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In the early morning, when you need to get up and go, most of us reach for our favorite caffeinated beverage. Whether you prefer a nice bracing cup of tea or a steaming cup of coffee, you’re looking for one thing; that pick-me-up energy boost that comes from the caffeine in your morning aperitif. But how much caffeine is there in your morning cup, and how does it work, really? And why is it that sometimes coffee works better than Ex-Lax? Read on, and discover the truth.

How Much Buzz is in that Cup?

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Coffee is the drink that most people think of when they look for a boost of caffeine in the morning. Whether it’s Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds, they all contain varying amounts of caffeine. The amount of caffeine in coffee is affected by multiple factors. The roast of the coffee, the grind, the time spent brewing it, and even where the bean is grown all affect the amount of caffeine in the end brew.

In general, the darker the roast, the less caffeine the coffee will have. For example, a 16-ounce blonde roast from Starbucks has 360mg of caffeine, while a dark roast only has 260mg. So if you’re looking for a bigger caffeine boost, stay away from the dark roasts.

If you prefer to brew your coffee at home, the caffeine content will vary depending on how you make your coffee. For example, if you use a French press or Aerobie type plunger, you’re going to get about 107.5mg per 8 ounces of brew. If you use a stainless steel filter with your Aerobie instead of a paper filter, you’re going to up your caffeine content just a smidge.

Percolated coffee gets you the strongest boost possible, with a whopping 200mg per 8 ounces. That’s because the coffee has the maximum time to extract caffeine from the grounds. You don’t need a campfire to make a strong cup of percolated coffee, stovetop percolators are a great way to get your fix.

Drip coffee is a great middle ground, averaging about 145mg per 8 ounce cup. Again, using a metal filter instead of a paper one ensures that you’ll get the full flavor from your grind.

If you’re a tea drinker, the caffeine content is generally much lower than coffee. For 8 ounces of tea, the highest content is black tea with 42mg. Green tea has the lowest amount at 25mg, with white tea just above that at 28mg. Herbal teas, because they aren’t made from the actual tea plant, generally have zero caffeine.

Caffeine! How Does it Work?

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So, essentially, when you go through your day, your body naturally builds up a neurochemical called adenosine. Adenosine binds to your neurons and as more and more builds up, you begin to feel tired. When you sleep, adenosine is naturally removed from your body.

Caffeine, however, is chemically very similar to adenosine. It is also both water and fat soluble, so it is easily dissolved in the blood and can cross the blood vessel walls into your brain. It slots neatly into the receptor that adenosine would normally fit into. That blocks your body from detecting the buildup of adenosine, so you don’t feel tired.

Caffeine also increases the production of neuro-stimulants such as endorphins, epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. Additionally, caffeine causes fat cells to release energy faster, giving you an additional energy boost.

Your body also breaks caffeine down into theophylline, theobromine, and paraxanthine. These chemicals cause increased oxygen flow to the brain and increases your heart rate. The faster heart rate makes blood flow faster, increasing the flow of caffeine through your body as well.

How Much is Too Much?

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One of the most dreaded things about caffeine is the crash that comes afterward. It takes about 4 8-ounce cups of coffee to block roughly half of your body’s adenosine receptors. However, your body doesn’t stop producing adenosine. When the caffeine breaks down, the stored adenosine floods all of the available receptors, creating that wave of sleepiness.

Of course, you could keep drinking coffee, hoping to stave off the adenosine, but without sleep, your body doesn’t process the chemical, so eventually, it’s going to break through.

Also, caffeine is a chemical, and like all chemicals, you can overdose on it. The LD50 dosage of caffeine is about 150 to 200 milligrams per kilogram of body mass, depending on a person’s sensitivity to it. That works out to about 80 to 100 cups of coffee for an average adult male. Of course, you’d have to drink all of it in the span of one or two hours.

Caffeine is a mainstay in almost everyone’s lives. From chocolate to coffee to tea, it perks us up and staves off afternoon maps. It’s nice to know that when we need it, it’s there. In reasonable amounts, that is.

And hey! Did we mention that we also wrote about some tasty coffee recipes too? They're delicious and you can brew them at home. Nice!

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