What is Caffeine and Why Do We Love It?
When you love coffee as much as I do, it's more than just a perk of starting the day. It's a necessity. Trust me. I live a five-cups-before-work kind of lifestyle. So why do so many of us demand a cup of fresh coffee first thing in the morning? The answer, naturally, is caffeine. That staple of coffee beverages is highly addictive.
But don't start flushing your coffee grounds down the toilet just yet. Caffeine is hardly dangerous if you consume it in moderation, and it occurs in all sorts of products we love to drink and eat. So what is this mysterious chemical that makes coffee oh so hard to resist? Let's take a deeper look.
WHAT IS IT?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that's found in tea, coffee, and cacao plants. But there are also traces of caffeine in most soda, some over the counter drugs, and even in chocolate milk! In fact, one ounce of dark chocolate can contain between 5 and 35 mg of the stuff. And while coffee has not always been internationally beloved, historians estimate that some of our ancestors were brewing caffeinated tea as far back as 2737 BC. Humans have apparently yearned for that quick pick-me-up for millennia. Today, the FDA reports that 80% of US adults consume some form of the stimulant on a daily basis.
So what exactly does it do? Well, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, making our brains feel more alert and awake. Since that buzz is only temporary, many of us are left craving another dose as soon as it starts wearing off. That's why we wake up thinking about coffee first thing in the morning, recalling that pleasant buzz we had the day before.
Still, while caffeine is one of our favorite elements of coffee, it's not the beverage's main component. Actually, of the thousands of compounds that make up coffee, caffeine only accounts for about 0.1% of its composition. That's why you're safe to drink 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day, like this addict does. (Of course, if you're just starting out as a coffee drinker, you're better off sticking to 1 or 2 cups until your body gets used to the effect).
WHERE TO FIND IT?
So which coffees have the most caffeine? Contrary to what some people assume, darker roasted coffee does not necessarily contain more of the substance. In fact, much of the time, lighter roasted coffees will give you a stronger jolt. That's because some of the caffeine is worn off during the roasting process and dark coffees are roasted for a longer time at higher temperatures.
Still, the difference in caffeine between a light, medium, or dark roast is pretty minimal. What matters more is how you prepare your coffee, and how much of it you drink. Below is the caffeine content in some common coffee drinks:
Drip coffee, 8 ounces, 96mg.
Drip decaf, 8 ounces, 2mg.
Espresso, 1 ounce, 64mg.
Instant coffee, 8 ounces, 62mg.
Cold brew coffee, 8 ounces, 200mg.
For adults, daily caffeine intake is safe and is thought to provide all sorts of health benefits. But you should be aware of some of its potential risks, as well.
For some, caffeine can increase anxiety, restlessness, tremors, irregular heartbeat, and sleeping trouble. (Best stick to decaf if you want that cappuccino with dessert). And when it comes to giving caffeine to your children, these potential side effects are even more likely—not to mention all the bouncing off the walls they'll be doing. As for the concern that coffee will stunt a child's growth, that's mostly an old wives tale. In fact, there's little research on the effect that caffeine has on a child's development.
The truth is, caffeine can be like a magic potion to those of us who enjoy it. It sparks our brains and makes us come alive, giving us a boost of energy in the morning and throughout the day. But as with all good things, you should take it in moderation, as your body can only process so much at once. Now, go check our online store for all the most buzzworthy caffeinated (and decaffeinated) San Francisco products!