "dark gloom" on the act of drinking coffee when there are way more carcinogens in foods like french fries.

"People drink alcohol, people eat fries, people barbecue; they know that nothing is perfect," he says. 

After doing some research, you'll likely find that dumping your single-origin locally-roasted coffee beans in the compost bin won't be the ultimate remedy to all your health concerns. 

As far as David is concerned, "If you consume everything in moderation, it's not an issue." 

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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