Notorious for giving people heartburn, insomnia, heart palpitations, the shakes and migraines - to name but a few - the poor old coffee bean has a lot to answer for. But drinking coffee may not be as bad for you as is suspected and may even provide some health benefits. Research presented at US Digestive Disease Week in May indicated that drinking more than two cups of coffee a day might protect people who have a higher risk of liver disease. And in March, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report that found the higher the coffee consumption, the lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes. This study was conducted in Finland, whose people are said to be the biggest coffee drinkers per capita in the world, according to the research report. The research showed women who drank three to four cups of coffee a day had a 29 per cent reduced risk of developing diabetes. But those who drank at least 10 cups a day had a 79 per cent reduced risk. The 10-cup a day male drinkers had a 55 per cent lower risk, while three to four cups a day provided a 27 per cent lower risk. For those who are not convinced, but still crave the coffee taste, an alternative exists - Well-Bean coffee. This bean was brought to Hong Kong by health cafe Kosmo in Central and is an organic soy-based coffee. It was developed in the US by nutritionist Claudia Del Vecchio. 'In 1998, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told to get more soy in her diet because of its nutritional properties. She also found that having chemotherapy meant regular coffee was too acidic to drink. So she asked me to find her a coffee she could drink. It then occurred to me that perhaps I could combine the soy bean and the coffee bean,' says the 44-year-old, whose Well-Bean Coffee company has just merged with Kosmo. She played around with the combination, finding a chemist-turned-coffee roaster to help her, and the result was a milder-tasting coffee, and one that her mother-in-law could stomach. 'I kept passing it around to other chemo patients who also found they could drink it and eventually decided to put it on the market,' she added. To back up her claims, Del Vecchio had the bean analysed by an independent laboratory. The results confirmed that Well-Bean had 50 per cent less caffeine than other beans and was less acidic as well. The bean is non-genetically engineered and is still classed as a coffee bean despite being blended with soy. Drinking a 6oz cup of Well-Bean coffee also offers other benefits. The results indicate that one cup of coffee provides 28mg of isoflavones. These are antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals - exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke, exhaust fumes and stress are said to all lead to an excess of free radicals. A hit of soy protein is also on the list of attributes, but Del Vecchio is quick to point out that Well-Bean is not a magic soy protein fix. 'Obviously, drinking a cup of Well-Bean won't provide all the soy protein people need in a day, but it will definitely give a boost [2 grams a cup] and it will help manage the side effects of caffeine,' Del Vecchio says. The US Food and Drug Administration has authorised the use of a health claim linking the consumption of soy protein with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. 'So 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risks of heart disease,' she says. With one 'healthy' coffee bean under her belt, Del Vecchio and her roaster started work on another - Well-Bean Coffee with inulin. From the chicory root, inulin acts as a prebiotic, helping the intestinal flora do their job. Del Vecchio recommends this coffee, which will be in Hong Kong in the next few months, to people with digestion/stomach problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. 'Again, this coffee [with inulin] is not a miracle cure but it does have a bite and drinking one cup [with 5 grams of inulin] will allow people to feel the benefits,' she says. Kosmo plans to open at least three more outlets in Hong Kong before the end of the year.