If you’ve happened upon this article, you may be worried about how much caffeine is in your coffee, but not ready to give up the bean just yet. Or you might be wondering how much caffeine you need to give yourself that energy boost to get you through your morning’s work. Maybe you’re just curious, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with a healthy curiosity!
Whatever your reason, by the time you finish reading you’ll have a solid understanding of how much caffeine you can expect to find in various types of coffee. You’ll even learn about the origin of coffee and the ways in which different kinds of coffee are made. So sit yourself down (perhaps with a nice hot cuppa joe?) and read on!
Where Did Coffee Come From?
Have you ever wondered who first came up with the idea of grinding up coffee beans and adding them to hot water to create the aromatic beverage that is so much a part of our culture today? Surely that person must have been a genius to the utmost degree, and a true humanitarian as well!
The truth is that nobody is really sure how coffee came to be. However, as is the case with so many things that have been around for a long time, there is a legend.
As the tale would have it, we can thank a goat herder by the name of Kaldi, who lived in Ethiopia in the 9th century. One day, Kaldi noticed that his goats were eating berries from an Arabica tree. After ingesting the beans, the goats became very active. Kaldi wondered what would happen if he also consumed the beans, so he ate a few, and was affected in much the same manner as the goats. Got a little crazy, and then settled down a bit once the effects began to wear off.
Figuring that he might be on to a good thing, Kaldi took some of the beans to a local monastery and offered them to the monks. Now, monks being of a contemplative nature, they weren’t all that crazy about Kaldi’s discovery, thinking that the beans were probably going to have an adverse effect on prayer. After all, when you’re praying you need to focus!
Religious leaders back then apparently weren’t all that different from some of today’s religious leaders, so having resolved that only evil could come from Kaldi’s beans, the monks resolved to burn them. Kind of like some of today’s evangelists like to burn books. However, once tossed on the fire, the beans emitted a very pleasing aroma, unlike that of burning books. So (again, like some religious leaders today) the monks had no trouble changing their minds to suit what pleased them. And what pleased them very much indeed was to put the beans in hot water in order to make a fragrant, stimulating beverage.
Of course monks back then didn’t concern themselves with how much caffeine was in their coffee. In fact, they probably didn’t know about caffeine at all. They just knew that what they had originally believed to be a bad thing was actually a very good thing!
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Where Did Coffee Really Come From?
The legend notwithstanding, caffeine as a stimulant probably pre-dates the 9th century by quite a bit. It’s not unreasonable to think that nomadic tribes would have discovered the stimulating effects of coffee beans, and would have used them to provide energy for their journeys. Actual cultivation of the beans, though, began around the 14th century in Arabic countries. Soon, the beans were traded throughout Syria, Egypt and Turkey.
People back then still weren’t really thinking about how much caffeine was in their coffee. They just knew that coffee tasted good and made them feel good. They also discovered that coffee beans were a very valuable commodity, and by the 15th century, Arabic countries were bringing coffee beans to India. A smuggler by the name of Pieter van der Broeck also managed to sneak some coffee out of Yemen to take to Amsterdam, and the Europen trade was born.
It didn’t take long for the French, Spanish and Portuguese to jump on the bandwagon, taking over the Caribbean, Central American and Brazilian trade respectively. The British were a bit late on board, but eventually began shipping coffee to America.
The rest is history. Today, coffee is a huge industry all over the world. You can buy just about every kind of coffee imaginable in grocery stores, specialty stores and even online, and coffee shops dot the landscape in virtually every city or town. It makes you wonder how we ever managed without it!
So How Much Caffeine is in Coffee?
The short answer to this question is that you will usually get about 95 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of coffee. However, depending on the type of coffee, this can vary wildly. A cup of decaf might have practically no caffeine, whereas a specialty drink could have 500 milligrams or more. This is because there are so many different factors affecting how much caffeine is in your coffee.
Caffeine content can depend on the type of beans used to make the coffee, the way in which the coffee is roasted ( dark roast, for instance is lower in caffeine than light roast), and the kind of coffee. Espresso, for instance, packs a much bigger caffeine punch than a regular brew. Serving size is, as you might expect, also a huge factor. A small cup of coffee might only have 30 milligrams of caffeine, but if you go for the extra-large (which in many coffee shops can be as much as 24 ounces), you could end up consuming a whopping 700 milligrams of caffeine!
Roasting and Preparation
How the coffee is roasted and prepared are key factors in determining how much caffeine will be in your coffee. As we just touched on, dark roast coffee is lower in caffeine than light roast. A lot of people don’t realize this, believing that the rich aroma and strong taste of dark roast coffee must mean that it’s higher in caffeine. The fact is, though, that the process of roasting reduces the caffeine in coffee by 15-20%.
As to preparation, you can often end up consuming less caffeine by brewing really strong coffee. How does that make sense, you ask? Well, a serving of espresso is going to be very strong, but will usually only contain 30-50 milligrams of caffeine. A serving of coffee made in a drip machine, on the other hand, will be nowhere near as strong as the espresso, but will probably have between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine. This is simply because you’re probably only going to drink about an ounce of espresso as opposed to 8 ounces of dripped coffee. If you consumed an 8-ounce serving of espresso, you’d be ingesting between 240 and 450 milligrams of caffeine!
Different Types of Coffee Drinks
Now, having talked about portion size and brewing methods, let’s consider how the type of drink you choose will affect how much caffeine is in your coffee.
Brewed coffee is arguably the most popular choice when it comes to coffee drinks, and we’ve already talked about how much caffeine is in this particular beverage. However, keep in mind that if you add a lot of milk to your coffee, this is going to affect how much caffeine you’re actually consuming.
You also know by now that espresso is significantly higher in caffeine than regular brewed coffee, but that you will probably consume less caffeine drinking espresso because of the smaller serving size. Espresso is also often consumed as part of a larger drink – a latte or cappuccino, for instance. So although you’ll be consuming the same amount of caffeine as you would in a single one-ounce shot of espresso, you’ll be enjoying a much larger portion.
Espresso drinks are wildly popular these days, and you don’t have to visit your favorite coffee shop to enjoy one. Espresso machines have become mainstream, so now it’s possible to enjoy espresso drinks at home – no more worrying about how you’re going to get your fix if the weather isn’t cooperating!
Oh, and speaking of the weather, you’ll find that there is usually a lot less caffeine in the iced coffee drinks that you enjoy during the hot weather, simply because they’re mostly… well, ice! Any time that you’re adulterating coffee with ice or milk, you are inevitably reducing the amount of caffeine per volume. Most iced coffee drinks do contain a significant amount of sugar, though, but that’s another issue and not really one that needs to be discussed here – perhaps we’ll talk about that in another article.
How Much Caffeine is in Instant Coffee?
Coffee purists would probably argue that instant coffee isn’t even worthy of the name “coffee.” This may have been true at one time, when your only choice was crunchy little granules that never really brewed up into a drink that didn’t have scum on top, no matter how good the brand name and no matter how hot you heated the water. It’s a whole different thing today, though, with better processing techniques and no shortage of delightful flavors like hazelnut crème, Suisse mocha, coconut latte,French vanilla and more!
You can also make a case for instant coffee when you consider people who simply don’t have access to drip machines or close-by coffee shops – students living in dorms, for instance, or senior citizens living in assisted living efficiency units. For instant coffee, all you need is a decent electric kettle or a microwave, and you can always be assured of being able to get your caffeine fix.
Wondering how instant coffee is made? In the manufacturing process, there’s actually nothing “instant” about it. In one method, coffee beans are ground and roasted. Then hot water is added, and the resulting concoction is sprayed into a tank that contains hot air. The process causes the extract to dry very quickly. This leads to powdered instant coffee.
Another method for making instant coffee is freeze-drying, which causes the coffee extract to become crystallized. Then a machine is used to cut up the coffee crystals, creating small granules.
So how much caffeine is in instant coffee? Usually it’s anywhere from 27 to 173 milligrams per 8-ounce serving. Of course this can vary a bit dependingon how heavy you go on the coffee granules.The manufacturing process removes some of the caffeine, so instant coffee actually packs less of a wallop than regular coffee.
You might also have heard instant coffee referred to as “soluble coffee.” This is because it dissolves in water. This really doesn’t have much to do with how much caffeine is in this coffee – it’s just by way of information. Whether you call it instant coffee or soluble coffee really doesn’t matter. You don’t have to remember this – there won’t be a test later on!
How Much Caffeine is in Decaf Coffee?
If you think coffee purists get their knickers in a twist over instant coffee, you can only begin to imagine how they feel about decaffeinated coffee! Removing caffeine from coffee, they insist, is just so very wrong on so very many levels – unnatural, even – and besides, only about 10% of coffee drinkers actually consume decaf, so why even bother?
Well, according to USA Today, 83% of Americans drink coffee, and they drink it at a rate of 3 cups per person per day on average. That’s a little over 271 million Americans, consuming a total of about 813 million cups of coffee in any given year. So even if you’re only getting 10% of that market, that’s a little over 27 million Americans consuming more than 81 million cups of decaf. If you’re selling instant coffee outside America (which most manufacturers do), that’s a pretty significant market.
Interestingly, decaffeinated coffee isn’t actually completely caffeine free. The decaffeination process is done before the beans are roasted, and it’s impossible to remove all the caffeine without also getting rid of a number of other compounds that are essential to making good coffee. Consequently, some caffeine has to remain, otherwise you’re going to end up with a beverage that’s only marginally better than hot water. Actually, maybe not even that good, since hot water is not usually expected to be anything other than hot water, whereas instant coffee often represents itself (and usually fails) to be something approaching brewed coffee.
Unfortunately, the process of decaffeination does not usually lead to a brew that is going to please a true coffee aficionado. The roasting process doesn’t help much either, since by the time the beans undergo the decaffeination process, they’ve turned from their natural green to a sort of brownish color. This makes it difficult for the people who are on the front line, actually doing the roasting, to determine when the beans have been properly roasted. During the roasting process, decaffeinated beans can also become oily, which leads to a less than satisfactory flavor, and that unsightly “rainbow swirl” that you often see on the top of a cup of instant coffee.
So how much caffeine is in coffee after it’s been decaffeinated? The average serving usually contains about 3 milligrams of caffeine.
How Much Caffeine is in Coffee From My Favorite Coffee Shop?
The coffee shop is a part of our landscape that isn’t going to go away any time soon. They’re great places to get together with friends, meet someone for a first “getting to know you” date, and of course, pick up your morning coffee on your way to work. Most of the big chains have also discovered that people are more than willing to pay top dollar for the privilege of enjoying their favorite coffee-shop blend at home.
But how much caffeine is in coffee that comes from coffee shops? A lot, usually, with many coffee shop brands containing significantly more caffeine than your typical supermarket brand. Let’s take a look at how coffee shop brews stack up caffeine-wise. For our purposes, we’re just going to talk about the coffee that’s brewed in the shops, although if you click on the links, they’ll lead you to coffee that you can buy to use at home.
When it comes to coffee, Starbucks is one of the best-known brands. It’s also one of the most highly caffeinated. An 8-ounce serving (what they refer to as “short”) packs 180 milligrams of caffeine. A 12-ounce serving (tall) offers up 260 milligrams, a 16-ounce serving (grande) 330 milligrams, and a 20-ounce serving (venti) 415 milligrams. Add an espresso shot, and you’re tacking on a further 75 milligrams of caffeine. Even their decaf contains between 15 and 30 milligrams of caffeine!
McDonalds actually doesn’t regulate the amount of coffee in their McCafe brand, so we’re only able to provide estimates. On average, a 12-ounce serving (small) will deliver about 109 milligrams of caffeine, a 16-ounce serving (medium) about 145 milligrams, and a 24-ounce serving (large) about 180 milligrams. Their decaf will contain somewhere between 8 and 14 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the serving size.
3. Dunkin Donuts
Dunkin Donuts is another chain that offers a highly caffeinated beverage. When it omes to Dunkin Donuts coffee, you can expect about 215 milligrams of caffeine from a 10-ounce (small) serving, 302 milligrams from a 16-ounce (medium) serving, 431 milligrams from a 20-ounce (large) serving, and 517 milligrams from a 24-ounce (extra-large) serving. As to their decaf, you might almost as well be drinking the real thing – even Dunkin Donuts decaf can contain between 53 and 128 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the serving size.
You may have heard stories to the effect that if Starbucks coffee (or other brands) had even a couple more milligrams of caffeine, they’d have to be considered controlled substances. That’s actually nothing more than urban legend. The reality is that, in foods like coffee and tea, which naturally contain caffeine, there are no limits. And when it comes to energy drinks and foods with added caffeine, there are still no limits. In fact, the only things that have limits on how much caffeine they can contain are carbonated sodas and over-the-counter drugs.
Realistically, no matter how much caffeine is in your coffee, unless you’re really overdoing it, you’re not likely to harm yourself. Voltaire is said to have consumed around 50 cups of coffee every day, ignoring his doctor’s insistence that he’d die if he didn’t cut back. Voltaire lived well into his 80s.
The occasional energy drink isn’t likely to kill you either. But what exactly does caffeine do to your body? Let’s talk about that.
The Benefits of Coffee
Coffee drinkers know that caffeine provides a “jolt” that can make you feel more alert and ready to tackle whatever tasks come your way. Provided that you’re healthy, it’s not likely that coffee is going to harm you, and it may even work to reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) that has been linked to heart disease.
Studies have also shown that consuming approximately 400 milligrams of caffeine daily may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you drink instant coffee, that’s even better, because a cup of instant coffee contains approximately 7 milligrams of magnesium, a mineral that is known to work to prevent insulin resistance (Take that, coffee purists!).
Coffee is also very high in antioxidants, and there have been studies that suggest that problem drinkers of alcohol who also consume at least three cups of coffee a day are less likely to develop liver disease than those who forego coffee. Of course we’re not suggesting that you can get totally ossified every night of the week and think that you’re getting a pass on cirrhosis – we’re just pointing out the antioxidant benefits.
Who Shouldn’t Drink Coffee?
It probably goes without saying that if you suffer from insomnia or have an anxiety disorder, you might be better off avoiding coffee, or at least sticking to decaf. The last thing you need is to end up lying awake all night and feeling horrible the next day, or feeling like you want to jump out of your skin due to anxiety.
Caffeine can also interact adversely with some medications, so don’t just “file and forget” those handouts that your pharmacist gives you when you get a prescription filled – read them! And of course you can always ask your doctor if you’re wondering about how caffeine will affect your medications.
It can be very difficult for some people to give up coffee, or even to cut back on their coffee intake, but if you’re pregnant, you really should think about it. Caffeine will cross the placenta, and the fetus will metabolize it slowly. Nobody really knows how much caffeine it takes to harm a fetus, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. Consider switching to decaf. If you absolutely must have “regular” coffee, try to keep it down to one cup per day.
Thinking of Cutting Back?
Why would anybody want to cut back on their coffee intake? Coffee is our friend! It warms us when we’re cold, gives us a burst of energy when we’re flagging, and tastes so good!
Relax, we’re not suggesting that you cut back on coffee, necessarily – just on caffeine. You might want to cut back if you’re among the 20% of the population that’s hypersensitive to caffeine, or if your doctor has recommended it due to a medical condition. Or maybe you actually do want to cut back on coffee – you want to cut back because you’ve done the math, and realized that with all the money you shelled out at Starbucks over the past year, you could have gone on a cruise, bought new furniture, made a down payment on a house, or spent the money on something else that you really wanted.
Another reason that people think about giving up coffee is due to religious restrictions. We’re not here to judge, okay? Some religions prohibit the use of any stimulants, including coffee, and if your religious beliefs are leading you to want to not just cut back, but to eliminate coffee and other caffeinated products from your life entirely, that’s your business.
Whatever your reasons for reducing your intake of coffee, or just caffeine, there are ways you can do it that shouldn’t be overly traumatic. Bear in mind, though, that they do involve making your own coffee at home – you’re going to have to forego the coffee shop. With what you’ll save, though, you should be able to invest in a good quality coffee maker that will pay for itself in little time.
1. Use Less Coffee
If you’re worried about how much caffeine is in your coffee, one of the most obvious solutions is to simply use less ground coffee. The more coffee you use per cup of water, the higher the caffeine content. So if the directions on your can or bag of coffee to tell you to use one rounded tablespoon per cup of coffee, try using a level teaspoon instead. Keep in mind, too, that coffee companies are in the business of selling you product – they don’t want you to know that if you cut back a bit, you probably won’t even notice the difference.
2. Use a Coarser Grind
If you’re buying coffee, avoid labels that read “fine grind.” When it comes to how much caffeine is in your coffee, the finer the grind, the more caffeine is released, so go for the regular grind. If you’re grinding your own coffee, the same principle applies, but make sure you don’t grind the coffee too coarsely – if you do, of course the caffeine level will be reduced even more, but so will the flavor.
3. Use a Dark Roast
We’ve already touched on this briefly, but to expand on the topic, how much caffeine is in coffee depends to a certain degree on how long it’s roasted. Dark roast coffee, as you might expect, is roasted for longer than light or medium roast coffee. During the roasting process, a certain amount of water is removed from the bean. The longer the bean is roasted, the more water is removed. So, with less water, dark roast coffee actually weighs less. But here’s the thing – the roasting process also causes the coffee beans to expand. With dark roast, you end up with less weight, but bigger beans – and consequently, less caffeine!
4. Use Arabica Beans
There are two species of coffee beans that are the most commonly grown. One is Arabica coffee beans. The other is Robusta coffee beans. While there can be some fluctuations depending on which brand of coffee you’re buying, going with either the whole beans or with a brand that uses a particular type or blend of beans can make a huge difference.
How big a difference? Well, consider this – the caffeine content of an Arabica bean is about 1%. With a Robusta bean, it’s 2%. So if you’re using Arabica beans, you can cut how much caffeine is in your coffee in a significant way.
If you’re not sure what type of beans are in your coffee, take a look at the product information on the side of the can or bag. Also look at the country of origin if that information is available. Columbian, Kenyan, Guatemalan, El Salvadoran or Tanzanian beans are almost certainly going to be Arabica, since Robusta beans don’t grow in those areas.
You should also, as a general rule of thumb, avoid discount brands of coffee. In other words, don’t buy your coffee at the dollar store. Often, the brands that you find in discount stores use a lot of Robusta beans, since they’re cheaper to grow than Arabica. Espresso mixes also often use a lot of Robusta beans, since they hold the head better. You can, however, buy espresso blends made entirely from Arabica beans. You might sacrifice a bit of quality if you like your espresso really foamy, but you’ll definitely have a lot less caffeine in your beverage.
5. Make Your Own Blend
If you want to really switch up your caffeine reduction strategy, you could consider using a blend of 100% Arabica beans and decaffeinated coffee beans. Keep in mind, though, that as we’ve already suggested, decaf is simply not going to be as good as the genuine article. If you’re concerned about how much caffeine is in your coffee, but you still want to enjoy an acceptable level of flavor, you could try using a half-and-half blend. If a lower caffeine level is more important to you, you could go with one part of regular coffee beans to two parts of decaf beans. You’ll probably still get an acceptable flavor, but we really don’t recommend going any lower on the proportion of regular beans.
There’s also a decaf coffee out there that actually isn’t decaf, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. It’s Trung Nguyen coffee, and it hasn’t been subjected to the decaffeination process – meaning that it hasn’t lost any of the other flavorful compounds that are typically destroyed during decaffeination. This coffee is actually low in caffeine naturally – not as low as decaf, but containing only about 35 of the caffeine that is in regular coffee. You could conceivably go lower than 1-2 with this blend – maybe even 1 part regular coffee to 3 parts Trung Nguyen. Or try it on its own and see how it works out for you.
6. Consider Instant Coffee
As we’ve previously mentioned, coffee purists tend to frown on instant coffee, and a lot of the time that’s not without good reason. If you choose a sub-standard variety of instant coffee, you could end up with something that sort of resembles hot, brown water. As we’ve also mentioned, though, instant coffee is usually lower in caffeine, unless you really load up the spoon when making it –and if you do that, you’ll probably end up with something resembling hot, brown, oily water as opposed to something that might actually be drinkable.
If you want to experiment with instant coffee, you will have to accept that you will never get anything as good as a cup of brewed coffee. Some brands, though, are better than others. If you’re okay with instant coffee, you will probably like Folgers Classic Roast, Mount Hagen Organic, Jacob’s Kronung or Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence.
7. Try Cold Brewing
The cold brewing method of making coffee involves soaking ground coffee beans in water overnight. Then, the next day, you run the concentrate through a coffee filter and either heat it up to drink right away, or store it in your refrigerator for later use. It will keep for up to two weeks. Using this method, you can cut the caffeine in your coffee by about 30%.
These are just a few ways that you can reduce the caffeine content in your coffee if you’re thinking about cutting back. You might have other ideas that you want to try.
Am I a Coffee Addict?
Can you be addicted to coffee in the same way that you can be addicted to alcohol or drugs? It’s hard to say. Sometimes, what we call “addiction” might be nothing more than lack of impulse control. If you feel that you are truly addicted, though, and are very invested in giving up coffee (perhaps, as we suggested above, for religious reasons), there are support groups out there, like Caffeine Addicts Anonymous, which operates on the same 12-step principle as Alcoholics Anonymous. This group operates mainly online, but also offers telephone support.
Maybe you’re an addict. Maybe you just love you some Starbucks. It’s only an addiction if it’s causing problems in your life, so if you just think you need to cut back, try the tips we outlined above. If your caffeine consumption is genuinely making you miserable, though, it really doesn’t matter whether or not it’s an addiction – what matters is that it’s making you unhappy, so get help.
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It would seem that the research suggests that coffee is not at all bad for you, unless you suffer from a condition that could cause caffeine to interact with medications that you’re taking, or you suffer from insomnia or anxiety disorders. In fact, coffee can be very good for you, with its antioxidant properties, mild stimulating effects, and just the general good feeling that comes from consuming a hot beverage, when alone at breakfast, or during the day with your friends at your favorite coffee shop.
When it comes to how much caffeine is in your coffee, it’s probably not something that you need to worry about. Even Starbucks, with its “through the roof” caffeine count, isn’t going to kill you with their coffee, or even make you sick, unless you over-indulge in a really huge way.
The caffeine count in various coffee drinks can vary wildly, so it can be hard to keep track of how much caffeine you’re consuming. You can lower your caffeine intake in a number of ways – first, by simply curtailing how many times you hit the drive-thru at your favorite coffee shop on any given day. You can also cut back by making coffee at home, choosing your beans carefully, and even creating low-caffeine blends of regular coffee and decaf beans. If you want to eliminate caffeine entirely and you’re finding that difficult, then you might want to consider joining a support group.
Now you know how to find out how much caffeine is in your coffee, and you know how to cut back if you need to. We’re going to wrap this up now, because it looks like the lineup at the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru is easing back, and we’re in desperate need of an extra-large! Want to come along with us? If you’re really nice to us, we’ll buy you a donut to go along with your coffee!
Last update on 2021-05-18 at 13:00 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API