Most coffee drinkers know what to expect when they prepare a cup of coffee in the morning or order from a favorite coffee shop. From the taste to the volume, you know what you’re getting. But do you know how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee you are having?
Whether you’re drinking it black or enjoying a latte, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies. The type of drink, the source of the beans, and other factors can change the content of your brew. If you want to know more about your caffeine consumption, read on to find out how much caffeine is in your coffee.
We’ll also share how caffeine compares across popular brands and how other sources of caffeine match up against the classic cuppa java.
What is Caffeine?
Most people know caffeine as the wake-up factor in coffee. But it’s more than a buzz present in coffee, as caffeine is present in tea, energy drinks, chocolate, and much more. So what is caffeine?
Caffeine, known to chemists as 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, is a mild stimulant that affects the central nervous system once absorbed. It’s a natural compound found in coffee beans, cacao, and guarana plants.
It absorbs quickly, giving us a sudden burst of alertness and energy. Although most people feel the feeling of wakefulness fade within a few hours, caffeine can stay in our bloodstream for between 1.5 to 9.5 hours.
How fast it absorbs and how quickly our liver can break it down depends on several factors. However, when drinking it in a beverage like coffee or tea, the average caffeine peak affects us between 15 minutes and 2 hours.
Average amounts of Caffeine in a Cup of Coffee
Although caffeine amounts can vary, let’s start with averages. We’re looking at the average caffeine in different types of coffee beverages.
Basic brewed coffee uses hot water, beans, and a filter. From French presses to percolators, this is the simplest type of coffee. A single cup or 8-ounce mug of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine.
It’s probably no surprise that instant coffee decreases the caffeine count. By simplifying the process with hot water added to coffee powder or granules, you’re consuming an average of 60 mg per 8 ounces.
Although, not all instant coffee is equal. Your preferred brand could have a more significant caffeine amount, closer to a regular old-fashioned brewed coffee.
You might be drinking decaf to get away from that energy boost, but there’s still some caffeine in your cup. Although decaffeinated coffee contains only trace amounts, the average is 4 mg per cup.
Unlike iced or hot coffee, cold brew involves a much longer brewing process. Despite the name, brewers steep the beans in warm water. The lower brewing temperature requires a longer brewing time, between 8 to 24 hours.
The longer brewing process also results in more potent caffeine. For example, cold brew coffee can contain between 153 mg and 238 mg per cup.
Espresso is known for its more robust kick. There’s a reason baristas measure espresso in shots, and it’s not about aesthetics. A single shot or 1.5 ounces contains 65 mg of caffeine. That’s about 347 mg of caffeine per cup.
Other coffee beverages that use espresso will have the same caffeine content. Adding milk, cream, sugar, or other ingredients doesn’t dilute the caffeine. Whether it’s a cappuccino, latte, or macchiato, it’s how much espresso you use that changes the caffeine in the cup.
It’s worth noting that adding other ingredients might change how you drink your espresso. For example, it might be easier to drink more than one latte in a single sitting, which means you might consume more caffeine.
Coffee Shop Caffeine
Does buying from a barista change the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee? It might seem ridiculous to accuse commercial brands and coffee shops of having unique caffeine content. After all, don’t we all get our beans from the same place? Use the same coffee machines?
The answer to those questions varies. For example, a coffee brand might buy beans from different locations, try commercially branded methods, or operate other coffee machines. These are all factors that can impact caffeine concentration.
So how do familiar coffee brands compare?
First, it’s helpful to know that coffee shops and fast-food restaurants measure servings uniquely. For coffee, cup sizes are bigger. Most customers would consider an 8-ounce cup of coffee a small.
Our first contender is a fantastic example of unusual name choices: Starbucks. Although most Starbucks regulars might be more familiar with the grande, it’s the size labeled short that holds 8 ounces. Let’s look at the milligrams for regular coffee at Starbucks.
A short (8 oz) consists of as little as 180 mg of caffeine, a tall (12 oz) is 260 mg, a grande (16 oz) is 330 mg, and a venti (20 oz) is 415 mg.
The milky and iced coffees vary, usually falling within the same range as the hot coffee. The lowest caffeine is the short decaf at 15 mg. If you want to perk up but prefer your coffee icy, the cold brew with the highest caffeine content is the Trenta Cold Brew with 330 mg.
Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t serve an 8-ounce coffee, as the smallest cup is 10 ounces. However, for comparison, an 8-ounce serving of regular Dunkin’ Donuts coffee delivers 120 mg of caffeine.
A small (10 oz) consists of about 150 mg of caffeine, a medium (16 oz) is 210 mg, a large (20 oz) is 300 mg, and an extra-large (24 oz) is 359 mg.
Dunkin Donuts offers an espresso with 118 mg of caffeine. Still, the drink with the highest caffeine content is the Energy Cold Brew, with 378 mg in a medium. The decaf has a low 10 mg of caffeine.
Despite being a significant food chain worldwide, Mcdonald’s isn’t straightforward about its caffeine content. However, we have an estimate that can help you compare your McCafe.
A small (12 oz) has about 109 mg of caffeine, a medium (16 oz) is 145 mg, and a large (21–24 oz) is 180 mg.
A small decaf from McCafe contains the least caffeine at approximately 8 mg. On the other hand, McDonald’s iced coffee carries the most energy with 200 mg in a large.
Folgers is the most popular coffee brand in the US, so it’s worth adding the home-brewed brand into the mix.
As serving sizes depend on the mugs you own and your brewing methods, the caffeine can vary wildly. Although results range from as little as 56 mg to 176 mg per 8 ounces, the average brewer will find 112 mg of caffeine in their mug.
Comparing Caffeinated Consumables
Now that we’ve compared major coffee brands, what about other caffeinated consumables? If you’re using coffee to feel focused and refreshed, is coffee the strongest choice?
In most cases, coffee is the most significant source of caffeine. However, you might be surprised by a few everyday drinks and food.
While plenty of people drink coffee for an energy boost, people equally enjoy coffee for its flavor. On the other hand, energy drinks are another beverage that uses caffeine to keep you awake. Some might have tasty flavors, but wakefulness is the goal.
If you were scratching your head at the thought of drinking a cup of straight espresso, consider that 347 mg of caffeine is more than most energy drinks. For comparison, big boosters like Adrenaline Shoc, Bang, and Redline Max 300 7-Hour Energy Boost peak at 300 mg per 16 ounces.
However, those are on the extreme end. The average energy drink contains about 160 mg for 2 cups. Examples include Monster or Rockstar. So basically, two cups of an energy drink have the same caffeine average as a cup of cold brew.
Tea and coffee drinkers are often at odds, but sometimes we like a bit of both. But when it comes to wake-up juice, how do the two compare?
A single cup or 8 ounces of black tea contains 47 mg of caffeine. That’s almost cutting the caffeine content in half. Other types of tea include even less, with green tea at about 28 mg and decaffeinated tea with 2 mg.
Although you might expect caffeine in coffee-flavored chocolate, caffeine is part of the process of transforming cacao beans into even the average chocolate bar. When it comes to chocolate types, the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content.
An average dark chocolate bar or 1.5 ounces contains about 12 mg of caffeine. Milk chocolate contains 9 mg per chocolate bar.
For comparison, even eating more than five milk chocolate bars to equal an 8-ounce regular coffee would only add up to 48 mg of caffeine. You’ll likely receive a stomach ache before you can eat enough bars to replace your morning cup of joe.
If you’re a white chocolate fan, know that there’s zero caffeine as it’s made entirely differently. It’s not actually chocolate. Unlike dark and milk chocolate, white chocolate only uses cocoa butter. By omitting cocoa solids, no caffeine enters the mix.
Any foods that contain chocolate, like ice cream, yogurt, or cookies, will also have some caffeine. If you’re drinking a mocha or adding a chocolate-based ingredient to your coffee, the caffeine content will increase.
While the amounts vary between diet or particular flavor varieties, soft drinks generally deliver more caffeine than chocolate bars but less than regular coffee. For example, a standard 12-ounce Pepsi, Coke, Mountain Dew, or Dr. Pepper contains as high as 60 mg of caffeine to as low as 40 mg.
You could swap a cup of instant coffee and a can of pop. Although, your Grande Cold Brew will win over a Root Beer every time.
We’ve talked about averages and brands, but let’s get more specific. Below we’ll discuss how bean type, roast, and grind can impact caffeine.
There are two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. To learn more about the differences between these two types of coffee beans, read our article on Arabica vs Robusta.
Arabica or Coffea arabica is harvested in South America and East Africa. Brazil is one of the most significant bean exporters and has been the highest global producer for more than a century. Whether or not it’s your preferred bean, Arabica is the most common type.
Robusta or Coffea canephora is grown in the lowland of Central and West Africa and South Asia, namely Vietnam.
A 2016 study found that, although preparation methods influenced caffeine levels, Robusta was the winner every time. The geographical origin of the studied plants was another factor. Still, even with varying locations, Arabica had lower amounts of caffeine. On average, Robusta has almost double the concentration.
Roasting levels range from light to medium to dark. Light roasts have the highest acidity, while darker roasts have more potent bitterness. However, the color gives the roasts their names, as lighter roasts are lighter in color.
Lighter roasts are roasted for less time resulting in denser caffeine content. A light roast of the same volume can contain 60% more caffeine than a dark roast.
Medium grinds are the most common type, as most at-home or automatic drip coffee makers use medium grinds. But coffee enthusiasts will likely enjoy a wide variety. Finer grinds tend to create deeper flavors, generally used in espresso. Brewers tend to reserve coarser grinds for coffee presses.
Grind time can change caffeine drastically. For example, an experiment in 2015 discovered that the difference between grinding for 10 seconds to 40 seconds yielded a 100% caffeine increase.
Whether you love caffeine or could live without it, you can’t enjoy your favorite brew, decaffeinated or otherwise, without a bit of 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Although, if you’re anything like us, you can’t get out of bed with little java.
Was there anything that surprised you about caffeine? Did you know cold brew boosted energy levels better than regular coffee? Were you surprised that the most common coffee bean brew wasn’t the most caffeinated?
If you’re considering lowering your caffeine intake or upping it, consider switching your brewing methods. However you enjoy your brew, we hope you’ve learned something new about the caffeine in a cup of coffee.