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Foodstuffs: A Coffee Roasted For Your Health

Peter Biello
Glen Miller of Vera Coffee Roasting at his facility in Newington, N.H.

In some countries in Europe, red wine is part of daily life. Not so in the US. And as a result, Americans may be missing out on the health benefit of a particular antioxidant found in the skins of grapes. Now a chemist at UNH is trying to get more of this antixodiant, resveratrol, into the American diet through coffee.
Glen Miller is chair of the chemistry department at the University of New Hampshire, and a few years ago, he first got the idea of putting resveratrol into spring water. But when he did, he saw a huge problem. 

"It made it look a little like pond water, to be honest," he said.

This yellowish-brown stuff was not going to fly off the shelves. So, he wondered, what else do Americans drink with amazing regularity? Coffee.

"The average coffee-drinker consumes three cups a day. Actually, a little more than three cups a day."

So he developed a method of concentrating resveratrol and infusing it into coffee bean so all the nutritional benefits remain. Then he launched as a side business Vera Roasting Company.

At Vera Roasting's headquarters in Newington, Miller dumps a bin of beans into the rotating infuser and turns it on.

He remembers the moment Vera Roasting seemed to really take off. A story about it appeared in the AP and newspapers all over the country ran it. At that time, his phone was set to buzz every time he received an order for his coffee.

"And all of a sudden, as I'm talking to this group of 200 organic chemistry students, my phone is just going crazy in my pocket and I have to take it out so my leg doesn't burn up. And I'm thinking: what is going on here?"

He says within days he had customers in all 50 states. He says people were hungry for a way to get the benefits of red wine without drinking as much wine as people do in France.

"People want a good-tasting coffee, they want a delicious coffee. And if you deliver a delicious coffee that also has a health benefit associated with it, that's just icing on the cake."

Proponents of the health benefits of resveratrol point out that it's an antioxidant, which have been proven to prevent damage to cells. There's also anecdotal evidence in the so-called "French Paradox." People in France drink a lot of red wine and and have relatively low rates of heart disease. But is that evidence of resveratrol's potency? Skeptics are careful to point out that research linking resveratrol to specific benefits in humans is scant.

Still, Miller says putting potentially helpful things into coffee is a good way to get Americans to consume them. Which is why he's also doing it for Vitamin D, in Vera Roasting's Sunshine Blend.

"There is a tremendous Vitamin D deficiency in this country. Forty percent, it's estimated, of US adults have a Vitamin D deficiency. And probably most of them don't know it."

Without the sun to generate Vitamin D, the winter blues can seem even worse. Miller says this coffee can help with that.

So yes, a few different health benefits. But how does this stuff taste?

I tried some of the Columbian roast. No chemical taste. Maybe a little smoother than most coffees I've tried.

"We use very nice premium, high-quality beans to make it. And it tastes like premium, high-quality coffee."

At $14.95 for a 12 or 14 ounce bag, it's in the middle of the range for premium coffee. Vera Roasting is a direct-to-consumer company, so you won't find it in grocery stores. Not yet, anyway.

Miller says he plans to do some "demand creation," as he calls it, to let people know about how healthy his coffee could be.

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