Perhaps the best part of coffee (outside of the taste of course) is the drink’s energizing properties. Allowing us to function properly in the morning when we are still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and shuffling around in our pajamas, coffee’s caffeine content is the ultimate pick-me-up that people need to start their day. But how does caffeine affect you? What is it exactly and why does it affect everyone differently?
What Exactly is Caffeine?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of caffeine’s effects, we first must figure out just what the heck caffeine is.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical that is found in plants, leaves, seeds, and nuts that are native to South America, Africa, and East Asia. Outside of the coffee bean, caffeine can be found in tea as well as the kola nut.
Caffeine is held in high regard because of its supposed cognitive benefits, but more simply caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that works in one’s central nervous system by prevents adenosine (what creates drowsiness) from its receptors. Usually, caffeine is consumed in different types of drinks, and by steeping the plant (or part of the part) to extract its caffeine.
Now that we know what caffeine is and how it works, we need to figure out how much caffeine is in coffee.
How Much Caffeine is in Coffee?
Usually, caffeine is measured in milligrams, so for the sake of comparing different levels of caffeine, it's more appropriate to break down the level of caffeine present in coffee by cups.
However, it should be noted that differences in preparing coffee, like roasting processes as well as brewing methods, can affect the overall caffeine levels present. Those will address a bit later.
But for now, let’s assume we are measuring the caffeine content in simple drip coffee.
Caffeine by the Cup
Below a simple breakdown of caffeine levels for various sizes of cups, from the size coffee mug to the larger thermos.
- 6oz: 71mg
- 8oz: 85mg
- 10oz: 114mg
- 12oz: 136mg
- 16oz: 182mg
Effects of Roasting on Caffeine Levels
As previously mentioned, the roasting of coffee beans has a direct impact on the caffeine content of any coffee bean.
Generally, it is assumed that the strong the flavor of coffee, the more caffeine is prevalent, however, the opposite is indeed the case. Lighter roasts generally have more caffeine, as the roasting process hasn’t extracted as much water content and the bean’s natural sugars.
Darker roasts tend to have less caffeine as the sugar and water content of the bean is “burned off” during the process.
What has more impact than the roasting process is the brewing method used when preparing a cup of coffee.
Brewing Methods and Caffeine Content
- Espresso: Espressos tend to have a higher volume of caffeine per fluid ounce due to the increased hot water temperature which lessens the amount of time the coffee needs to “steep” for. An espresso shot takes anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds when compared to a few minutes for drip brewers. The combination allows for more caffeine to be extracted, about 64mg per fluid ounce.
- Cold Brew: Unlike other brewing methods, cold brew’s coffee-to-water ratio leads to naturally elevated levels of caffeine over more traditional brewing methods.
- Instant: A controversial choice among coffee drinkers, instant coffee is notorious for many reasons, and usually has a lower caffeine level than regular brewed coffee; somewhere around 90mg per 8oz.
- Decaf: Naturally, decaffeinated coffee has less caffeine than regular coffee. This is achieved, usually, but soaking the beans in a special solvent which leeches out most of the caffeine. This is done when the coffee beans are still green rather than after being roasted. The caffeine level of decaf coffee is somewhere around 7mg per 8oz.
- Death Wish Coffee: This coffee bean boasts a staggering 55mg per fluid ounce.
Caffeine Comparisons to Other Drinks
- Energy Drinks: Most standard energy drinks have about 160mg of caffeine in a standard 16oz serving size.
- Soda: Depending on the soda, caffeine levels fluctuate, however as a rule of thumb, most soda caffeine levels are between 34mg to 57mg in a 12oz soda can.
- Tea: Like soda, depending on the tea leaves you brew caffeine levels will vary, that being said, most teas have less caffeine than soda with caffeine levels varying from 4mg to 50mg.
- Kombucha: Interestingly, kombucha has also very small levels of caffeine, anywhere between 8 to 14mg per 8oz.
How Does Caffeine Affect the Body?
So, now we know what coffee is and how much of it is in our everyday drinks, what exactly does caffeine do to your body after ingesting it. It perks us up mentally, but what happens behind the scenes so to speak?
Generally, because caffeine is a stimulant, it has a few different effects across the body. Firstly, caffeine interacts with your sympathetic nervous system. This nervous system also controls one’s flight or fight response.
After caffeine has been absorbed into the body, it begins to elevate one’s heart rate, blood pressure, and increase muscle tension throughout the body which leads to greater overall muscle endurance and delays muscle fatigue. Because of our body’s response to caffeine, it essentially “tricks” our body into a state of alertness and readiness which is why coffee is such a highly valued drink.
What are the Negative Impacts of Excessive Caffeine Consumption?
Now like anything, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing, and this rule applies to the recommended amount of coffee (and by proxy caffeine) one should have throughout the day.
Like its positive effects, if caffeine is consumed in excess can lead to jitteriness, insomnia, reduced coordination, as well as inversely affect one’s anxiety. Usually, such reactions occur after ingesting more than 300mg of caffeine in one day.
Outside of the negative physical effects, large amounts of caffeine can lead to psychological addiction and can even lead to having withdrawal symptoms. While there isn’t a hard and fast daily amount of caffeine that leads to addiction, withdrawal symptoms from caffeine include headache, fatigue, difficultly concentrating, irritability, and even flu-like symptoms!
Such symptoms are dependent on one’s body type but can be easily avoided by moderating one’s caffeine intake. Regularly having 1-2 cups a day of coffee or a similar caffeinated beverage does not pose any significant risk of developing a caffeine addiction, however, it's still good to be mindful of how your body reacts to caffeine and adjust accordingly.
Know that we know what caffeine is, how it affects your body, how roasting, and brewing techniques all influence the overall caffeine present in your daily cup of coffee, you can now better prepare your morning joe that puts just the right amount of pep in your step and ready to seize the moment!