Drinking coffee with charcoal may be hazardous to health

For illustration purpose. Photo courtesy of Freepik.com

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16: Over the past few weeks, the trend of consuming coffee served with a lump of burning charcoal dunked in it at a restaurant here has sparked a debate on social media.

This is because of the claim that charcoal coffee, or ‘Kopi Joss’ as it is known in Indonesia, has its own unique taste and is said to be able to detoxify the body.

However, health experts have expressed concern that consuming it could cause adverse effects on the body, including bloating, diarrhea and appendicitis.

Sultanah Aminah Hospital’s Cardiology and Internal Medicine Consultant Dr Ng Kim Fong said in a worst-case scenario, it could also cause cancer or intestinal obstruction if taken regularly over a long period of time.

“For patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease who drink the coffee, it could affect the efficacy of their medicine because charcoal is neutral and it will absorb all the substances in the stomach including the medicines taken by the patient, causing it to be ineffective for treatment,” he told Bernama.

According to Ng, who is also the Johor Doctors’ Association adviser, putting hot charcoal – that has not been processed or purified – into drinks or food cannot be compared to ‘activated charcoal’ which is usually given in the form of medicine to patients suffering from food poisoning.

“Activated charcoal has been processed and purified and is safe to use with a permitted dose of about 100 grams, while charcoal that is directly added to coffee like that (as has gone viral) has not been properly processed and is not safe to eat or drink because there is a possibility of foreign or other toxic elements.

“So, people should not be easily influenced by the latest trends, which may be popular in other countries, without looking at the side effects on their health. It doesn’t mean that we have to try everything that is new, because the important thing is that it (food and drink) should be safe and germ-free,” he said.

Meanwhile, Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon at KPJ Tawakkal Kuala Lumpur Specialist Hospital, Dr Nurhashim Haron said traders who offered such drinks should be more responsible with regard to the safety or health of consumers.

“The general sentiment that charcoal is dusty is correct, so although the charcoal itself is not a poisonous material, however, dust is produced when it is burnt. It’s the dust that we are worried about not being safe to digest, because it’s produced from the burning process.

“This becomes more important when we do not know if, during the burning process, there could be mixing of impurities such as dirt, as well as the production of smoke or other chemicals such as hydrocarbon, making it more unsafe to digest,” he said.

Dr Nurhashim said the charcoal itself was not produced for consumption, so no clinical tests have been done to ensure the level of cleanliness, especially involving bacteria.

“The opinion that the charcoal is only placed for a short time of around one or two minutes, cannot discount its effects in the long-term if it is taken regularly.

“Therefore, my advice as a medical practitioner is not to drink charcoal coffee, do not take any risks because no clinical tests have been done on this matter. Individuals should make informed choices when it comes to putting anything into their bodies. Traders also need to be more responsible from now on, as maybe before they may not be aware of the risks,” he said.