The Challenges of Measuring Caffeine Levels
Coffee has long been associated with energy and activity – the legend of coffee’s origin holds that it was discovered because of the energy kick it gave to goats eating cherries from a coffee tree.
Most coffee drinkers have that first cup of coffee early in the morning, whether decaffeinated or regular, to start their day. According to the latest National Coffee Drinking Trends Report, 81% of daily coffee consumers report drinking coffee at breakfast.
Despite the strong association between coffee and caffeine, the National Coffee Association (NCA), which was established in 1911, is only now publishing information on the levels of caffeine that may be found in coffee.
1. There are more ways than ever before to consume caffeine.
In recent years there have been actual or proposed introductions of energy drinks, caffeinated peanut butter, caffeinated waffles, caffeinated chewing gum, and even powdered caffeine. With more potential sources of caffeine now available, consumers have taken greater interest in how much they may be consuming
2. Consumers have new tools to manage their health.
Research suggests that most coffee drinkers understand the correlation between coffee and caffeine, and instinctively make their choice – decaf or regular, espresso or half-caff – based on individual tolerance. Even so, apps are now available that allow coffee drinkers to precisely track caffeine consumption. Tracking consumption, along with accurate information about caffeine content empowers coffee drinkers to better manage their choices; and accurate, science-based information is part of that equation.
3. Answering the simple question “how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee” is really complicated.
Caffeine levels vary by type of coffee, from farm to farm, tree to tree, and even roast to roast. The way the beverage is prepared affects the caffeine content of a cup of coffee – and of course, the size of your “cup.” This may be one reason that there is a lot of disparate information on caffeine levels that is publicly available, which can be hard to sort through.
The true answer to the question “how much caffeine is in my cup of coffee” is …“it depends.”
It’s the same as the answer to the question “how many calories are in a slice of pizza?” Are we talking stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, thin whole wheat gluten free veggie pizza, or deep dish pizza with sausage and extra cheese? (Speaking of calories, an 8oz. cup of black coffee contains about two calories – but back to the caffeine question.)
Given all of these complexities, we’re establishing a simple starting point, in the form of (a) an average caffeine level for a standard serving size, and (b) a range that reflects the caffeine variations that can be found in different preparations of coffee.
The information we’re providing is based on the collective knowledge, insight, and expertise of scientists from a broad range of disciplines who comprise our NCA Scientific Advisory Group, or SAG.
Especially important – since the NCA is a trade association representing industry, our data is sourced from third-party research, conducted independently of the Association. The “average” number we’re referencing is the same as that used by the US Government. The serving size upon which these values are based is also the serving size for a cup of coffee that is used by the US Government .
From here, consumers can find additional information in many places – starting with the website of their favorite coffee purveyors.
But there is one more piece to the caffeine puzzle: you. Your habits, your preferences, your tolerances, and even your physiology.
Everyone’s body has a different tolerance to caffeine. Some folks can guzzle a double shot of espresso and fall asleep within the hour. For others, a single shot might keep them awake until long past their regular bedtime. Or, as scientists would say, some people are “fast metabolizers” of caffeine, and others are “slow metabolizers,” depending on factors such as body chemistry, coffee habits, and even genes.
Of course, none of this is meant to serve as health advice – we simply encourage you to be an educated coffee drinker – to appreciate not only the rich flavors of coffee, but the rich complexity of coffee, of which caffeine is a component. And as you’re thinking about coffee, caffeine, and your own tastes and tolerances, remember that there’s always a fresh, hot cup of coffee waiting for you somewhere – regular, decaf, or half and half!