César Vega is the young, strapping founder of the coffee company Café Integral. Here is his story:
I drink a lot of coffee. No, really, I drink coffee professionally— I’m a coffee taster, roaster, and barista, so I interact with coffee and its byproducts on a daily, usually hourly, basis. This leaves me ample time to consider what else I could do with the stuff. 'Experts' have long touted the depression-fighting, disease-combating, and liver-restoring benefits of the beverage (I’ve even read that it makes you smarter), not to mention the desirable side effects of caffeine applied to the body (up with circulation, down with cellulite). Which comes as a relief, because, as any seasoned barista who has spent lots of time with their hands in coffee will tell you: the caffeine most definitely gets in through your skin.
I’ve noticed a lot of products on pharmacy shelves that boast health/skin benefits of their coffee and/or caffeine ingredients. And, for the sake of research, I started to test them. The truth is, due to diluting binders, chemicals I can’t even pronounce, and the mild allergic reactions I've occasionally experienced, there are only two coffee-based products on the market I like: Red Flower Hammam Scrub and Shea Terra Organics Argan & Green Coffee Around-Eye Serum. The first is an all-natural lemon, coffee-blossom, and olive formula that has a tremendous aroma and left my skin feeling clean, nourished, and covered in a smooth, protective sheen. The latter employs pre-roasted coffee for a brightening, cooling, and refreshing serum that left me looking sort of wide-eyed. I couldn’t believe how much I could still see and feel its effects after a long day of slamming back espressi. But, call me a purist, I still think the best coffee-based body product out there is a basic DIY body scrub of coffee grounds, olive oil, and honey. It’s easy to put together, really feels delicious, and, honestly, what else are we going to do with all those grounds?
When making a scrub, I’d suggest a light to medium roast bean, because, no matter if it's fresh or already brewed, it will retain most of its outstanding properties. Coffee's a complex material that has all sorts of compounds in it. We’re talking about acids, carbohydrates, sugars, and lipids, among others, which make for a very nutritious, balanced meal for your skin.
Now let’s consider the grind size. You’ll want to pick a coarseness that suits your skin’s needs. Most products I’ve seen opt for French-press grounds, which is more or less like rubbing sharp gravel all over your skin. I prefer to use used espresso grounds, which are super fine, usually very dry (as compared to other spent grounds), and, best of all, contain the most residual caffeine. This fine particle size will allow you to really rub the scrub into your skin actively for a few minutes, which improves both its efficacy as well as your body’s ability to absorb the good stuff. If you don't have spent espresso grounds at home, just ask your local coffee shop. Trust me, they should have plenty. Pro tip: keep spent grounds frozen (i.e., in the freezer), because residual moisture will soon turn to mold. I recommend prepping your scrub fresh for only a few uses at a time.
Next, we need to bind the grinds into a sort of paste. I’m a big fan of olive oil, both inside and outside of the kitchen, and I may or may not know a few hand models who’ve told me it’s the only thing they use to maintain those perfect nail beds. So there’s that. I recommend using an affordable cold-pressed Extra Virgin oil; nothing too cheap, nothing too pricey. I also like to add a bit of honey, not only because it’s rich in awesome (anti-microbial) things, but also because I am a strong believer that a bit of natural sugars always entices our skin to take in nutrition. In terms of the type of honey, I'd say maybe avoid stuff that comes in a plastic bear, but I’m not convinced that single-varietal organic, rooftop, local, micro, craft honey is a necessary expense here. Or ever.
It's time to put it all together. For two cups of scrub you'll need:
• Two cups of olive oil warmed in a sauce pan. (Do not get it too hot, or you'll ruin the oil. The idea here is very warm)
• Add 2-4 tablespoons of honey to the warmed oil. Stir until melted into a homogenous paste.
• While warm, stir in coffee grounds. The warmth will allow the paste to leech the coffee's remaining caffeine, minerals, and beneficial compounds.
• Add grounds until you're satisfied with the level of viscosity (I like mine slightly runny so I can really move it around).
• At this point, feel free to add ingredients to create your signature “house blend.” Essential oils like tea tree work great. Sea salt is also an
ingredient I'd encourage for its preservative properties and to make you feel extra clean.
Now, use the stuff. Apply the paste while it's still warm to your entire body, really rubbing it in. Then allow it to set for ten to fifteen minutes before you towel/rinse it off. Consider making it a wake-me-up part of your morning shower routine. And if you really want to feel sharp all day, rub it into your scalp before you shampoo your hair. I kid you not—caffeine and sugar straight to the head. It's a good thing.
César Vega is the founder of Café Integral. Photos courtesy of the author.