90% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, making it the most consumed stimulant in the country.
It’s an incredibly popular ingredient in many foods and drinks, most famously in coffee. But how much is good for you? And how much is in coffee?
We’ve answered just that, so let’s take a look.
What Even Is Caffeine?
We all know caffeine is that thing which gives us an energy boost, sometimes giving us that kick up the a** we need to start the day. But what is it? And how does it work?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant which is mainly found in tea, coffee and chocolate. It’s also added to a lot of products like cereals and energy drinks, however as a synthetic version.
Once you’ve consumed caffeine, it’s quickly broken down by your gut and enters into your bloodstream where it makes it’s to your liver. Once in your liver, it’s broken down into various compounds that affect several different organs in different ways. The main effect being on your brain.
Caffeine blocks the levels of a neurochemical called adenosine from building up. Adenosine is responsible for making you feel sleepy. It builds up slowly from the moment you wake up, and by around evening time there is a high enough level of adenosine in your brain to make it easy to fall asleep.
Because caffeine stops this build up, you don’t feel the tiredness effect. Caffeine also increases the levels of adrenaline in your blood, and dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain which gives you a feeling of increased energy.
Even though caffeine prohibits the levels of adenosine building up in the brain, it doesn’t stop the production. Therefore, once the caffeine is out of your system, you get a surge of adenosine that builds up rapidly, inducing what people describe as a ‘crash’.
This is why people get tired in the early to mid afternoon. Caffeine levels are starting to drop, and the adenosine levels are building up, rapidly. The adrenaline and other chemicals giving you an energetic feeling start to drop too.
We have an entire article on what caffeine is if you’d like to learn more.
What Affects Caffeine Content?
There are a few factors that determine the caffeine content of coffee, for example:
- Type of coffee – the amount of caffeine you consume will change depending on whether you’re drinking an espresso, decaf, cold brew, of instant coffee.
- Serving size – the more coffee your drink, the more caffeine you consume with it. One cup of coffee can range between 8z-16oz, which contain very different amounts of caffeine.
- Type of coffee beans – The two main types of coffee used around the world are Arabica and Robusta. With Robusta containing on average twice as much caffeine, what type of coffee bean used to make your coffee will greatly change the caffeine content.
The roast may affect the caffeine content, but barely. It all depends on how you weigh the beans. If you measure your beans by scoop, and each scoop has roughly the same amount of beans in, the light roast scoop will have slightly more caffeine than the dark roast, as light roast beans are more dense.
During the roasting process, more moisture is evaporated from the dark roast beans as they’re in the roaster for longer. So, if you measure by weight, then there will be more dark roast beans per 100g than light roast beans. As there are more beans in the dark roast pile to make up the weight, there will be more caffeine. The amount of caffeine in the bean barely changes no matter how long you roast for.
Caffeine Content In Different Coffee Styles
Depending on what extraction methods are used and what type of beans, the caffeine content can vary.
By brewed coffee I simply mean when you mix ground coffee beans with hot water and then filter the beans out by one way or another, leaving behind a freshly brewed cuppa.
It depends on what kind of coffee beans you’re using like we mentioned above, but on average there will be between 90-100mg of caffeine.
Decaf Brewed Coffee
Contrary to popular beliefs decaf coffee doesn contain a small amount of caffeine. I guess if it had no caffeine it would be called ‘un-caffeinated’? Decaf just means ‘decreased caffeine’.
In an 8oz cup, you’ll have somewhere around 2.5mg of caffeine. A much lower amount, but still some.
Cold Brew Coffee
Don’t be mistaken for iced-coffee. A cold brew isn’t just an espresso shot that’s tipped over some ice, it’s much more.
To make cold brew coffee, you have to filter water at room temperature through ground coffee for 10-24 hours, depending on how much you’re making. The time you put in is rewarded with a delicious, super smooth, non acidic coffee that can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go.
A typical 12oz cup contains between 170-250mg of caffeine, according to this study.
Brewing coffee this way involves mixing hot water with dissolvable coffee granules or powder.
There’s normally quite a bit less caffeine in instant coffee, around 62mg of caffeine in a typical 8oz cup.
An espresso is made by forcing hot water at high pressure through ground coffee beans. A blend of Arabica and Robusta beans are normally used to create a high caffeinated coffee, while keeping all those beautiful coffee flavours.
An espresso shot is usually 1oz, and contains around 62.8mg of caffeine.
Caffeine Content For Branded Products
It’s common for commercial coffee brands, as well as sodas and other food and beverages, to contain higher amounts of caffeine. Especially when you have giant cup sizes that are served in some coffee shops. These figures are from the reliable Center For Science In The Public Interest.
Dunkin’ Donuts is a very popular place to grab a quick coffee and a donut. You’d be surprised at how much caffeine are in their products.
- A coffee with an espresso shot (20oz) – 398mg of caffeine
- Bottled ice coffee (12oz) – 327mg
- Cappuccino (20oz) – 252mg
- Standard coffee (14oz) 210mg
- Can of Shot in the Dark, all flavours (8oz) -126-134mg
As you can see, a lot of their beverages contain large amounts of caffeine, so careful not to drink them too late in the day.
The coffee giant has many caffeinated products on offer. They actually have a fantastic resource on their website that gives all the nutritional information of their products, including caffeine content. If you’re a big Starbucks drinker, there’s no excuse to not keep an eye on your caffeine intake.
- Caffe Americano (16oz) – 225mg of caffeine
- Blonde Roast (16oz) – 360mg
- Starbucks Dark Roast Coffee (16oz) – 260mg
- Cappuccino (16oz) – 150mg
- Espresso (1.5oz) – 150mg
- Flat White (12oz) – 130mg
- Latte (16oz) – 150mg
- Decaf Pike Place Roast (16oz) – 25mg
Popular Tea Brands
Although coffee is the first beverage you think about when talking caffeine, tea contains the stimulant too although nowhere near as much.
- Starbucks Chai Latte (16oz) – 95mg of caffeine
- Starbucks Green Tea Latte(16oz) – 80mg
- Lipton Lemon Iced Tea (16.9oz) – 21mg
- Arizona Iced Black Tea (8oz) – 15mg
- Arizona Iced Green Tea (8oz) – 7.5mg
- Snapple Lemon Tea (16oz) – 37mg
- Home brewed herbal tea (8oz) – 0mg
What’s The Daily Recommended Caffeine Intake?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) both agree on the daily limit of 400mg of caffeine. This means, with an 8oz cup containing around 90-100mg of caffeine, you can safely have three or four cups of coffee a day.
They also agree that you should consume no more than 200mg of caffeine at any one time. So if you’re drinking a 16oz coffee that contains over 300mg, that might be something to think about changing.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you’re drinking three or four cups of coffee a day, then you also need to be looking at what else you’re consuming that contains caffeine.
The 400mg is the total amount of caffeine you should consume a day, not just from coffee.
Why Should You Keep Track Of Your Caffeine Intake?
People tell you it’s important to know how much caffeine you’re consuming, or if they haven’t you might be starting to realise it on your own. But why do you need to know?
At the end of the day, caffeine is a drug and should be treated like one.
Let’s start with the positives of caffeine.
It’s been found in recent studies that drinking caffeine in your workplace, especially before participating in a group task, increases your productivity. Not only that, but you are more likely to have a positive outlook on your co-workers and pick up on the amount of work they’re doing.
This could be down to caffeine increasing your alertness, which could allow you to pay more attention to what’s going on around you.
Caffeine may also improve brain function and mood. This is thought to be down to the increase of dopamine and norepinephrine which has a positive effect on your mood and perceptions.
A very interesting study was conducted in 2012 that showed a link between increased amounts of coffee consumption and a lower risk of suicide. They found that drinking between two and three cups of coffee a day can lower your risk of suicide by 45%.
There has been a common myth that caffeine increases the risk of heart disease, probably because of the fact it can increase your heart rate. This has been proven to be false, in fact caffeine decreases the chance of developing heart disease.
This study found that men and women that drink between one and four cups of coffee each day have a 16-18% lower risk of heart disease.
Yes, there are many positives to drinking caffeinated beverages, however there is such a thing as too much. Just like we shouldn’t eat too much chocolate every day, we shouldn’t drink too much caffeine either.
The negative effects of caffeine on your sleep patterns is a very well documented subject. It is highly recommended that you don’t drink anything that contains caffeine 6 hours before going to bed.
Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, meaning it takes 6 hours for your body to flush half of the amount of caffeine you consumed. If you had a coffee with 100mg of caffeine in at 4pm, by 10pm you’d still have 50mg of caffeine in your system. More than enough to keep you awake and disrupt your sleep.
And if you’ve bought into this cultural norm of ‘sleep is for the weak’, think again. Sleep can solve so many of our problems, and prevent a lot of illnesses from developing.
Every single animal on the planet sleeps, or at least has their own version of it, so if mother nature classes sleep as important, so should you.
It’s also been shown that caffeine can cause gastric reflux and heartburn in susceptible individuals, as well as increase blood pressure which is worrying for those with normally high blood pressure.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have caffeine, more that you should be extra careful on how much caffeine you’re consuming.
How Should I Cut Down On My Caffeine Intake?
It’s not as easy as you might have thought, but we’ve put together a couple of habits you can adopt to make sure you’re not drinking too much.
- Check the packaging. With everything you buy, either from a grocery store or a coffee from a cafe, you can get the nutritional information. Make a habit of checking what contains caffeine, and make a note.
- Decrease your caffeine consumption gradually. You don’t need to stop enjoying caffeine as of tomorrow. The most important thing is that you’ve acknowledged that you might be consuming too much. Slowly cut down on how many cups you drink. Decrease by a cup a day every week, or something like that.
- Drink decaf. Decaf coffee is much better than it used to be. The quality remains pretty similar to that of normal coffee to the point you can’t really tell the difference. Buy yourself a decent bag of decaf coffee, it’s a really easy way of cutting down your caffeine intake but still drinking coffee.
- Cut down your cup sizes. If you go to Starbucks and buy a huge 16oz cup, next time try to go for the next size down. This will slowly decrease your caffeine content, plus save a few cents while you’re at it.
- Why not try some tea. Tea is a great drink to have any time of the day. It can start your morning, or relax you before going to bed. There are also so many different flavours to try. Green tea is a good place to start, plus it’s super good for you.
- Check your painkillers. You may not realise this, but there is a large caffeine content in most medications. If yours does, consider switching to something else.
Caffeine is hidden in all sorts of food and drink that we consume on a daily basis, and there’s a lot of good that can come from it.
To minimise the risks and maximise the benefits, we only need to moderate how much we’re consuming. If your caffeine intake is more than the recommended dose, try cutting down slowly. There’s no need to give up coffee completely, just limit how much you have.
Who could completely cut out coffee?! I know I couldn’t.